By Popadija Kitty Vitko
Like the rich, young ruler that Christ speaks to in Luke 18:18, Mark (not his real name), a retiree, wondered what more he should do to inherit eternal life. He wanted to be able to use his skills as an engineer, as well as his love for Christ to increase the stewardship of his own time and treasure.
Mark as an engineer was trained to problem solve. During his years in the workforce, and while his children were young, he spent the lion’s share of his time and energy earning a living and being a parent. After retirement, he was able to spend time relaxing, traveling and working on some new hobbies. Still, like so many others, retirement came at a time for Mark when he was still healthy, strong and wanting to be active.
Given the freedom of retirement, he evaluated his options. He knew he wanted to thank God for his blessings by helping those in need. He also knew that seniors who were busy and productive were healthier both physically and emotionally. Mark’s first endeavor was to take a local “Stephen Ministry” course. Stephen Ministries is a not-for-profit Christian educational organization that provides training seminars and resources to lay people who can then provide one-to-one Christian care under the guidance of their parish priest or pastor. Mark’s training there taught him to listen more effectively. Mark wasn’t sure he would ever use his new found skills, but God has put people in his path since then that he has been able to help.
“Christmas in April”
Mark also joined in a local, multi-denominational “Christmas in April” project. Every April the group spends one weekend fixing a house for an elderly or disabled person who doesn’t have the resources for basic maintenance. While becoming more involved in his community, Mark became interested in helping the homeless. He started volunteering at a local shelter. This shelter had many volunteers but very limited financial resources. This is where a lifetime of problem solving came into play. Mark was not in a position to support the shelter financially. He felt God wanted him to be there, but what could he do? Then he realized that he had spent a lifetime not only as an engineer, but also as a fix-it person around his own home. Why not use these skills to earn money for the shelter? He started a handyman business and had his customers write checks to the shelter instead of paying him. He charged slightly less than the going rate. If customers wanted to give more, it was up to them. In this way he used his skills to raise money for the shelter.
Mark doesn’t know how long he will be able to continue this, but he does know that his retirement has been a constantly evolving spiritual journey. His handyman business gives him the flexibility to also spend time with his grandchildren, travel, and enjoy time with friends and parish activities, while he gives back to the community and supports the local homeless shelter.
There are many such examples of seniors becoming involved in the community.
A retired widow spends part of each week going to the local elementary school. Here she listens to new readers. The students are delighted to show off their new skills. When she returned from a recent vacation, the class stood and cheered. What a gift for both her and the students.
A retired comptroller uses his skills to organize the financial records of a suicide prevention chapter. The volunteers have great counseling skills but no fiduciary expertise.
Another retired executive volunteers at a local high school in business classes, helping students learn how to develop a business plan.
Twenty years ago a retired woman opened up her home to women in crisis. That small start grew to three women’s shelters where desperate women find God as well as educational and housing help.
Jesus frequently exhorts us to take care of the poor. After evangelism, the first ministry of the early church was ministering to the widows and orphans—those unable to take care of themselves. After retirement most people have many productive, healthy years to share. What better way than giving of oneself to others. “...as you did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matt. 25:40)
If you are an active senior, or know of one who is engaged in using talents to give back to the community, please contact Arlene Kallaur at firstname.lastname@example.org, to let her know what you/they are doing. Additional ideas will be shared in future articles.
Popadija Kitty Vitko is a member of the OCA Department of Christian Service and Humanitarian Aid. She attends St. Luke Orthodox Church in McLean, VA where her husband, Fr. John Vitko, is rector.