Before either Jane or I (Peter) retired, we had talked about the possibility of doing some post-retirement service overseas, preferably with our previous organization, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). While we did not want to commit to a lengthy (3-5 year) term, we also did not see ourselves being “put out to retirement pasture” only doing yard work, checking in with kids and grand kids, and generally having a life that was understood to be our reward for hard and diligent work. We still intend to do these things, but we thought that we might have something else to offer based on our professional experience. As we have done in the past, this equated to a combination of travel, culture experience and service work. Letting MCC know of our interest in a service assignment was the logical first place to test that interest.
Initially, our thinking was something like a 3-6 month assignment, possibly covering for a country administrator who, for one reason or another, might be on leave. Jane retired at the end of November, 2012, while I retired at the end of August, 2013. The call to be considered as MCC’s interim country representatives for Egypt for a year came shortly before I retired. It took very little persuasion on either of our parts to become excited about the possibility. It didn’t seem to matter to either of us that Egypt, at the time, was in the middle of a political crisis…and remains so to this day.
So why not (be concerned, that is)? Well, it’s not that we are not concerned; we would be naive not to be. Maybe we just need an adventure. Maybe Egypt is a place that, whatever the circumstances, holds fascination beyond the ordinary. Maybe it’s MCC’s efforts to try and promote peaceful dialogue between groups in conflict. Maybe we are tired of living in the faux safety envelope we believe we can create for ourselves in North America. Maybe…. Maybe…. anyway, after 25 years of living by one set of assumptions, we both felt some need to live by another.
We do not place our decision to be with MCC overseas once again on any pedestal. While we sense being “called” to do this, it is no more a calling to go to Egypt than it is to serve breakfast to young, needy schoolkids at Howe Middle school. In our opinion, in God’s eyes, they are the same. Jane and I are fortunate and grateful to be part of a church community that nurtures the need to serve, be it within the church, in the community or beyond.
Since the decision was made to accept this assignment, our lives have consisted of a blizzard of application forms, medical, dental and optical appointments, arrangements to update wills and other legalities, deal with house matters, figure out how to handle pensions and other benefits, learn Arabic, become familiar with MCC (both MCC in Egypt and MCC as an organization….again), and explain our apparent loss of sanity to family, friends and church. We have also received encouragement from many individuals who have either been to Egypt or who are in the same circumstances as us (have previously served in cross-cultural situations and would like to do it again. Cross-cultural experience is, after all, a chronic condition that, having occurred once, tends to remain in the body and can flare up unexpectedly!)
The plan is to leave Canada on October 19th, spend some days in Akron, Pennsylvania, then some more days in Sarajevo, Bosnia, both of which are to orient us to MCC and MCC in Europe and the Middle East, and then to finally reach Cairo by late October, where we will have a one-month overlap with the current country representatives. We sense that MCC is not the same organization it was 25 years ago (why should it be?), but that is only an intuition. We’ll see. Right now, we are busy getting ready to go, saying some farewells and practicing our limited, but expanding Arabic vocabulary.
For now, Ma Esalaami (sp?).