By. Ben and Marianne Janssen
So Even to Old Age and Grey Hairs
So even to old age and grey hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. Psalm 71:18
As the Lord called us to missions more than twenty years ago, we knew it was for the rest of our lives, or ‘til health problems would stop us from being missionaries abroad. As we are now pushing toward 72 and 70 years old, we have no notion of retiring from the mission work. Why would we if, in some Asian countries, MacDonald’s graciously gives us a free cappuccino every day because we are “elderly”?
Sometimes church leaders wonder how they can encourage older Christians to go and serve the Lord in Missions. We believe that this leading toward missions must begin many years before they actually go and become missionaries. In hindsight, we can clearly see that the Lord meticulously prepared us for missions. First, He sent us to our local church’s Bible school for three years. This happened when we were in our forties. Then, He let us pastor two churches for another three years and, at the same time, we were directing two Bible schools, while still working in secular jobs. Then, in 1997, the vision came to us to minister overseas in Romania and Ukraine. We began doing this short term with our vacation time. Each of these various functions, as pastors and teachers in the Kingdom of God, made us ready to take on the responsibilities as missionaries overseas. As a result, we have been able to relate to pastors and leaders because we learned at home, before we went to the mission field, that pastoring and mentoring is not easy. For any aspiring missionary, who is waiting to go to the field, good preparation is very necessary. Without learning to do the ministry at home, it is impossible to be an effective minister overseas. There, one must overcome many more hindrances, especially cultural obstacles, to be able to do the Lord’s work effectively.
When the call came to leave everything behind, including three of our children, as well as our first grandchild, we left the U.S. for Eastern Europe with our youngest daughter. In the year 2000, we became career missionaries. The early years were extremely difficult with many problems and hardships, especially when the time came to send our daughter back to the west to further her education. In those days, we learned the importance of having the call of God to missions. Without this call, we would have returned home because of the first major trials in those days. When four more grandchildren were born, they did not even recognize us when we came back on furlough. Often, the question popped up in our minds: Do we love Jesus more than our family? Luke 14:25 says; “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” To go to the mission field as a career missionary at any age requires sacrifice. As we pray daily for more workers in the harvest, we ask ourselves often: how can we create the desire in our fellow Christians to participate in His harvest by leaving all and following the Lord? We concluded that there is just one way: faithfully preach and teach the Bible so that Christians will grow in the knowledge of who their God really is, and will, therefore, long to follow Him even to the ends of the earth.
As you grow older, the ministry may change. In these last years, the Lord has enlarged the vision He gave us initially twenty years ago, as we now also teach in Asia and Africa. This makes our ministry much more busy, intense, and taxing on the body due to all the traveling involved. We pray for strength to be able to teach the long days of church planting courses and the many evenings in the local churches, where we teach Bible books and marriage seminars. As we go back to each church, at least once a year, we mentor a lot of young pastors and leaders. If we are absent from their country, we mentor them by emailing back and forth. These, mainly young, pastors look up to our grey hair and are eager to get all the spiritual help from us that we can give them. They realize that the experience we have can become of great benefit to them if they are open to receive.
As a result of the church planting trainings that we continue to do, many new churches are planted. We are daily encouraged by the zeal and love of the young church planters, who learned quickly that it takes everything to follow Christ to the ends of the world. We cannot imagine a life without purpose, where the dreariness of the same mundane doings day by day would drag us down spiritually. There are still billions of people who have never heard the gospel, like a young man last week, who did not know what a Bible was. There are still many workers needed in the field, young and old, who are willing to follow Christ, disciple the nations, and teach them to obey all that Christ has commanded them. We daily live by the promise that He will be with us to the end of the age.