Ralph and Roberta Winter were on the Board of Administration of a ministry known as SERVE, which stands for Sending Experienced Retired Volunteers Everywhere. The purpose of SERVE was to mobilize retired persons into short-term mission, and this group distributed a pamphlet in the summer of 1995. It explains how SERVE was created, saying that the growing number of retirees within and without the Presbyterian Church provides a great resource of qualified people to serve in a mission role short-term. SERVE encourages ministers, missionaries and lay people to be a part of world evangelization in the United States and abroad. “When volunteers return to their home churches after short-term service, they are better equipped to assist the local parish in strategic outreach and to inspire others to participate in this ministry and also to consider long term mission.” SERVE partners with mission minded Presbyterian and reformed groups, mission agencies and parachurch entities to recruit volunteers into short-term mission opportunities. The first track followed is to match volunteers with short-term openings based on their experience and choices of geographic area and time duration. The second track followed is in developing projects and staffing.
SERVE has a variety of functions. They recruit volunteers for mission service that is short-term. They maintain a database of the short-term opportunities and volunteers available. They match the short-term mission volunteers with suitable opportunities nationally and internationally. They cooperate with Presbyterian and reformed denominations and mission agencies. They assist in developing short-term mission projects. They network, provide training and orientation, and follow up at the conclusion of the service. The mission of SERVE is to mobilize the growing number of older Presbyterians and others, both clergy and lay people, toward short-term mission. “SERVE recognizes the many opportunities for short term mission activity throughout the world and the diverse strengths and skills retired people can provide in these situations.”
The vision that inspired SERVE happened when a Presbyterian leader observed in mission conferences the many Presbyterians who responded to his invitation to serve God short term on a mission field. He consulted with Ralph Winter and a couple of others about the need to mobilize the increasing resource of qualified pensioners into mission. The reply to begin this specialized ministry was enthusiastic. Following focused prayer and discussion, SERVE was born in April of 1993. The ministry at first cooperated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and then expanded to work with other reformed denominations and mission agencies. The volunteer staff of SERVE are deeply committed to missions. Short-term opportunities call for many tasks besides the traditional skills of ministers and missionaries. “Examples are accountants, administrators, attorneys, carpenters, communication and computer specialists, construction personnel, doctors, electricians, engineers, mechanics, nurses, paramedics, teachers, technicians, and other support personnel.” The time duration varies from a few weeks to several years. SERVE is incorporated in the state of Pennsylvania and is classified as a 501(c)(3) organization by the IRS. A SERVE fellowship is being planned for those desiring to participate in this ministry as prayer partners and supporting members. The pamphlet concludes by stating that contributions to SERVE are IRS deductible.