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Joanne Thibault, Studium Scholar

G

od has truly blessed me with an ear that is inclined to listen for where in the world he wants me to be. When I was looking ahead to early retirement, the call to devote myself to being a full-time volunteer came through loud and clear. In January 2012 I found myself transported to Africa, eagerly responding to God’s will that I should serve with the international medical charity, Mercy Ships. Through my roles as a writer of patient stories, and as the engineering administrator whose tasks included helping our

I spent over three years volunteering on board the Africa Mercy. This is the hospital ship operated by Mercy Ships that provides free medical care to the poorest of the poor in Africa.

local crew, I learned, experienced and observed a great deal about life in each of the four African nations where the Africa Mercy served—Togo, Guinea, Republic of Congo and Madagascar.

prevalent due to the lack of medical care, seemed to have taught them how to remain joyful. I contrasted this emotional healthiness with the far less life-giving but more common response to suffering in societies of plenty: despair, negativity and anger—often directed at God.

Recognizing what I felt was a great gift that African people are able to accept, also alerted me to the fact that everything I experienced, observed and learned in Africa was also complex and paradoxical (to my way of thinking). To do any of my learning “takeaways” justice, it was essential that I not rush to put words to paper, but instead, to be extremely slow and cautious about coming to conclusions. My conclusions had to withstand some benchmark for authenticity. A concurrent development in my own spiritual growth presented me with the path to find the authentic expression for all that I had garnered in Africa. A deep thirst to consume Scripture seized me in the midst of my Africa Mercy service and intensified as I looked ahead to returning to my North American home. I began to hunt for a place where I could immerse myself in a self-directed study of Scripture. And as I contemplated and envisioned glorious hours steeped in Scripture, it came to me that Scripture may also be where I could find expression for my time in Africa. My ear was immediately inclined to this notion. God had spoken.

My understanding and awareness of the stark differences between Western world “haves” and Africa’s “have nots” grew at a rapid pace. Real life stories of hardship, struggle and calamity, especially those arising from untreated medical conditions, were shared with me through translators who quickly became my guides and friends.

Despite my safe and secure residential perch on a modern hospital ship, my roles and friendships took me into the streets and villages where many good people, regardless of their trials, taught me about being joyful and kind in the midst of physical and/or economic pain.

The peaceful co-mingling of suffering and joy in day-to-day life, which allowed good humor and joviality to prevail, was such a contrast to my developed world experience. The attitude, to me, seemed to say, “Suffering takes so much away from me already, I’m not going to let it take my joy away too.”

The way that the people of Africa whom I met reconciled suffering and joy demonstrated, to me, a significant spiritual maturity. The sheer volume of their suffering, made so extremely

10 BENEDICTINE Sisters & Friends

Photos courtesy of Joanne Thibault and the St. Cloud Visitor

Benedictine Sisters and Friends, Spring Summer 2016  

Published by the Office of Mission Advancement, Saint Benedict's Monastery, St. Joseph, Minn. The purpose of Benedictine Sisters and Friends...

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