From late June to early September, Everett and Miriam Ramer served at Maison de l'amitié (Friendship House) in Montreal, Quebec; and Camp Péniel, outside of Montreal, through Service Opportunities with Our Partners (SOOP).
Service has been an important part of Everett and Miriam Ramer's lives. During the 1970s, they met while serving with Mennonite Central Committee's (MCC) Teachers Abroad Program in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They envisioned that they would do much the same in their retirement years, but fulfilling this desire was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In spring 2023, they began looking for service opportunities and eventually found SOOP. "We saw that Montreal was [a SOOP location], and that immediately drew our attention," Everett Ramer said.
The Ramers wanted to immerse themselves in a French-speaking community. "When we served with MCC, we did so in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a French-speaking country. We both had good memories of that," said Miriam Ramer.
The Ramers' first served at Maison de l'amitié in Montreal, a community center that was founded by Mennonites in 1974. Its mission is to "build a vibrant community and empower people."
At the community center, the Ramers served in many capacities. They primarily taught English as a Second Language to immigrants, many of whom had only been in Canada for a few months. During the six-week term, they taught, served as teaching assistants and helped lead conversation classes. Their class sizes ranged from 13 to 23 students, with students from across the world.
Miriam Ramer staffing the Maison de l’amitié vendor table at a farmer's market in Montreal. Photo by Everett Ramer.
Additionally, the Ramers helped with two weekly neighborhood farmers markets, as well as staffing two weekly concerts called Duluth en Arts, held on Saturday afternoons. These concerts brought music and dance from multiple cultures to the neighborhood, including traditional Québecois music, Irish music and dancing, rap, rock, jazz singing, and Brazilian music and dancing.
"We didn't do a lot of dancing," Everett Ramer said. "But it was great. Lots of people, of all ages, came to listen and had a lot of fun."
"[The concerts were held] on a pedestrian only street," Miriam Ramer added. "This brought so much life to the street. People would walk by and stop for the concert. It was very lively."
Although it was not without challenges, the Ramers enjoyed their time in Montreal. "Our schedule was very packed, but it was a lot of fun," Everett Ramer said.
After six weeks in the city, the Ramers served at Camp Péniel. Camp Péniel is a restoration and rest center for young people, families and groups of all ages that integrates conferences, training, outdoor and artistic activities, which are inspired by Christian values. It is located 1 ½ hours northwest of Montreal.
While at the camp, the Ramers helped prepare and serve food for groups from multicultural churches in Montréal that would come to the camp on weekend retreats. "Camp Péniel has an excellent chef," Everett Ramer wrote in a report about their time of service. "[They] prepare all meals from scratch and made a commitment to not use disposable tableware. Preparing and serving food to 100 people means chopping a lot of vegetables and fruits and washing a lot of dishes. We were physically exhausted by Sunday afternoon." But the Ramers were also blessed by the guests' compliments on the quality of the food and service, being part of an organization that values their environment and having had the chance to get to know another group of Christians from a different culture.
During the week, the Ramers worked on maintenance projects, like painting, refinishing woodwork and furniture, cleaning and defrosting refrigerators and freezers, planting trees and shrubs, and doing laundry. They also enjoyed biking, hiking and canoeing in the camp's lake.
"After our time in the city," Miriam Ramer said, "it was a relief to get out into nature and into a totally different experience. I enjoyed both experiences."
The Ramers plan to continue serving like they did with SOOP. "I would like to do a service experience like this again," Everett Ramer said. "Service experiences are transformational. I saw this in my father's life; he served in Civilian Public Service during WWII. My service with MCC in Africa was one of the most important experiences in my life."
Miriam Ramer sees service as formational, rather than transformational, bringing her back to the values she learned at home that were reinforced by her time with MCC. "I need regular times of service and immersion in an environment where I see real needs, in order to keep my perspectives aligned with the kingdom of God," she said. "Even when I see real needs close to home, I can become complacent with the contributions I am making, and I need to be shaken up a bit."
Both Ramers mentioned their grandchildren when talking about future service opportunities. Everett Ramer hopes that their grandchildren will be able to have some of their own transformational service experiences, and Miriam Ramer mentioned that it was important to her that their grandchildren see their grandparents living for other people, as Christ did, rather than relaxing into what is comfortable.