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A Life Well Lived

May 1, 2019

Peter Haagen spent his life as a baker and pastry chef. When it came time to retire, he knew he wanted to spend more time volunteering, maybe leading a Bible study. He knew he wouldn’t be able to go into full-time missions overseas, but he had a working computer and wondered if God could use him in some way.

Then he read an online article, “From Couch Potato to Missionary,” where he learned he could host an online English club for learners from his home in Canada. He knew this was what God was calling him to do. His heart was for Southeast Asia, so he went through a short online training course and started a club.

Asian woman on laptop with headphonesThe English Conversation Project (ECP) helps learners who already have a basic understanding of English, to develop valuable language skills that will empower them in everyday life. For some, it will help them into employment and education. For others, it will relieve isolation. For all, it is a welcoming, safe space to learn about different cultures, challenge perceptions, discuss faith and develop diverse friendships. This is just as true for the club participants as it is for the club leaders.

English Conversation Clubs are based around a weekly audio program written from a Christian perspective. It uses Specialized English (fewer words, slower speed, shorter sentences), which helps learners have greater understanding of topics while being able to form opinions and share thoughts. Christian volunteers run local and online clubs, and they are trained and supported by the ECP team as they minister to English learners. Each week, learners listen to the audio program while following a written script. Then, group leaders use prepared conversation starters related to the material shared to develop discussion. These conversation starters provide leaders with natural opportunities to discuss faith and share the message of Jesus, even where a program has no apparent Christian content. The English Conversation Project allows the Gospel to get into areas that would otherwise be closed off to mission activity.

Peter’s group started with only nine students. But as his group shared their experience with others, many more English learners would ask to join. In less than six months, Peter’s group had grown to more than thirty students. He divided the group, meeting at two different times. He had a heart for discipleship, and he would make the lessons personal, writing each student an individual email each week. He would hear from students every day, asking for help with an English essay, questions about jobs for the future, or even asking for dating advice!

“I feel like a counselor, a mentor, a father, a trusted friend,” said Peter. “But I do enjoy it. They are my friends.”

Most of his students were Buddhist or agnostic. But Peter didn’t shy away from faith issues. Whenever appropriate, he would bring up examples from Jesus’ life, hoping it would sow a seed. One morning, he logged in and immediately there was an online call from a student, asking about a lesson where Peter had mentioned Jesus. “After some discussion, he told me he was a Xian, or new believer, and asked me for help with Bible study,” said Peter. “Needless to say, I was overjoyed!”

Earlier this year, Reach Beyond received word that Peter had passed away. His daughter wrote us, saying, “He was in a lot of pain the last few months. He is now pain free and in the arms of Jesus. He loved doing English Conversation Clubs, and it gave him so much joy the last few years.”

Peter hosted more than 200 lessons in retirement. One of our staff members remembered him fondly, saying, “He was in his 80s, and English was his second language! But from his home in Canada, he was literally reaching around the world in more ways than he knew. When I spoke to him the first time, he had such a joy as he talked about his students. When I asked if he was trained as an English teacher, he laughed and said, ‘No, I’m a retired pastry chef!’”

What a wonderful testimony of a good and faithful servant! What would it look like if we all chose to spend retirement in this way?

On average, 10,000 Baby Boomers retire every day. Many look forward to retirement, planning to spend the rest of their days seeing the world, playing golf, and enjoying grandkids. It seems appealing, but many find the reality less than satisfying. Boredom, feelings of uselessness, declining health and depression sets in.

John Piper writes, “Millions of Christian men and women are finishing their formal careers in their fifties and sixties, and for most of them, there will be a good twenty years before their physical and mental powers fail. What will it mean to live those final years for the glory of Christ? How will we live them in such a way as to show that Christ is our highest treasure?”

There is a need for this generation to pour into the next. Psalm 78:4 (ESV) says, “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders He has done.”

If you are retired, or entering retirement age, how do you want spend the next several years? What do you want your testimony to be? How can God use you to share the love of Christ with the least reached?

P.S.  Just like Peter, you, too, can make an impact across the world without leaving your home. All you need is a computer, a proficiency in speaking English and a heart for Jesus. If you or your church would like to learn more about starting a club,