New Mercies: Jamie Barki
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The Role of a Mom On Board

Jamie Barki is a mom of three children who lives in Oklahoma. When her children were 3, 5, and 7 years old, Jamie and her husband decided to volunteer with Mercy Ships as a family.

Jamie and her family joined the crew of the Africa Mercy and stayed to serve for four years. In the beginning, Jamie went through the ups and downs of helping her children transition to ship life, but says, “If the transition isn’t painful, you’re not making progress.” They all made a lot of progress and have treasured memories of their time on board.   In this episode, Jamie shares how this experience impacted her family, how the patient caregivers inspired her, and how she found her place serving on the ship.

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New Mercies Podcast Transcript

Today we get to hear from a woman who decided to take her children along for the adventure that led them to a ship in a developing nation. Jamie Barki is my guest on New Mercies today. But before we hear from Jamie, I have a story to share with you from another mom.

Maybe you remember our guest, nurse Amy Jones on a previous episode, you can hear her full interview on episode 16. But Amy volunteered as a nurse on board with her husband, Ally. And when they became pregnant, they returned to the UK to have their first child. After Lewis was born, they decided to go back to the ship, this time with a toddler in tow. Amy didn’t come back as a nurse but as a mom who still had a heart for local people and the community off ship. So, Amy decided to invite her little son onto the streets with her to meet the local people and learn from them. Enjoy this little bit from Amy Jones.

Raeanne Newquist:

Well, how did you continue your love for the local people and the local community? How did you continue that now with a little child with you? Were you able to still engage the people? And how did you make that happen?

Amy Jones:

Yeah, it was great. Actually, it was better than I ever imagined. I think I see it here as well — here being in the UK, that having a small toddler type thing with you opens up so many conversations and you talk to people that you would never normally talk to you. Things slow down a little bit when you’re you know, walking up and down the same step 70 time! I remember in Guinea specifically, I got to know so many people on the streets because they would be like, Oh, here they are again, Lewis and Mama Lewis coming in for their bananas. I honestly felt like I wasn’t taken advantage of so much with a child — people gave me a good price. And I love it. I think life slows down a bit and you just have a bit more time. Like obviously, having a child is busy. But actually, when you’re just walking around hand in hand with a toddler, you go at a slightly different pace, and you talk to other mothers on the streets. And so, in Guinea, Lewis and I would quite often walk through the port, which was super exciting, because there were massive lorries everywhere. And so, we would look at the lorries and look at all the vehicles and chase the pigeons, and then we would sit outside the main gate where the women sold rice. And so, we would sit with them, and we would learn Susu. We’d sit on these massive sacks of rice and Lewis would have his cute little straw hat on of his shoes that we that we bought from the car boot next door, and it’s literally like shoes lying on the boot that you pick up. And we would just sit there, and we would learn Susu and I’d have my little notebook and we would just learn phrases. And in that you just build such a fun relationship with people. There’s also kids about everywhere, all over the place. And so, Louis met his little friends. And actually, from the same group of women, we were able to help a little kid.

We had been in the country for maybe four months when a man came running up to me, and we were trying to learn some Susu and was like, Oh, I think I think you can help my friend. Can you come and talk to her for me? And so, they took me in Lewis through some little alleyways and we went up and found this lady and she had a kid who had club feet.

We met a kid who was only 18 months old with really severe clubfoot, and so she had been selling her things on the street with this baby the entire time the ship had been there. We had put out media on the TV, we have put out stuff on the radio, there had been leaflets, the team that before the ship arrived, the team was in country for months working on getting patients and doing screenings. And somehow this woman that lived in the city that we’re in, had missed it somehow. I don’t know how, or she was too scared to come and ask, or she didn’t trust us, or there could have been hundreds of reasons. But I think considering she basically lived and worked on the port road where the ship was, I think it was probably more that she didn’t trust the ship. She didn’t know anyone from the ship and she didn’t want to come. And so, I sat down with her and her kid and got them booked in and got the screening team to see them. And by the time we left, this kid’s feet were straight. And that’s just from talking to the mamas on the street. And sometimes I think people just need a context, especially in in West Africa. Community is all about being warm and being present in people’s lives and getting to know people, there’s so much trust that is given once you know someone but if you’re not willing to make an effort, then you get you don’t get that level of trust to get entrance into that person’s life.

