Retirement brings volunteer opportunities
By Don Buller
It has been said that retirement is when you stop making a living and start making a life. I encourage and challenge you to consider a route that will be the highlight of your retirement years. This is the path of volunteering. Based on my experiences, I guarantee you will never be the same.
When my wife and I retired 20 years ago we examined opportunities for volunteering our time in worthwhile causes where our efforts would impact our fellow man and us. During our two decades of volunteering we have learned the importance of commitment and the value of being alert to God’s nudges. In sharing our story I also want to offer suggestions to help others become volunteers.
Make the commitment to serve. Don’t spend too much energy fretting about what to do. Wait to see the exciting opportunities God puts in front of you as you move out in faith. But it takes that first step of commitment to get moving.
Currently my wife and I are between volunteer assignments. We do not know at this point what is next. We feel drawn in several different directions, but I don’t believe God will prod us one way over the others until we make the commitment to be involved.
Develop a plan
Once you’ve committed yourself to serving, decide what skills you want to use. Do you want to build on what you already know or develop new skills? Even though previous work experience lends a clue for deciding what to do, most organizations that use volunteers will train as necessary.
Consider your other priorities. What other considerations need to be included in your volunteer plan?
My wife and I were both government workers in our “other life.” I had limited building skills, but I did enjoy being a fix-it type of person. We both agreed that we wanted to travel and live in our fifth-wheel trailer.
Now look for organizations that fit your goals. You may choose to volunteer with a secular or Christian organization. With the proper attitude either can become an avenue of expressing one’s belief. Serving with a faith-based organization can be a double blessing because you are expressing your walk of faith and helping the Christian organization. One Web site to visit on the Internet is Senior Opportunities for Older People (SOOP), a Mennonite Mission Network component.
My wife and I follow five steps in selecting an organization to volunteer with. We collect information about the ministry, identify needs and define our opportunities to serve. We complete the application process and explore the details of the assignment. When all five fall into place, we believe God is affirming the plan.
Mobile Missionary Assistance Program (MMAP) is the first organization we worked with. Volunteers with MMAP serve three weeks at a time, working six-hour days, four days a week in construction-related work building churches, Christian campgrounds, homes for handicapped, etc. We were assured that we would work with experienced people. That was enough for us.
While volunteering with MMAP we worked in more than 70 locations throughout the United States in 12 years. Later we joined Servants On Wheels, Ever Ready (SOWERS), a similar organization that offered comparable work. Working with these two organizations we were able to pursue our love of traveling and to go places we had never heard about. We spent our days off exploring the area where we were working. We met new people and developed lifelong friends by working together in a common endeavor.
In our volunteer faith journey we discovered that Habitat for Humanity has an RV component so we did some work with them. Then we felt God nudge us to work for Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) and we modified our volunteer activity plan again. Our administrative skills came in handy when MDS asked us to direct work projects in various locations. We were truly the hands and feet of Jesus in helping needy persons.
Be open to new paths
We often talk about God leading us. I find that God leads me through awareness, nudges and concerns. Responding to these prods has opened avenues of service.
Soon after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the southern states we were wintering in Arizona. Even though we were enjoying time off from volunteering I could not get the many people affected by this disaster out of my mind. Looking back I can see that this concern was the nudge of God to get involved again. Discussing this with my wife I learned she felt the same way.
Leadership is always needed at a disaster location. That winter it occurred to me that with my experience I could volunteer as a crew leader or construction foreman. I had passed the three-quarter century mark and a 40 to 45 hour workweek would have been a little too strenuous. But crew leading would be different. When I talked to MDS they asked me to be the project director and my wife to be the office manager in Point Aux Chenes, La. We accepted the challenge and God was with us through many “opportunities”—some would call them problems.
While in Point Aux Chenes, God led us with another nudge. Many retired folk have recreational vehicles and would work on an MDS project but by choice or age limitations cannot work the 40 to 45 hours weekly in an MDS camp setting. So we suggested that MDS develop a RV component and MDS asked us to set up and direct the first MDS RV camp. We recommended a four-day workweek, six hours daily and four-week minimum commitment and wrote the RV manual for leaders.
We started the first MDS RV project near Mobile, Ala., and later directed one in Hackberry, La. God blessed and the two pilot projects led to a full program with MDS. We recommend this program to anyone with a self-contained recreational vehicle.
We continued to respond to God’s leading, enjoying time between each assignment to reflect on the blessings of God and to wait for the next nudge. The summer of 2007 we served as tour guides at MennoHof Interpretative Center in Shipshewana, Ind. We lived in a furnished apartment and in three months saw 10,000 folks from all over the world come through the center.
Our next nudge took us to Southern California to build a house destroyed in the wildfires. Then we volunteered near our Fresno, Calif., home for a Mennonite medical facility in Atwater, Calif., that was rebuilding their facility.
Volumes have been written on planning for retirement and choosing how to spend one’s time during this phase of life. I believe that our retirement years can become the best years of our lives when these years involve God’s service. Life takes on a new interest when we invest in the lives of others.
Don Buller lives in Fresno, Calif., with his wife Marilyn attend Bethany MB Church in Fresno, Calif. They were elected the RVer's of the Year for 2010 by the Good Sam RV Club, a national organization, for their work in starting the RV program for MDS. They also serve on the California MDS Board. When at home they enjoy their three children, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
This article is part of the CL Archives. Articles published between August 2017 and July 2008 were posted on a previous website and are archived here for your convenience. We have also posted occasional articles published prior to 2008 as part of the archive. To report a problem with the archived article, please contact the CL editor at email@example.com.