*** DEBUG END ***

The last can turn out to be best

11 January 2013

People approaching retirement or who are newly retired have much to offer mission organisations, says Rebecca Paveley

Life changing: Habitat for Humanity volunteers and locals work on a bamboo house construction in Nepal

Life changing: Habitat for Humanity volunteers and locals work on a bamboo house construction in Nepal

Organisations offering volunteer placements overseas are seeing a rise in applicants from people in their late 50s and beyond.

"Older volunteers are wanting to put the skills they have learned in their professional life to practical use in building God's Kingdom," Krista Gilbert, from Cross-links, says.

Wayne Robinson, of WEC Trek, says that it, too, is seeing a steady number of volunteers in their 60s and above. "It has been great to see, and the fields really appreciate the experience and the 'grandparent' quality they bring."

At the same time as this rise in older applicants, charities are reporting a drop in the number of younger people undertaking a gap year, a fact that they blame largely on the rise in tuition fees.

Most organisations ask volunteers, whatever their age, to undergo a health check to ensure that they are fit to travel. Provided there are no problems, there is usually no upper age-limit on volunteer opportunities.

"I always tell people that they are never too young or too old to go and serve," says Simone Phillips of Smile International. "There is always something people can do and get involved with. We encourage people to use their talents and skills to help our projects overseas."


On offer: International placements from five months to two years for those over 21 (although these may be extended). Placements are mainly geared to individuals, but some opportunities exist for couples and families. About 25 per cent of placements go to over-35s.
What and where: Individual placements are on existing Oasis projects in Asia and Africa. They use the medical, educational, IT, administration, and business expertise of volunteers to fulfil the projects' needs.
Cost: About £10,000 per year, including flights, living costs, and rent. Oasis helps you draw up budgets and plan fund-raising.
Apply: Any time.
Contact: Phone 01732 851373; or visit www.oasis.uk.org/volunteering/international



On offer: The short-term programme "Next", for over-30s, is available to couples and singles. Short-term can mean anything from a few weeks to two years. Volunteers send a description of skills, interests, and preferred destination (if they have one), and Crosslinks will use mission partners and other contacts to match volunteers to needs.
What and where: Anything from teaching to administration, to placements requiring financial or business skills, as well as medical opportunities, such as working as a psychotherapist or physiotherapist. Placements are offered in Asia, Africa, or Europe.
Cost: Varies with location. Flights range from £600-950; living costs from £400-700 per month.
Apply: Any time. Projects are tailor-made; but allow a lead-in of three to four months from interview to orientation training.
Contact: Phone 02086 916111; or visit www.crosslinks.org/next


On offer: "Transform" offers trips to people aged 18 and above throughout the year. Applicants are placed alongside one of Tearfund's partners in teams of four people or more, from two weeks up to six months. Transform provides comprehensive pre-travel training and support, as well as services such as medical checks and insurance.
What and where: From India to Zambia, Bolivia to Burkina Faso, there are many different options. Each partner project works through the local church to serve its community in some way, whether through practical building projects, educational work, health visiting, or other ministries. More information on the website.
Cost: From £900 for two-week trips to £3500 for six months, excluding visa, flights, and injections.
Apply: Application dates apply per trip; see the Tearfund website for details.
Contact: Phone 020 8943 7777; or visit www.tearfund.org/transform

Smile International

On offer: "Step Out" trips to Smile projects are available for up to four weeks to all aged 18+. Longer trips are usually for a minimum of three months. Contact Smile to discuss individual expertise and requirements.
What and where: Smile works across Asia, Africa, and Europe, relieving poverty through long-term development projects. Volunteers could be teaching or cooking for school children in Sri Lanka, offering medical help in Kosova, or offering practical, IT, and educational skills in Uganda, Zimbabwe, or India.
Cost: Smile International asks team members to make a contribution to cover expenses. Flights are on top of this, but Smile will book and do all the organising for you. Two-week contributions are from £399 in Asia, £399 in Europe, and £499 in Africa, plus flights.
Apply: Any time.
Contact: Phone 01689 870932; or visit www.smileinternational.org


On offer: Short-term WEC treks are available from one month to two years. Volunteers tell WEC what skills and time they can offer, and WEC set up a suitable placement.
What and where: WEC works in more than 80 countries worldwide, from central Asia, Africa, and South America to Europe, and has "creative access" in countries less welcoming to Christians. Placements are available for those offering a specific professional skill or who just want to lend a practical hand.
Cost: Varies with location. The initial cost of £200 covers five-day orientation, medical questionnaire, £50 deposit, a T-shirt, and devotional books.
Apply: Any time: there are four or five orientation courses a year.
Contact: Phone 01753 278114, or visit www.wec-int.org.uk/cms/trek/wec-trek