Raeanne:

It’s so cool that you would take the time to engage in the local people in such a way that they trusted you and said to their friend, you can trust her. I love that you take your son with you anywhere. For some, raising children means settling down and staying put for a long season. But for others, it means going to a developing nation and taking their children along to expose them to the world and people in need. Just like Amy Jones did. Well, today we get to hear from another mom who did the same thing. Jamie Barki, along with her husband took their three children to live on board the Africa Mercy for four years. Here is my interview with Jamie Barki.

Jamie Barki, Welcome to the New Mercies podcast.

Jamie Barki:

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Raeanne Newquist:

I’m so excited to sit down with you today because I thought it’d be fun to talk to some of the moms of Mercy Ships. And it’s quite a unique role to come and raise your family on board a ship overseas. And you did that for four years with your three children. So, tell us how that whole adventure came about with your family?

Jamie:

Well, it’s kind of a long story and a long process in a way. So, my husband is an anesthesiologist. And so, when he finished residency actually is when we heard about Mercy Ships. And I was like, oh, let’s do something like that. We don’t have a job, we’re not settled anywhere and I thought it’d be a great time. And he was kind of like, oh, I don’t think that’s what we’re supposed to do. And then life happened, so years later we started talking about his job and flippantly I said, Oh, why don’t we go do Mercy Ships, you know, and at that time, we had three kids. And that night, Brian stayed up all night. I didn’t realize that till the next day, but he had stayed up all night researching Mercy Ships and looking into how much if we sold everything financially, could it work?

So, when he told me that the next day, I was like, whoa, wait, wait, I wasn’t serious! But he called Mercy Ships and they didn’t need us at that time. Now, we know, it wasn’t God’s timing, but then several years later after that, they called and so it was just putting your yes on the table, and then letting God take care of it. It was a slow process from then, but by the time it was time to get on board, God had provided every step of the way.

Raeanne:

Why would you guys want to do something like that, especially with kids? I think it’s one thing to go as an individual or even as a couple. But why would you take on that adventure with three children?

Jamie:

I don’t know why. Honestly, there’s not really a good reason except that was what God wanted for us at the time. Brian actually got a chance to go to the ship by himself for two weeks and serve. And then a year later, he and I had a chance to go to the ship, just the two of us and serve for two weeks. And so, we had a glimpse of what it was like, on the ship and what they did. I got to know some of the patients, and I did have a huge desire for my kids to be able to see people as people. You know, and I think it’s just so hard because especially where we live, you have to look the right way and perform the right way and do all of these things. And I just had this feeling in my heart that that’s not what I wanted my kids to feel like was normal. But I wanted them to be able to just get to know people as people, whether they look different or sound different, or have giant tumors on their face, or whatever — God’s created them. And so that was a huge desire in my heart. I thought this is a great way to show them the world and what the world is really like, but ultimately, it was totally just God saying, this is the next step for you.

Raeanne:

So how old were your kids when you went?

Jamie:

My youngest was three, Hannah. And then Maya was five. And then Brandon was seven. So they were fairly little. They all have very different personalities and my oldest, Brandon, is very, very social, has never met a stranger, very, very active. And so surprising, you know, and so I thought it would be the hardest for him, actually, because he was older, he had friends, he was playing American football. He was really into everything. And so, I thought saying, Hey, we’re going to move away and do this, that he would kind of object more because it meant leaving things that he loved, and was really attached to but, he just was like, okay. I think he just saw it as an adventure and something exciting and so he was really okay with it. The girls were young enough and thought — wherever mom and dad or whatever, I’ll go like, I didn’t really even think they had a choice. So, there wasn’t any huge fight or objection, which I was surprised by. Once we’re onboard, there were some hard days. But the initial idea was, seemed pretty easy.

Raeanne:

Were you nervous about anything as a mom taking your kids overseas?

