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Retirees Susan and Peter Thiessen call it their “Mennonite Disaster Service retirement plan.” “Being retired and doing MDS is wonderful,” says Peter, 65, who is co-coordinator of the project in Grand Forks, B.C. with Susan, 64.

“We get to travel, we get to do meaningful work, and MDS takes care of our expenses when we are with them. What could be better than that?” Peter, who owned a construction company for 25 years, sold it to his daughter and son-in-law five years ago. Susan is retired from working as a dental assistant.

Now the couple, who live in Okotoks, Alta., give six months of service to MDS each year, coordinating the work at projects around North America. Doing this kind of service “saves on vacations and travel,” said Susan. “We get to go to so many interesting places with MDS.”

They did try the traditional form of retirement once, wintering in the U.S. south. But it just didn’t take, Peter said. “I was miserable, I didn’t know what to do with myself,” he said. “We don’t do idle well.”

Instead, they spend about six months each year doing service with MDS. So far, they’ve been to places like Alberta, West Virginia, and B.C.

“This is an economic plan we couldn’t have figured out for ourselves,” said Susan. Between service trips, the couple, who attend the Evangelical Free Church in Okotoks, relax at home—although, Susan admits, after about two weeks they are ready to get on the road again.

“We enjoy travelling like this, helping others,” she says. “It’s so enriching.” “The work is so satisfying,” adds Peter.

At each project site, “there are so many hugs,” Susan added. “But they’re not thanking me, they’re thanking MDS.” At the time, the Thiessens enjoy the intergenerational nature of MDS. “It’s a blessing to be with so many young people,” Susan said. “It encourages our faith.”

Adds Peter: “It broadens our circle, and enriches us to share life experiences of clients and volunteers.”

Thinking about their “plan,” Peter reflects that “the world says to earn as much as you can so when you retire you spend as much as you want on yourself. We’d rather spend our time helping others.”

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