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 was 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 with me also 63 and doing the same thing—except Susan and I have Jordan as our new home. But is there a 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 hit age 63, Singapore Bible College had me only on a year-to-year contract. By shifting to Jordan which 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 lived to an average age of 90. If the Lord can still use us elsewhere, we’re ready to redeploy—especially since Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary (JETS) asked us to teach Bible and theology as I did for 30 years 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 what about 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 not 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. It’s about 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 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 each August as our rental is $1000 monthly. Some former Asian students now 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 is Susan doing 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. In 2021, JETS began to share its campus with its sister ministry, a K-12 international school called Whitman Academy. Susan may potentially help there, but for now, she mentors foreign and 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 my JETS students also hail from 21 other 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, JETS has 12 full-time faculty with only 5 doctorates. Even my Singapore church of 100 that I started 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 (others in 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 celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2021, but we can still help some until it can have all Arab leadership.