Jamie:

Because we had seen the ship and been on the ship before, I think we had a little bit easier time because I know many families come have having never seen the ship. But I think we kind of knew things as far as security goes, and every country is different. But just the idea of a West African country, we kind of had an idea of what that was like. To be honest, the thing that I was most nervous about, which seems so shallow now thinking about it, but I had lived on that ship for just a small amount of time and realized the community, while it was a beautiful thing, was so in your face! I remember thinking, Oh, I can hear the people right next to me in the next cabin, but the walls are really thin. I was like, I can hear what they’re saying. And they’re gonna hear what I’m saying and the idea of just living and working and doing everything with all of these people, and then being able to see and hear everything I say to my kids was really terrifying for me

Raeanne:

That’s a very real thing on board the ship is that you are with these people all the time. And it poses an additional challenge as a parent, because they see your kids having a tantrum, they see your kids talking back they see you losing your patience with a kid that’s talking back and all that kind of stuff. It is something different to navigate. How do you parent kids and set a close community where even if you take them aside in the privacy of your own cabin, people can still hear right through the walls, you know? So, what was that? Like? How did you parent your kids on board?

Jamie:

It was definitely a unique challenge. And probably one of the biggest at first as everything is so public. In addition to that, all of the families are from so many different countries and backgrounds. And so, everyone does things differently, like you come from a faith-based background, but it was just stark differences of how you parent or discipline or whatever, and so I had to question myself, like, Wait, do I do this because this is what I think is right for my kids? Or do I do this, because this is what the culture told me back home, I was supposed to do? I second guessed a lot. I think God just gives you the grace in the moment. Like if you’re in line at in the dining room, and my youngest is, you know, she took a while adjusting to big crowds. She’s more of an introvert. And so being in a dining room with a lot of people around her, was overwhelming for her at first and so she would melt down occasionally, as a three-year-old does. If you’re here in America at Target, and your kid melts down, you get embarrassed, and you get flushed, and then you run out the store, and you hope you never see those people again. But in the dining room, those people followed me around the rest of the day! right back into the laundry back outside… The theme over and over for me in my journey, and even now is people are people, right? And so, they just see you as a mom struggling. And that’s normal. I think before maybe I thought I’m the only one that struggles with these things. But when you live in a close community, you realize, oh, I’m not really the only one, so they actually helped out more. And while at first it was very embarrassing to be forced into being so transparent, it ended up just being a little more freeing in the end.

Raeanne:

So how was the initial transition for everybody, for your kids? And what did that look like? You went from a home in America to a very tiny little cabin on board a ship where all five of you are together one bathroom? How did that transition go?

Jamie:

I feel like transition is almost like a bad word. I hate the thought of transition and I think I remember a quote, somebody told me, like, if transition isn’t painful, like you weren’t making progress. I think it was painful. It’s hard looking back to remember because God provides always, you think — what was I so stressed about in the moment? But if I try to think back, there were some beautiful times, and each kid handled it differently. Like I told you, Brandon, my oldest is super social. He wanted to be out of the cabin all the time with his friends, exploring and meeting people, it was almost like church camp, met real life. And so, he just wanted to be in the church camp aspect all the time, where my younger two were more reserved and took time to adjust to new people. They wanted to be clinging to me all the time. There were good things and bad things about both of those things. Being a family and doing things as a family and being in community. And sharing our family with the community. Yeah, so that transition and figuring that balance out was the hardest part.

Raeanne:

Was there a moment for you, as a mom, where you felt like, Okay, we made the right decision. This was the right thing to do for our family.

Jamie:

I think there were several moments where I felt that like yes God, this was what you had for us. And this was the right decision. Like one of them I think Brian may have shared actually is we used to take the kids down to the hospital and visit with the patients. And we thought this will be great. They’re gonna get to know the patients and they’re gonna play with the kids and it’ll be great and literally my kids will be clawing my arms like not wanting to go. And I’d think, God, I really felt like this is what you want us to do as a family, but they hate it. And then we realized, it’s a hospital, what kid likes to go to a hospital and see tubes and it doesn’t always smell great and people have different things going on with their bodies. But we really did feel like that’s what God wanted us to do. So, kicking and screaming, we’d go down to the hospital, and then one day, and I don’t even know how far into it, I looked down, and no one was grabbing my leg. And they let go, and they were actually playing with the kids on their own. And I remember just this thing in my head being like, oh my gosh, when did this happen? I don’t know when they became comfortable and actually looked forward to and they would bring their friends from the crew down to the hospital and, and so just as an epiphany of realizing, Wait, God, we did what we thought we were supposed to do and now God’s provided this joy in their hearts for it too, that was a huge moment. But then, you know, honestly, if I were to be honest, I probably had just as many moments of saying, what the heck have we done? Like, why have I done that? You know, I think and even in life now, I feel like I obey God and then I have doubts.