Us (formerly USPG)

On offer: The "Experience Exchange Programme" offers placements for self-funding volunteers to spend six months to a year overseas. All placements are tailor-made. There is no upper age-limit; there is a volunteer in his 70s currently on placement.
What and where: Volunteers share in the life and mission of partner churches worldwide. This may include teaching, agriculture, building, health, administration, children's, and youth work. No special professional skills are required; placements are tailored to individual volunteer's preferences, background, and availability. Destinations have included Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America.
Cost: Varies with individual and placement, but an average is about £2500 to £3000 to cover training, travel, insurance, and some living costs. The programme does not charge fees for setting up the placement. A small grant may be available towards costs.
Apply: Any time. Discernment and selection weekends run all year, and preparatory training held in January and July.
Contact: Phone: Habib Nader on 020 791 2215; or visit www.weareUs.org.uk


On offer: "Transfom 2013" is an initiative to reach out to people in the Mediterranean region. It begins with a week of worship and training before a period of outreach, from one week to several months. Another short-term outreach project focuses on the thousands of people from Arab countries who holiday in Switzerland in August. John and Jane Broadley, who describe themselves as "well over 50", went on the Swiss outreach: "We were amazed at the opportunities that God gave to OM and our team to meet Gulf visitors, whom it would be virtually impossible to meet in any other situation to talk about Jesus."
What and where: OM works in more than 110 countries. Volunteers may be involved in evangelism, teaching, development projects, or work among the poor, either on land or on OM's mission ship, Logos Hope.
Cost: Costs vary greatly, depending on location and length.
Apply: Short term: throughout the year. Longer term: training conferences are held each year in January and August; so applications need to be in before these dates in order to make the conference.
Contact: Phone: 01691 773388; email interested.uk@om.org; or visit: www.uk.om.org

Habitat for Humanity: Global Village

On offer: One- to two-week international volunteering trips to help a family to build a new, safe, decent home.
What and where: Volunteers work alongside a local community, family, and local and international volunteers to build or renovate a home. This is coupled with a fund-raising challenge to help more people to escape from poverty housing. Opportunities are global.
Cost: from £2650 for trips of about 12 days.
Apply: Via www.habitatforhumanity.org.uk/volunteer.
Contact: Full details and booking forms on the website, or call 01295 264240.


On offer: Short-term individual or team-trips are available for people aged 18 to 99 and in good health (16/17-year-olds can apply if accompanied by a parent or guardian). Trips range from a weekend to two years: placements are tailor-made. CMS also has a missionary association programme for Christians who want to arrange placements independently but want a link with CMS, which can offer training and advice.
What and where: CMS has links with Christian communities across Africa, Asia, South America, the Middle East, and Europe. Volunteers can work in health-care, teaching, project management, community development, the arts, or church initiatives.
Cost: Varies depending on location and length of time; from £99-2000 for a team member, individual placements about £4000 per year. CMS helps with budgeting and offers advice for fund-raising.
Apply: Any time for individual placements, for teams look on the CMS website.
Contact: Phone 01865 787415; or visit www.cms-uk.org

World Horizons UK

On offer: As well as gap years, which are open to people of all ages and backgrounds, there is also a short-term mission programme called "Global Journeys".
What and where: The gap-year programme consists of three months' training in Wales and a six-month placement overseas. Previous placements have included West and North Africa, South-East Asia, India, South America, and Europe. Global Journeys involves people of all ages in travelling on trips together, for anything from one to six weeks. World Horizons UK is also keen to help facilitate other groups' running their own trips, and can help with training and planning if contacted in advance.
Cost: from £275 plus flights.
Apply: Any time via the website.
Contact: Phone: 01554 750005; or visit www.worldhorizons.co.uk



Christine Hutchings, 67, spent eight months in Botswana with Us (formerly USPG) 


I MET my husband through VSO, in Tanzania in the 1960s; so we always had a pull to Africa.

I retired in 2010, after having spent the last five years of my career managing a befriending charity in Scotland.

On retirement, I immediately volunteered to go on a US trip to a children's home in Ghana for a month. My church supports the home, and wanted to strengthen the link by sending parishioners.

