In what different ways do missionaries plan for retirement?

“I’d recommend saving 10-15% of your monthly gross income for retirement.”

Recently, while writing our ministry budget, we compared our views on retirement when we were candidates in 2005 with just two kids, to our current reality, having buried two parents and seen many elderly missionaries with financial challenges. 

Back then I saw retirement savings as a luxury item, unnecessary luggage for my missionary journey. I wouldn’t wait and do more fund-raising for it. Now that I see the burden of younger generations carrying their parents financially, I’m thinking differently. An inheritance to give to your children is a great blessing, something you can trust God for, as well believe he will give you plans to accomplish that. 

Saving for retirement is like giving. Some believe 10 percent tithe is required, others that generosity of heart is the only requirement. To my knowledge, there is no requirement or even recommendation in our agency to save a certain percentage for retirement and I’m not sure what candidates are told. 

If I was asked, I’d suggest, aim for 10-15% of your paycheck to be saved for future needs in retirement. It’s standard financial advice. We missionaries aren’t more special than everybody else.

We get the same problems others face in retirement. God doesn’t give us a free pass for being in ministry. We plan for a legacy to the next generation and it isn’t only spiritual, but financial too. Start now with a monthly amount, no matter how small, automatically withdrawn from your bank account so you won’t miss it so much. 

Many missionary families are already paying over $1000 in medical costs monthly for insurance, etc. Do you think your retired years will be cheaper than that in medical costs?

To conclude, we should be recommending best practices to our missionaries and that would seem to point to retirement savings, not being an optional extra. God can provide for that just as much as he provides for health insurance in your budget.

I believe we’d be doing our missionaries a service if we recommended a percentage amount that at least equals the amount currently paid on health insurance and medical needs. 

See also an article with missionaries discussing this very issue: Money and Missionaries: Do You Have a Plan for Retirement?

Answer from Sam in Taiwan, who has served with Beyond in USA and Taiwan for 10 years.

“Some agencies assist with retirement packages.”

Some supporting churches want to require agencies to provide their missionaries a decent retirement and medical-care package for missionaries, although some of the same churches occasionally complain about the total cost. It’s a bit difficult to be both responsible and inexpensive.

Our mission, WEC, is one of the agencies that allows missionaries a variety of retirement packages, ranging from nothing at all to whatever they can afford on their support.

Some are concerned that if we allow a missionary to serve with little or no financial provision for the future, they may not have a future. History is on our side. We began as a mission in 1913. We presently have two thousand missionaries. WEC has had a multitude of missionaries retire in the years of our existence and no retiree has ever been destitute, because God has always provided.

Some have gone to retirement centers in Florida built specifically for missionaries from faith agencies. Some have had houses given to them. Some have gone to live with siblings or children. We even have retirement units at our WEC campus.

Answer from David, director of mobilization with WEC International. David has been a missionary twenty-five years as a field worker in West Africa and at WEC USA headquarters.

“Start early contributing each month to a retirement fund.”

I believe you, the missionary, should plan to provide most of your retirement income needs yourself. Why? (1) Many agencies barely assist with retirement planning. (2) Most have retirement programs that go with you after you leave the agency, but some do not.

You may be totally committed to the vision of your agency and can’t imagine leaving it. But if the senior leadership changes and a new vision is adopted, or if God calls you in a different direction, you are solely responsible for your retirement. 

I’m a missionary sent by a local church that has no retirement plan. So I’m preparing for my retirement by in my budget a monthly contribution to a retirement fund. For a small fee, a good accountant or financial planner can give you specific retirement advice. Or at no cost you can research retirement planning for yourself. 

The most important retirement savings advice is to start early. Those who wait until later to begin saving have to save a much higher portion of their income than those who begin earlier.

Answer from Jay, an independent missionary who served in Italy for ten years.

“Store up treasures in heaven while God provides on earth.”

I subscribe to Jesus’ plan from Matthew 6:20: “Store up for yourselves treasure in heaven.” I left for the mission field with three thousand dollars in my pocket and all my possessions sold. I had been sent by a church of only twenty-five members had sent me, but they had not promised to support me financially.

I arrived in North Africa and two weeks later my money had grown tenfold. I was able to live the next three years on this amount. 

Yes, I was imprisoned, terrorized, robbed, had my life threatened dozens of times, and was thrown out of two countries. My retirement fund is looking good in heaven with Jesus where it belongs. Here on earth my treasure is not. My years in missions were truly a joyful experience that I would not trade for an IRA or a 401K.

Answer from Jack, who served in North Africa for five years.

“Trust God to provide at retirement age.”

John Wesley said, “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can!” As missionaries we can’t “earn all you can,” but we can save and give! “Give and it will be given to you” is something that you can bet your retirement on.

Answer from Tom, who has served for nineteen years in the Philippines and Slovakia with CRU.

“Some plan and some don’t.”

I’m from a church that sent out two families of missionaries to two different countries. One family is supported by an agency that looked after them well, including medical insurance, retirement funds, and vacation flight to the home country. 

Another family is on their own, though they are allowed to work. But the pay is minimal. They are not covered by any agency except for our church, with minimum support. As a member of our church and friend of the family, I feel moved to support them and see how I can help to start a retirement funding for them. Please advise!

Editor’s note: Helping a missionary family with minimal support set up a retirement fund is a great idea. Discuss it with them, and if they are not opposed, talk to your bank or a financial adviser about setting up a retirement account.

Answer from Amy, who lives in Canada.

Additional considerations:

An additional online article – What Missionaries Ought to know about Retirement

Another consideration is the spouse’s future Social Security benefits. When we were home on furlough, we tried to arrange for my wife to work some in order to pick up a quarter of eligibility for Social Security. Over the years we were able to complete the 40 quarters she needed to qualify. That helped us when we reached retirement age.

Obviously you will want to consider how to minimize costs in retirement as well as income in retirement.

Having a practical skill or hobby that can be turned into a part-time source of income as you retire can be an additional source of income.

Answer from staff.

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