My daughter loved to play frisbee, and they would always go play frisbee on Friday nights. And my son loved it. And he would always go. But my daughter was terrified that she even though she loved the game of frisbee, she never wanted to go out onto the field to play. And I think it was the social aspect she was scared of. And then I remember looking, and she was the last one out on the field playing Frisbee. And I remember my mind was like, Whoa, I remember when she wouldn’t even go out there out of fear and now I can’t get her off the field. Because she’s faced that fear and now she’s found joy in that. Just little moments like that, where I realized, they’ve conquered their fears, or they’re trusting God.

Raeanne:

What were some of the jobs that you had on board? And which one did you settle into, and maybe find your joy in?

Jamie:

I started out with administrative help in the hospital. And I did that for two years. And I actually found a lot of joy in that. I love Excel and scheduling. And I love figuring things out like that. And so there was a lot of scheduling the nurses and that kind of thing, and which I enjoyed that kind of filled that bucket. I also got to take pictures of patients when they were discharged from the hospital. So the day that they were told, Hey, you get to go home, or go off ship, you know, and then they get their regular clothes on. I got to take a picture and then give it to them as a souvenir. And that, by far was my favorite thing I’ve ever done on the ship. Because most of our patients haven’t had photos of themselves. And to be honest, a lot of them wouldn’t have wanted photos of themselves before their surgeries because it brought a lot of shame on them. And so they got photos now of their new face or legs or whatever and they could share that with their family. And then, without a doubt, they’d always want their nurse or the doctor or somebody that they had met in the photo with them. So, we’d have to go track them down. Can you please be in this person’s photo because they want to take it home and it was just a special moment of that person had meant so much to that patient. So, it was really joyful and a really great time and a good experience for me. Those were my first two years in the hospital. The second two years, I worked in the chaplaincy department for the crew. And so, it was just kind of being a team of people that were there to help the crew, whatever they needed. But I kept the photo part of the administrative hospital. I said I don’t want to do that unless I can keep taking photos of the patients. So, I got to do both.

Raeanne:

Oh, that’s neat. What were the countries that you served in over your four years? And is there one that was kind of a standout for you?

Jamie:

Well, we started out in Madagascar, and then we went to Benin, Guinea and Cameroon. We also did just short term serve in Senegal, but they all have a special place in my heart. Madagascar, of course, is so beautiful. It’s funny, because my father is from Egypt. And so, a little bit of the culture of my family, my dad’s side of the family, reminds me a lot of West Africa, in the boisterous and the hospitality and all that stuff. But Brian is Chinese. And so, the Asian culture, you know, is a little bit different, a little bit quieter. And so anyway, in Madagascar, we just laughed, because it’s a combination of the African culture and then there’s also a lot of Asian influence in Madagascar. So, we’re like, this is so funny, it’s like a mixture of us. So anyway, of course, we really enjoyed that. And that was our first experience. I also love to craft and to sew and things like that and then they have the beautiful fabric, just plethora and plethora of fabrics. And so, I just really enjoyed the culture and the personalities there as well.

Raeanne:

Was there a moment, during your four years of service that really impacted you personally?

Jamie:

The ship is so has so many layers, right? Like, you have the crew who come from 40 different countries that you get to live with and do life with. And then you have what we call the day crew, which are the people that live in the country that we are serving in, who come and work on the ship, and they translate for us and they open our eyes to their country. You become really close to them. And then you have your patients who are coming and their life is changing, and you get to know them. And I can’t remember, but under a certain age, every patient has a caregiver under a certain age. And so sometimes it’s their mom, or their grandma, or even just a community worker that brings this patient and they stay with them in the hospital, which could be depending on their surgery, you know, could be months that they’re in this hospital, taking care of the patient. And so there’s all these different layers, right? So, it’s so hard to choose a moment because for me, it would be getting to know one of those different layers. But for me, the caregivers were so fascinating to get to know and there was this patient named Dylan that we had, who had a burn contracture.

He had been burned because they cooked on open fire. He had been burned as a young boy and you hold your arms when you’re burned into the place that’s most comfortable. So then the skin grows. And essentially, Dylan’s arms were stuck to the side of his body, and he could not lift them up. His mom was there and her knowing that for years, she had helped him with his arms being stuck. She had looked for ways to help and get him treatment but there wasn’t any in his country.

