The new face of a growing missionary force has a few wrinkles. Many baby boomers are taking early retirement to volunteer in the mission field.

Some are signing up for a few weeks, others for several years. Wycliffe Associates has enjoyed a 40 percent increase several years in a row in boomer missionaries. The trend prompted Wycliffe in late 2005 to start building a volunteer mobilization center in Orlando.

"These people have a certain amount of freedom and control," said Martin Huyett, Wycliffe vice president of volunteer services. "They want to do something significant, not just write checks."

The ease of international travel and longer lifespans have also increased the number of 50-something missionaries.

"God is sending fewer young, full-time people who want to spend the rest of their lives in Bible translation," Huyett said. "If a baby boomer wants to and can afford to serve, he or she can go almost anywhere and do almost anything."

Nelson Malwitz, founder of Finishers Project, said many Christians hit 50 at the peak of their careers but desire more than workplace success.

"The Lord didn't design us to coast out on flowery beds of ease, but to make some sort of difference," Malwitz said. "There is a full spectrum of mission opportunities, both at home and abroad, both short-term and long-term."

Finishers Project works with 100 organizations, matching retirees with volunteer mission projects. Finishers Project has placed 1,000 volunteers in full-time mission since 1998, has another 1,000 in process, and has an additional 1,200 saying they will make the transition in the next two years.

"Most mission agencies are trying to work with this trend that 20 years ago was unwelcome," said Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the ...

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