Talking with them reminded me of John Piper's commentary on the American dream of retirement. In Don't Waste Your Life (one of my all-time favorite Piper books) he writes: "I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider this story from the February 1998 Reader's Digest: A couple 'took early retirement from their jobs in the northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Guda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells...' Picture them before Christ on the great day of judgment. 'Look, Lord. See my shells.' That is a tragedy."
What a stark contrast between the tragic picture Piper paints and the beautiful one lived out by Mr. and Mrs. J! In a few months they will be heading back to Vienna for a three month stint with Taking Christ to the Millions Institute International (TCM), a seminary that trains Eastern Europeans for ministry in their home countries. Pastors and missionaries of all ages come for two weeks at a time to take intensive ministry and theology courses. Because the students come from closed countries where boldly proclaiming the gospel means real hardship, TCM wants Haus Edelweiss, the chalet that houses the school (see picture above), to be a place of rest and retreat. The 500 volunteers who come throughout each school year clean their rooms and cook their meals so that the students can focus on their classes. You can learn more about the program (and find out how you can help!) here.
I loved listening to Mrs. J. talk about her experience serving with TCM last year and how thrilled she and her husband are to be going back. She told me about one man in his 20s. When she was cleaning his room on the day he left, she noticed that he had left behind all of his study materials--notebooks, pens, class handouts. When Mrs. J. rushed to the bus to give him his things, he shook his head and explained that he was not allowed to bring any of them back into his country. He had done his best to memorize the material presented in each lecture over the two week period.
When Mrs. J. finished the story, I was in tears right there at the office. This nameless man from Eastern Europe, a devoted disciple and seminary student, had absolutely shamed me. How often do I take for granted the privelage that it is to be able to read God's word so openly? How lightly do I take my own seminary classes, often skimming the reading or listening half-heartedly to lectures? I am laid low by the plight of these Eastern Europeans who labor for the Gospel in their countries. And I've fallen in love with the mission of TCM. (It helps of course, that the ministry is located in a city I dearly love! Anyone want to organzie a volunteer trip?!)
Most of all, I'm challenged by the example of this dear retired couple who have refused to be slowed down by their age or conquered by the lures of retirement. They live as vagabons, leveraging their possessions, time, and resources for the good of the Kingdom. They make themselves available to go wherever God might send them.
"Whatever you do, find the God-honoring, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated passion of your life and find your way to say it and live for it and die for it. And you will make a difference that lasts. You will not waste your life."
--John Piper, Don't Waste Your Life