Well, here is my answer - the long and short of it in no particular order....
First up - Why not? A big adventure. Experience something amazingly different. Not just off the beaten track - but completely out of the zone. When we went to check out the Smart Traveller page on the DFAT website, the Republic of Congo wasn't even listed as a possible destination. (Not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo) Now that is seriously different.
Second, ever felt blessed? Ever watched the news on TV and thought - we are so lucky to live here in Australia? Every time I see people suffering around the world, I feel so fortunate to have what we take for granted in our country. Maybe we can help to relieve some of that suffering. Maybe, we can give up a bit of our time, energy and money to do something that will make a difference. Maybe our boys will develop more compassion as a result. Sure we can give $$, but as anyone who has helped out with a sporting club or other community group knows, money is great, but time and effort is even better. So we have worked for over 20 years now - 2 years is a comparatively small sacrifice to make.
Third - we feel compelled to do this. Mick first found out about Mercy Ships when we lived in Singapore (2000-2002). He saw an ad in the Marine Engineers journal and mentioned that he would like to do something like this. I didn't think too much about it - but strangely enough, it kept coming up in conversation and in the media out of the blue. It got to the point where Mick felt that he had to find out more. So when we lived in London (2006-09), he went to Holland and did the Introduction to Mercy Ships Course on a long weekend. He returned from the weekend quite emphatic that serving onboard was something he knew he was supposed to do at some stage in his life. When someone is convinced that they have found their calling in life - their eyes shine and their passion is evident. Their conviction is contagious. So then it became a matter of timing.
I know not everyone understands feeling called to do something. I know people who have felt called to their profession: people who wanted to be a teacher or a doctor from a very young age. I know people who have felt called to go into ministry. And I know people like me - who feel compelled to do anything that is exactly the opposite of what people expect. I like to be different and to find my own path. It was somewhat surprising therefore, when we told my parents that we were planning to serve with Mercy Ships that they were not at all surprised. Which brings me to point 4..
Faith. A big one for Mick and I is that we are both Christians and feel God's Hand in guiding us this far. We are not sure whether Mercy Ships will be a short 2 year adventure or a life changing step for us. What we do know, is that God has a plan for us. When we were preparing for service in late 2010, it was a challenging time - as you will see from the blog posts then. Mick had left the Navy after 23 years convinced that this was what we were supposed to do. We had our tickets booked and were packing up the house. However, Jack's Aspergers diagnosis was a spanner in the works. It was a crazy time because we were getting a lot of assurances and concerns at the same time. And we were not sure what we were supposed to do.
But Hebrews 11:1 states that Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
When I look back at it now, I see so many more positives than negatives but I know at the time I felt like we were all out on a branch that was about to fall. However, we didn't fall - or if we did, it was onto our feet. God had a plan for us. Mick found a great job that he has been very happy doing. The boys are now all at school and so they will all remember this experience - a bit unlikely before for Harry. And Jack Aspergers is no longer running our homelife. With the assistance of fantastic Speech Therapist and OT, and excellent teachers, Jack's behaviour has improved dramatically. Indeed, I am pleased to announce that we even won the Tomato tasting war this week - another achievement for our household. And not just for Jack - but Mark and Harry ate the dreaded Reds too. A few years ago, mealtimes were a real battle - but in those few years, we have worked hard to expand not only the dinner menu but adapting to change overall as well. And we have come along way. I'm not sure whether that would have all happened if we had made it to Sierra Leone in February 2011.
I hope having read all of this, that you now understand the answer to the question I posed as the start of this post. Really for us, what started out as should we do this, became how can we not do this?