That started the ball rolling. Coming back, I managed to whet my husband Gerry's appetite, and in September 2011 we arrived in Gaborone, Botswana.

We were attached to the diocesan office, and in the first week I was asked to investigate an employment dispute at the diocesan hospice. As I looked into it, to see if they'd followed constitutional procedures, I found they'd got all kinds of constitutions.

As well as helping them develop a new constitution, we worked on refocusing where they were heading, as the doctors and board of trustees had a plan to become a centre of expertise in palliative care.

In the last couple of months, I worked with a hospital administrator to help the hospice prepare for and hold an AGM, so that next time they could run it themselves, unaided.

My husband was asked to help to improve the financial record-keeping and reporting of the 13 parishes, and all their organisations. As part of that work, he designed a form for expenditure and receipts that could be produced easily in Microsoft Excel, so that the treasurers didn't have to pay anyone to do their accounts.

Since coming back, I've taken a more active role in my church, taking the reserved sacrament to residential homes in our parish, and studying at diocesan level with a view to becoming an authorised lay minister.

We're not actively planning another trip, but if something came up, we'd consider it. The adventure unfolded when we stepped forward. CM


The Revd Stuart Foster, 65, spent two months in Tanzania with Tearfund

I RETIRED in 2009, having felt burnt out as team rector for nine parishes in Lincolnshire, although I still serve as chaplain to the Duke of Rutland.

My health had deteriorated, but I just wasn't ready for retirement: I'm a guy who rides motorbikes and climbs mountains. Then I read a book, which helped me realise that I needed to do something: I couldn't just exist in retirement.

Since retiring, I've had two motorbike accidents and had skin cancer. One day, out of desperation, I turned my computer on. After three years of waiting and thinking "What does God want me to do?" I came across the "Go Mad" logo and thought, "That's me."

Go Mad works with Tearfund's "Transform" programme, to send people to Tanzania. So I emailed Tearfund and said: "I'm 65. Is there any room for a person like me?" And they said yes.

Arriving in Musoma, Tanzania, in October last year, with a team of young people, being met and affirmed by old and young, I experienced a totally different attitude about age. I was affirmed as "babu", which means "grandfather".

I worked on a project to build toilet blocks, water tanks, and a house; taught in schools; was involved with health-care, and preached in churches. I was told we would save lives, but I didn't expect to see that almost daily in different ways.

It was the best experience I've had in 30-odd years of ministry. It was everything I wanted to do in retirement, and I have come home a new man.

The first Sunday after I retired, I went to a church where the priest preached about God saving the best until last. At the time, I believed it was a word from God; now I am convinced of it.

I think Go Mad is one of the best-kept secrets in Tearfund. Since returning, I've been asked to work with Go Mad to help strengthen their partnership. I can't wait. CM


Mary Brown, 69, went to Peru for six months with CMS

MY HUSBAND died five years ago. We'd been involved in church work all our lives, and also ran a pet shop together; so I was used to doing everything with Len.

When he died, I kept thinking: "If Len was around, I could do things so much better." I cried out to God: "If you want me to go on serving you, you've got to find something for me that doesn't hark back to the past."

Soon after that, I read a Leprosy Mission leaflet. In it, a group of ladies were being taught to sew. Then I had a dream that I was teaching the ladies. I felt God was speaking to me, as I had trained as a dressmaker.

I contacted CMS, and, in May 2011, I arrived in Lima, Peru. I ran dressmaking, cross-stitching, knitting, and crocheting classes with different groups, and took craft lessons in a primary school. I also worked in the high-security ladies' prison, teaching patchwork.

I got involved with other things, too, including making clerical shirts for all the clergy in the diocese, at the request of the bishop. The clergy don't get paid, and shirts are expensive to buy.

If somehone had said, could I go out there to make shirts for clergy, I'd have said: "Can't I just send the money?" But it was so much better, having the contact with people, getting to know the clergy and the work they were doing.

I also volunteered to work on the cathedral altar drapes that needed altering. And I did a lot of work mending things around the cathedral. It was a blessing to be so useful.

Being out there, I realised that I don't need to have Len around, but that I do need God. I realised, too, how much I missed my family; so I've been doing a lot more with them since I've come back, and we've become a lot stronger.

I would consider another trip, but I think it was a one-off: God just needed to teach me something. CM 

The Church Times Guide to Happy Recruitment

A handbook for parishes:
> navigate the interregnum
> write your parish profile
> keep interviews fair and legal

Get the guide

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)