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Not the retiring type

CMS missionaries Kevin & Karen Flanagan have been linked to CMS for over 40 years. Here they explain their most recent move, back to Tanzania, and challenge others to consider doing similarly.

We’ve been associated with CMS for over four decades. During this time, we’ve often felt the ‘tug’ to cross-cultural work at CMS Summer School. It’s been the eternal realities, however, that have ultimately motivated our service for God both in Australia and elsewhere. i.e. Heaven is real. Hell is real. Life is short. Jesus is the only Saviour.

Offering to serve

We reapplied to serve as CMS missionaries in 2016. At the time, along with the motivation of the eternal realities, we considered the following things—energy, enthusiasm, experience and expertise. Were we still energetic along with having a good measure of general health? Were we still enthusiastic for ministry? Would nearly 20 years’ experience in parish ministry count for something? Yes! We knew too, that in many cross-cultural situations, there’s a grey hair advantage. Under God, our experience in parish ministry had given us a measure of expertise in the areas of Bible teaching, training and discipleship, work we knew we loved. The words of Luke 12:48b ring in our ears, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Heaven is real. Hell is real. Life is short. Jesus is the only Saviour.

Would our energy, enthusiasm, experience and expertise be transferable to another context? Was there a place that seemed wise to CMS and ourselves where we could effectively serve cross culturally; a place that would be a good fit? Kevin had previously served with CMS in Tanzania over 30 years ago. But our re-application to CMS was an open offer; an offer not made with a particular country or people group in mind. As we progressed through the application and training process it did seem the best fit would actually be somewhere in Tanzania. Earlier experience of language and culture had a bearing on the decision, but we were aware that the country had changed a great deal in the intervening years.

The title of a book written in 2015 (1) has worked its way into our brains as this injunction: ‘Don’t just retire, refire.’ We’d like to die with our boots on—a saying that’s been in Christian circles for a long time.

Having said this, there are particular costs to be considered by ‘recycled’ missionaries like us:

• The leaving of both aged parents and young adult children;
• Though it hasn’t happened for us, yet, the leaving of grandchildren; and
• The things on the ‘bucket list’ that might just remain there.

Christian service isn’t about achieving goals, being satisfied or feeling comfortable. We can assure you that there’ll be a lot of discomfort for those serving cross culturally. In all of this, Jesus’ words from John 12:25-26 have recently been a fresh challenge and encouragement to us:

“The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be. My father will honour the one who serves me.”


With a passionate gospel heart, age need not be a barrier. Contact your local CMS branch to find out about opportunities to serve at any time of life.


  1. Blanchard, Ken, and Shaevitz, Morton, 2015, Refire Don’t Retire Berrett-Koehler, Oakland.