By Nikole Hahn

“Come back when you have a 4-year degree from a Bible school or seminary,” Four to five mission agencies said in the 1990s to Rob and Lisa Atkins (currently in Bolivia). While students are the focus of most mission’s mobilization, making up a robust 1% of the world’s demographic (Pipeline: Engaging the Church in Missionary Mobilization; pg. 14), older missionaries (Over-Forty) encounter pushback from friends and relatives in a culture where people are expected to save for a comfortable retirement.

“Occasionally, we hear subtle comments from people that our age concerns them. I also have issues with my left ankle. Most were excited and stated they could so see us doing this type of ministry. Age and health are always underlying concerns.” Neal Sperling was 72-years old and his wife, Sherri was 64 when God called them to the mission field.

A colleague currently serving in Africa mentioned a few obstacles. Some said to him,

  • – “You’re brave. And what I mean by that is foolish. I don’t know that I would recommend anyone going at your stage of life. But God be with you.”
  • – “I don’t understand why you would sacrifice everything you’ve worked for the past 20-years to give it all away to move to Africa.”
  • – “We think you are not being very wise. But we love you anyways.”

All Over-Forty colleagues interviewed said, God chose them. The Bible shares many stories of God using people others considered too small or too old for big things (or His plans).

When I looked at Hebrews 11:32-34, it read, “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”

Enter Gideon.

Gideon (Judges 6-7), a hard worker during a time of exile, suffered from a weak faith and would have been voted in High School as most unlikely to become chosen by God. He lived in a village that worshipped Baal and Yahweh together, like today’s culture where Christianity, Wicca, New Age, or other faiths not compatible with the Bible become the “same” belief. Baal was the god of weather. The Israelites relied on the weather for agricultural prosperity (Blue Letter Bible, David Guzik).

Israel was in exile due to their disobedience. Every moment the Israelites could make a profit on what they grew, the Midianites attacked and stole it. Prayer was the last resort. Judges 6:11-13 shows what is thought to be an Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ. God wanted to show them He was enough to defeat the Midianites. But to do this, the messenger, Jesus, asked Gideon to destroy the altar of Baal. Israel cried out to the Lord in desperation, but not in true repentance. At the time that the Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ showed up, Gideon was threshing wheat in a wine press. Gideon was greeted like a mighty man of valor though he didn’t feel like it. This reminded me of 1 Corinthians 1:27, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;”

“Go in this might of yours,” the Lord said to Gideon. The Blue Letter Bible Commentary by David Guzik defines might as humility, caring, knowledge, spiritually hungry, teachable, and weak.

David Guzik also says, “It is important to know that God sent us but it is even greater to know that He is with us. This was the same assurance God gave to Moses (Exodus 3:12) and that Jesus gave all believers (Matthew 28:20).”

Gideon had to make a difficult decision and tear down the altar of Baal before he could begin his ministry or go to battle. Because his faith was weak and his fear strong, Gideon tore it down in the middle of the night while the community slept. In the morning, the community called for Gideon’s death until his dad challenged them. If Baal was as powerful as legend says, Baal could defend himself. The community accepted this, but Gideon still felt doubt about his calling. So, he asked for confirmation that what God was telling him was indeed the way to go.

We know the rest of the story. Two times Gideon asked God to give him a sign by laying out a fleece. He needed to be sure that God was calling a woefully unprepared Israel led by Gideon to go up against the overwhelming numbers of the Midianites. Throughout Gideon’s journey, God made the odds impossible to the rest of the world. Gideon only had 32,000 men compared to 135,000 strong Midianites. God cut down Gideon’s men to 300. He wanted Israel to know the victory was all Him, not their own might. In God’s great mercy, Gideon was sent to the Midianites camp to listen in on a vision one of them had of a barley loaf rolling through their camp.

He said, “I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed. – Judges 7:13-14

A barley loaf was only eaten by the poor. The Midianites knew they would be defeated by a nobody.

Lastly, David Guzik says this,

“If we really believe the principle, Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts (Zechariah 4:6), then our smallness does not matter. If we really believe the principle, Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God (Psalm 20:7), then smallness does not matter.” And I add to Guzik’s words, smallness or age does not matter.

A lack of education, lack of resources, or even a lack of confidence matters little against the resolve of those determined to answer the calling of God. If our might rests in being humble, teachable, caring, knowledgeable, spiritually hungry and weak, when God calls us matters little.

The Sperlings said, “The past year has been an incredible time of growth in our marriage and in our personal maturity in the realm of discipline and diligence. God has been doing a thorough job of loving pruning. We are continuing to be reminded that He is sovereign, a gracious and wise Father and counselor, and has the best plan.”

The next time you hear that God calls an older missionary like the Atkins, the Sperlings and our colleagues in Africa, think about Noah whom God called at about 600 years old to build an ark; or Moses who led the Israelites out of Egypt on foot at the age of 80; and others who were called at a time in their lives when their culture thought they were too small, insignificant, or perhaps they felt their faith was too weak. 

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Nikole Hahn is the Digital Engagement and Disciple-Making Coordinator based in Arizona. To learn more, click here.

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Gaye Ellen Austin says:

    Terrific blog post challenging to those of us who have passed what many say is the retirement (sit a spell ) age to get up and go wherever God has told you to go and to do.

  • TMK says:

    “Israel cried out to the Lord in desperation, but not in true repentance. ”
    This sentence really struck me. How many times have I cried out in desperation but not taken the Holy Spirit guided inward look that would convict me and lead me to repentance? How often have I wanted relief more than I wanted relationship with my Creator?

  • Domenic Rea says:

    Great story. To come to know a calling from God and live it has to be a most fulfilling experience.

  • Nikole Hahn says:

    It is a fulfilling experience as any missionary will tell you. Are you thinking of missionary work?

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