The year was 1991. I was trying to survive my first year as a 33-year-old new missionary seminary professor in Singapore—often staying up all night to teach four courses and to care for my wife and young sons.
At the same time, 63-year-old Southern Baptist missionary Roger Capps sensed his Singapore ministry completed and in the hands of nationals, so he left—and redeployed to Bulgaria.
“Seriously? Bulgaria?” I mused. “Not retirement? He had but five years left with his mission and he went to a new continent with a new language?”
Fast forward 30 years and I am now also 63 and doing the same thing—except Susan and I have Jordan as our new home. But is there biblical precedent for such craziness instead of retirement?
In every subject of life, we should seek the biblical basis. Retirement is no exception. So let’s ask and answer some FAQs and apply them to our Summer 2021 shift from Singapore to Jordan instead of retiring.
Didn’t Israel’s Levites retire?
Come to think of it, they did. They served from ages 25-50. Numbers 8:25 says, “At the age of 50, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer.” But think of the heavy lifting required for Levites! They had to hoist a bull onto the altar as a whole burnt offering (Lev 1). But I am not qualified for that kind of work in Jordan. But then again, these Levites over 50 could become tabernacle guards (Num 8:26). Likewise, warriors had no upper age limit. They just needed to be 20 years old (Num 1:2-3). Caleb beat the odds and still conquered cities at age 85 (Josh 14:6-15).
But why not retire now?
Why should we not retire? Singapore’s Retirement & Re-employment Act requires retirement at age 62, and since I am 63, Singapore Bible College now must have me only on a year-to-year contract. By shifting to Jordan that has no such law, we could serve the Lord much longer overseas. God has still granted us health and a fantastic team of supporting churches, families, and individuals. My father retired at age 59 and died at age 92. In fact, all of our parents have lived or are living to around age 90. If the Lord can still use us elsewhere, we’re ready to redeploy. Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary (JETS) has asked us to teach Bible and theology as I have done in Asia.
Did the apostles retire?
I don’t think so. Paul served in the eastern Roman empire more than 20 years before he penned Romans, but concluded in Romans 15:23–24 (NLT):
But now I have finished my work in these regions, and after all these long years of waiting, I am eager to visit you. 24 I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.
Peter did a similar thing. He served Jews for decades in Israel but then followed God’s leading to serve Gentiles also in Rome, where he gave his life in the AD 60s. Oh, and do I need to mention Abraham’s redeployment at age 75? And didn’t Noah accomplish his best project at age 600? Hmmm…
Do you want to be like the apostles?
Well, sure, don’t you? We are no Peter or Paul, but they are great models for us of moving west. We also have had a westward movement. Our first ministry was music evangelism in Europe in the 1970s, followed by USA ministry and seminary in the 1980s, and then teaching in Asia from 1991-2021. Maybe it is time to go full circle to the Middle East!
But why not buy a house in the US?
We sold our home in 1990 to move to Singapore and have been free to serve God unhindered from these responsibilities. The Lord has provided a nice apartment in Amman only 10 minutes from Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary (JETS) where I will teach, so we are content with that. The major challenge is that in Jordan rent must be paid upfront annually, so God’s people are supplying the $12,000 by August as our rental is $1000 monthly. Some colleagues and students have already begun to help with our increased need for support. At the right time, God will lead us back to the USA and into a home, but we do not sense that now is that time.
What will Susan do in Jordan?
Susan is also a teacher, but at the K-12 International Community School that we helped start in 1992. She taught art and music while our sons studied in Singapore and served 8 years as the librarian. This year, JETS begins to share their campus with their sister ministry, a K-12 international school—the Roy and Nora Whitman Academy. Susan may potentially help there. Of course, she will also mentor Arab women in ministry even as she has done with Asian ladies for many years.
But can you speak Arabic?
I know most of the Arabic letters now and can read some simple words, but I will definitely need translators. We don’t expect to ever become fluent in Arabic. My SBC students speak English from 21 Asian nations, but soon my JETS students will also hail from 21 countries—but they are Arabic-speaking nations spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Besides, I learned to read Hebrew right to left, so I have a head start in reading Arabic right to left. Also, many words are similar.
Where is the need greater?
That’s easy to answer. While Singapore Bible College has 25 full-time faculty with 25 doctorates, after my arrival, JETS will have 11 full-time faculty with only 4 doctorates. Even my Singapore church of 100 that I pastor has 7 men who can preach now, and 3 of us have PhDs, so Singapore—my comfort zone—could easily become my danger zone. In fact, tiny Singapore has more seminaries than the entire Middle East! Anyway, God is calling us to a place of greater need. JETS is a reputable school but only one of three evangelical seminaries in the Middle East (Cairo and Beirut). Like SBC, JETS is also accredited with the Asia Theological Association—as well as the European Evangelical Theological Association and the Middle East Association for Theological Education. JETS celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, but we can still help some until it can have all Arab leadership.