An open letter to my Stillwater Support Committee

Dear Richard, John, Promise, Fred, Deborah and Martha,

I write to you now from the Business Center of the Toledo Hotel in Amman. We have just had a full day of touristing for the Western participants in the East/West program. I’m writing on my laptop and awaiting the Maître D who said he could bring a converter so that I can plug in my computer. I brought a converter for the Jordanian sockets, but the socket in the wall of the Business Center is a 3-prong “regular kind” which means British. This is clearly a place of commerce with Europe. In fact, in the writing of that last sentence, an attendant arrived and pointed out that I had overlooked the 3-prong American style plug. So perhaps “regular” meant American. How often our assumptions make life difficult! Perhaps this is the perfect learning for this moment, this day, this trip altogether.

Since the above paragraph, written around 6:30PM EEST I have had dinner and learned more about my new friends. Today we saw one of the projects Mennonite Central Committee works with: The Holy Land Institute for the Deaf, an idyllic school that has demonstrated such high academic standards that two of their four recent high school graduates achieved the highest academic scores in the country! It is a place that mirrors Olney’s approach in many ways: students help to maintain the building with much of the cleaning, and living communally is central to the identity of the school. Students also learn a vocational trade, and 95% of graduates from the program have employment at this time. There is so much I want to tell you about this place! Suffice it to say I wish I spoke Arabic because working there would be an incredible experience. It may be possible regardless, because they’ve just completed an organizational development assessment which has opened several new positions. Brother Andrew (incidentally, my late great uncle in Guyana was Father Andrew) has been working at the Institute for over thirty years and is, in large part, responsible for the many initiatives that make it such an exemplary school. Friends, he is a man living with heart open. His words were so inspiring, and his teachings so simple and eternal, I was very touched by what he said.

I fear staying up too late writing, so I will share only one tiny moment from the tour of the school he gave us. As he was introducing Ahmed, a graduate of the program who had done two years of a design program and is now working at the Institute, Brother Andrew was using sign language. He is a Dutch man who loves languages, trained in engineering, then architecture, then religion, and who knows what else. This sign language (Arabic sign language is different from ASL, American Sign Language) was just flowing from his fingers as he spoke to and about Ahmed. Ahmed could understand, and nodded affirming Brother Andrew’s words. This, to me, was the perfect illustration of an institution that is breathing. I am sure a closer investigation would find many of the administrative burdens all institutions suffer from, but his words rang so true—his words about external interest in Middle Eastern conflict, about how he found his meandering path to the school (which included some hippie-ing in the US!), about an Anglican monk guiding a predominantly Muslim school, about faith versus religion, his words about all these things rang so true and beautiful. The Holy Land Institute will be in my heart forever, and I believe it will continue to be in my life in other ways, too. Inshallah.

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