Roving retirees

"Roving retirees" Continued...

Issue: "Save the unions," Oct. 24, 2009

These aren't muscled, protein-shake-drinking senior citizens in track suits. They look and act their age and everyone gets tired after each day of manual labor. Sometimes doing things the way the host organization wants them done can be frustrating-but Little Ray said that organizations often underestimate the amount of work they can do.

The women do anything from painting to sewing curtains to cleaning to washing dishes, depending on what they're good at. "I make it known that I am the world's worst painter," said Mrs. Ball. The men do all sorts of maintenance, construction, and demolition. They all work four days a week, but the men work six hours each day and the women three. They all receive equal pay: zero.

The road trips to reach assigned projects can demand a pioneering spirit. On the way to an assignment in California the Dunmyers used their GPS gadget for directions-they have a hard time reading signs-and ended up heading toward a mountain on a dirt road that turned into impassable mud. They couldn't turn around in the RV, so they had to back up a bit, then get a running start to speed over the mud to the top of the mountain. By then it was dark. They came across a lone store and asked the man there whether they were at Pillsbury Lake, their destination. He responded, "No, this is hell." They spent the night by the store and found their way in the morning.

"You leave it up to the Lord," said Big Ray, referring to that detour as their "mountaintop experience."

On the road, the team goes to whatever church is tied to their host: The volunteers come from different denominational backgrounds, but they want to worship together on the field. The Dunmyers listen to sermons as they drive. All have cell phones, and email lets them keep in touch with friends and churches back home.

Volunteers from a spectrum of denominations are united by "the saving blood and grace of Jesus," RVICS president Hickman said. The organization won't do projects for any group that is part of the World Council of Churches, which is theologically liberal.

Mrs. Ball, standing outside her RV, quotes Isaiah 52:7-"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news"-and then chortles, "If it depended on my feet, no one would know the gospel, because they are not pretty." But that's exactly how the couples see their work: They may be retired, their health may ebb, and they may wish for more of life's comforts from time to time-but this calling makes perfect sense if, as several of them say, "everything you have comes from the Lord."
For more information on this year's Hope Award for Effective Compassion and to read profiles of other nominated organizations from this year and previous years, click here.


Mission: To serve Christian organizations so staff members do not have to perform routine maintenance and repair work.

Requirements for volunteers: Believe in Jesus Christ-and have an RV, a desire to serve, sufficient finances, and health coverage.

Budget: $37,000 (2008), which covers bills for things like utilities and maintenance at the headquarters. No one at RVICS is paid.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD Magazine from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.


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