Hands and hearts
A Tulsan finds her purpose in west Africa.
Stanislas and Tulsan Joli Beasley aboard Africa Mercy. After returning to Tulsa, she learned he is still recovering well.
Catherine Murphy/Mercy ships
Like many empty-nesters, Joli Beasley had a lot more time after her youngest child graduated from high school.
She found herself re-examining what she’d felt was her life’s purpose since before she could drive a car.
“At age 15, I knew I wanted to do two things: marry Todd Beasley and be a stay-at-home mom,” she says. “I have wife skills, and I have mom skills.”
At a glance, 45-year-old Beasley fits in well among the Utica Square crowd. A doctor’s wife — Todd is an anesthesiologist at St. John Health System — she is pretty, blond, fit and recognized by several midtown neighbors at a local juice shop.
But it’s difficult not to notice her one anomaly: Beasley is missing her left arm just above the elbow. It doesn’t bother her because she was born that way. “I’ve never had an instinct to do things with two hands,” she says.
Ironically, even with one arm — which has required a lifetime of creativity to accomplish everyday tasks — Beasley says she realized in 2016 how relatively “easy” her life was. And she wasn’t sure she liked that.
“There just weren’t many demands in my life, physically or financially,” she explains. “I was very appreciative of that, but at the same time thought, ‘That’s probably not a good thing.’ I had more time, energy and contentment than ever before, and I wanted to use it all for good.”
Beasley was ready to get uncomfortable, a willingness that led her to a floating hospital off the west African coastline.
As the typical “planner” of her family, Beasley was surprised when Todd asked her to join him for two weeks on a medical mission trip to Africa.
He wanted to serve alongside the couple’s friends, Tulsa natives Dr. Brian and Jamie Barki. The Barkis are missionaries for Mercy Ships, an organization that travels by sea to provide free, life-saving surgeries in areas with limited access to medical care. Brian and Todd did their residency training at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, and Todd eventually recruited Brian to St. John from UAB. They both worked at St. John until the Barkis and their three children committed to live and serve for two years on the ship named Africa Mercy. They have since committed to an additional year.
Joli agreed to accompany Todd on the trip and serve in whatever capacity she could, knowing he would be in surgery much of the time. Whatever she might do, she knew, would pale in comparison to the life-changing work of her husband and the other medical staff on the ship.
However, the first day aboard Africa Mercy, Beasley’s reason for traveling across the globe stared her in the face. His name was Stanislas, a farmer from a remote village in the west African country of Benin. A fire had burned Stanislas’ right arm to his side when he was 6 years old. After a long-awaited operation to free the arm and improve its use, Africa Mercy surgeons lost its pulse, and the arm had to be amputated just above his elbow.
Frightened for what this would mean for his livelihood and family, Stanislas was deeply depressed — until Joli Beasley, an American woman with one arm, walked onto the floor of his ward.
Stanislas’ disappointment in the surgery’s outcome was palpable, especially in contrast to the ship’s other patients recovering from surgeries such as tumor and cataract removals and palate corrections. After all, their lives were vastly improved. “Everyone else was healing happily, and Stanislas was thinking, ‘I’m worse off than when I started,’” Beasley says.
However, when Stanislas saw Beasley, his countenance changed. Here was a literal answer to his prayers. A few days later through a translator, he told Beasley he’d been sitting in the hall when God told him to look up. At that moment, Beasley was walking toward him. Stanislas explained, “The fact that you are on the ship at this very time is God’s way of saying to me, ‘Son, I see you and I love you, and I sent Joli to tell you these things.’”
The experience of meeting Beasley so touched Stanislas that he sang a song of gratitude to her a few days after their initial meeting. “For a full three minutes, this man sang a song to me in his native language,” Beasley recalls. “When he was finished singing, the translator said that he made that song up just for me right then. That was really quite an unbelievable experience.”
Over the next two weeks, Beasley met with Stanislas and a translator almost daily between her duties with Mercy Ministries, another arm of Mercy Ships. She recited Scripture to Stanislas, focusing on the first chapter of James, which Beasley had been working to memorize. (The chapter speaks to the testing of faith and how it develops perseverance.) She also showed him how she tied her shoes with one arm and how she could pull her own hair into a ponytail — not because he would need to know how, but to prove he, too, could do things most thought impossible.
“I said, ‘I promise you, once you get home you will jump back into your life. You will find a way to do everything you need to do,’” Beasley recalls.
Beasley posted about meeting Stanislas on her Facebook page.
She was surprised when the following day, person after person stopped her on the ship to say how much they loved the story. She learned someone on staff had printed the post and read it aloud at their shift change. Many had been in tears.
Beasley was in awe of how much care and concern the nurses developed in their relationships with patients. But why, Beasley wondered, did the story so touch the Africa Mercy staff, who participates in miracles every day?
Beasley says, “They told me, ‘The surgery didn’t go the way he had hoped, and we couldn’t help him. We could do nothing for him.’” What he needed, they said, was another one-armed person. That he had met one during such a specific window in time was nearly unbelievable.
“Only God could bring a person with one arm to the ship to minister to a one-armed man,” Beasley says. “Not only did God have a purpose for me, He used just me, not my skills. The way He made me was exactly what this man needed.”
The Beasleys are considering a return trip to Africa Mercy next year for another few weeks.
The trip would be partly to encourage and support their friends the Barkis. But even if they do go back to Africa, Beasley knows she will never see Stanislas again — at least not in this lifetime. He will soon return to his village, and by next year, the ship will have moved southeast to Cameroon. But Beasley believes their shared faith will reunite them one day, in heaven.
“Can you imagine what a reunion that will be?” she asks. “We’ll both speak the same language. We’ll be healed and whole, with two arms.
“We’re both looking forward to that.”
About Mercy Ships
Founded in 1978, Mercy Ships is an international faith-based organization with a mission to “bring hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor.” At any given time during its 39-year history, Mercy Ships has had one to three ships in service, providing training opportunities for medical professionals along with surgical interventions.
Currently, Africa Mercy is the only Mercy Ship in service, but as the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship, it represents greater capacity than all prior hospital ships combined, according to Mercy Ships.
Each year, approximately 1,000 volunteer crew members from 40 nations serve on Africa Mercy, providing free surgical procedures such as:
- Cataract removal/lens implants
- Tumor removal
- Cleft lip and palate reconstruction
- Orthopedic surgeries (for conditions such as club feet and bowed legs)
- Women’s health procedures, including to correct childbirth injuries
Africa Mercy has five operating rooms, a four-bed recovery unit, intensive care for up to five individuals and 80 ward beds. A CT scanner, X-ray machine and laboratory services also are on the ship.
Funding for Mercy Ships is provided primarily through private donations, foundations and corporations. Volunteers who serve on the ships and in the field “pay their way” by contributing monthly fees to help cover room and board, enabling Mercy Ships to deliver medical and development services for a fraction of the usual cost.
Circle Cinema hosts Mercy Ships documentary and missionaries
On June 27, Circle Cinema will show “The Surgery Ship,” a 76-minute Nat Geo documentary about life aboard Africa Mercy. Following the 7 p.m. screening, Tulsans Dr. Todd and Joli Beasley and Dr. Brian and Jamie Barki, who are on temporary leave during their service on Africa Mercy, will participate in a Q&A with the audience.
Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the box office or in advance at circlecinema.com. A portion of proceeds will benefit Mercy Ships.
For details on the documentary, visit thesurgeryship.com.