By Cheryce Berg
Tried and true. That’s an apt description of Peter and June Willson, Bruce Broberg and Herb and Carol Carlburg. OneWord Journal is pleased to reprint in full Cheryce Berg’s article, "Zeal-tirement" that was first published in the April 3 issue of Connections. Be encouraged, and remember, growing old is not for the faint of heart.
Their days all start with an extraordinary amount of Bible reading and prayer: fuel.
It was Pete’s mention of three hours of Bible reading each morning that caught my attention. He’s read it through sixty times, but he say it is “always exciting and it doesn’t get old.” Pete follows his reading with walking. Pete picks up a dear old friend, a godly man whose memory is fading, so they can go walk the track and then attend Wheaton College’s chapel together. Miles of walking combined with faithful friendship.
I had to know more.
June, Pete’s wife, rises at 4:30 a.m. each weekday so she can read her Bible before walking four to five miles at 5:30 a.m., even in winter.
Then there’s Bruce, one of my prayer warriors. He spends about forty-five minutes praying through a spreadsheet of names. He records answers and estimates he has over 1,250 (35 spreadsheets full) since he began recording them. He says, “The power is in the Lord. He gives me the opportunity to pray for people, and he answers those prayers.”
Carol started reading the One Year Bible thirty years ago, switching to the chronological Bible ten years after that. She continues to read it though each year, and she says it is still “fresh every time.”
Herb makes use of the insomnia that comes with old age (his words) by reading his Bible and praying in the middle of the night. He echoes Carol: “There’s always something new and encouraging.”
And they pray, pray, pray. All throughout the day. Herb prays, “I don’t know how this is going to end, Lord, but take over.”
Pete, June, Bruce, Carol and Herb range in age from their mid-70s to late 80s, and this article isn’t to glorify them. They would cringe at that. It’s about God and his ongoing work through them. It’s about “sinners saved by grace,” as Pete says. It’s about relying on God’s strength alone to continue to serve and minister into the later years of their lives.
It’s a challenge to me and to you to consider an alternative to retirement: zeal-tirement.
Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. (Romans 12:11)
So what do these “zeal-tirement” days look like?
Bruce leads an ESL Bible study, obeying the Lord who told him, “This is something I want to do through you.” He gained experience through leading Bible Study Fellowship in Africa, where he held a study that grew to 700 men. Yet he says the thrill from teaching 4-6 refugee and immigrant men here is the same!
Bruce and his wife, Sue, (now in heaven) adopted 15 African daughters while living in Kenya, all of whom needed a safe home. In the last six months he’s added four more from all different countries, all of whom grew up as Muslims. Two have converted to Christianity. He helps connect them with people who can help them here, and it keeps him busy.
Carol teaches the pre-two-year-old class—her “very most favorite age”— in Kids’ Korner on Wednesday mornings. She and Herb sing in the choir and host dinners for the singles in choir every Thursday night. They’ve done this for 40 years, for up to 32 people from high schoolers to people in their mid-70’s. Herb and Carol have had a long-time ministry of cooking for people, from the STARS to lonely shut-ins. Herb also runs the church print shop, printing out the worship folders and Connections newsletters you read each week.
June helps in the nursery, babysits for her great-grandkids, knits gifts for people and teaches Hispanic elementary students how to sew during their lunch hour on Wednesdays. She and Pete serve as greeters and host many in their home.
Bruce and Pete share a bold passion for the lost. Both talked about being intentional in conversations with cashiers in the grocery stores or banks. Bruce starts with questions: “Where are you from? What brought you to this job? How can I pray for you?” He then follows up with them. Pete responds to the casual “Have a good day!” by saying, “Every day with Jesus is a great day.” He seeks to mention Jesus in their presence. He says, “I want them to know that I follow Jesus. Every one of these people, God holds me responsible for. We are responsible for the people with whom we live and talk and spend time.”
Pete and June care deeply for those on their block. They spend enough time outside to get to know each of their neighbors. They share their garden, offer a helping hand when needed, attend block parties and share a neighborhood Christmas dinner. This has built a foundation for Pete to write letters and notes to each one of them, sharing the message of salvation.
Pete is challenged by chapters 3 and 33 in the Book of Ezekiel, where God calls his people to be watchmen. Pete explains, “God tells me, ‘If I tell you what you need to do, and you tell the people, I hold them responsible. If I tell you and you do not tell them, I hold you responsible.’ I don’t want to be responsible for God’s wrath. We want to witness to every one on this block.”
Are all these things done in their own strength? Absolutely not. Each of these saints has experienced loss and pain, yet they continue on. God’s Word sustains them.
Bruce’s favorite verse is John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” How does this play out in his life? Every week when he develops a lesson for his ESL Bible study, before he opens the Bible or computer, he tells God, “I need to prepare this study. You know the men and what they need.
Please, Holy Spirit, guide me. I can’t do it. I can do it, but it won’t bear any fruit.”
Bruce points out, “As I depend upon the Lord to do things in my life, I ask God to help and guide me. I’ve seen his faithfulness in doing that.”
He has learned to get out of the way and let God work. He says, “When God calls us, he never calls us to do a task that we can do. You know why? Because then we don’t need him. If you feel like God is calling you to some ministry, and you say, ‘I can do this,’ there’s a 100% chance that that’s not God calling you to that.”
Pete loves Isaiah 66:2b, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” He also is encouraged by Jeremiah 1:12, “I am watching over my word to perform it.” From Pete’s perspective, “It’s a tremendous resource to your own body to know that God is going to be true to his Word.”
Pete’s most favorite passage is in Philippians 2, where all is done “to the glory of God the Father.” (v.11). He gets teary-eyed when he thinks of all that Jesus Christ did for us, becoming nothing, a bond slave, “so that every knee should bow …and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Carol loves the words of Scripture in the older versions: “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed until the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil-speaking be put away from you. But be ye kind, one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.”
Carol lives with constant pain in her back and joints, as well as difficulty hearing, yet she serves with kindness. She says, “I’m happier when I’m doing things.”
Herb is encouraged by 1 John 5:4-5, 14-15, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? . . . And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”
Herb has seen God intervene significantly in his life. Once, God protected him in a plane crash that should have killed all six on board. Herb was the only one with significant injury. More recently, Herb was awakened by a heart attack in the early morning hours and calmly called 911. The hospital was prepared to perform open heart surgery on another patient and instead was able to save Herb’s life in the moments he had left. He is back to mowing lawns and doing yard work on two properties.
Herb says, “For these reasons I’m grateful and feel a sense of obligation—I owe it to the Lord. In thankfulness to Him.” He challenges each of us not to be a bench-warmer. Use your God-given expertise and passion in some way for ministry, no matter your age.
June summed it all up: “By God’s grace alone. We’ve been blessed. What more can we ask?”