Just to think about what she had gone through and now that she’s on this ship, with all these people that don’t look like her, you know, like white people or other people that don’t sound like her that talk different, but she’s trusting because she has so much hope for her son. Surgery is exciting because he gets a new life but it’s also painful. There’s a lot of pain and a lot of work that the patient has to do to rehab to get into a position where they can raise their arms again, even after the surgery. Just to get to know her and the love that she had for her son, even when it was hard, was just really eye opening for me. It wasn’t necessarily anything she did, but that she was just constantly there to love on him and to be there for him. And I just loved watching the caregivers put aside everything because they probably had kids at home that they had to leave to take care of this one child. It reminds me of Jesus leaving the 99 to chase the one. Watching the caregivers just was really life giving for me, they are very special people that come and you don’t know how long they’re gonna be there. I mean, like you mentioned, depending upon their surgery, those caregivers might be there with the patient for three months, you know, and so it is it is a big commitment, but you get to build relationship.

And like we always talk about, you had to leave your home to come serve on this ship. And you don’t get paid and you had to pay to be on the ship. And then I think about these families —  yes, they are receiving free surgeries, but they’re not working during that time. Yeah, they’re on the ship with their kids. And sometimes that’s giving up a lot, you know and they’re giving that up trusting that God has a plan for their kid or whoever. So just to see their sacrifices is eye opening.

Raeanne:

How are you a different person having served for four years? How did the experience change you?

Jamie:

It’s so hard to pick one thing in these areas. But I definitely think I’m more transparent now than I’ve ever been. And kind of like we talked about with the community, like you have no choice but to be transparent. But also to see up close the struggles of people when I worked in chaplaincy, I got to talk to crew one on one when they were having a bad day, and you think that crew who have given up everything in their home country to come to a ship, you know, they’re brave, and they have everything put together because they’re doing this great thing. And absolutely, they are vessels that God uses, but they’re also people. And so you get to hear how they’re discouraged, or they are tired, or they are hurting or whatever. And you just get to listen. And I obviously didn’t have any amazing words of wisdom, but to listen to people’s struggles, and to pray with them. And then to see them step out and be used by God in such amazing ways. Despite their struggles, it was freeing for me too, because it’s like, okay, I don’t have to have everything put together for God to use me. And just loving people sometimes is enough. And then they can go on and do great, amazing things. And honestly, as I’m saying that right now, I have two teenagers, and I’m thinking about all the things that I think of that I have to do for them and how sometimes it can get really stressful and they have to perform this way. And they have to make good grades. And they have to do this. And they have to do that. And I’m thinking, wow, like I saw on the ship, the power and just loving someone. I see how important that is and sometimes it feels unproductive. But that was my job for two years. And I saw how actually productive it is when you give it to God. Right? Actually, as I’m saying that, I’m thinking, wow, I need to remember that.

I also really valued the diversity on the ship. But I don’t think we really saw the value in having people who are different than us in our lives, like actually in our lives, not just we know their name. And so we’re definitely more intentional now of putting ourselves in positions where we get to know people who are different, you know, who have a different story socio economically or racially or physically, you know, just in the schools that our kids go to, or the church that we attend. It’s not just because we need to serve them, but because we’ve seen the value that they bring to our lives of having different perspectives.

Raeanne:

Well, looking back, what do you think this experience did for your children and for your family as a whole?

Jamie:

I still pray all the time that that time wasn’t just a time for that season, but that carries through in God forming us and the people he wants us to be. Honestly, I do see my kids, they are definitely able to talk to people now. And of course, they’re older as well but just talk to people who are different than them in a more natural way. I do see that. I have to sometimes intentionally say that. Because they are kids and it’s just crazy how this world can distract us from what really matters, right? Even for me, like, I’m like, oh, you know, two-minute showers are fine on the ship. And, I don’t need new clothes, and I don’t need all this stuff. And then I live in America for three weeks and walking through a store, oh, I need that. And I need that I need that. It just happens so quickly, if we’re not aware. And so, I’d be lying if I said, Oh, my kids are not materialistic anymore. But I do think that those experiences and I pray that those experiences in the long run or ran deep is that they when they meet people, and they see people, and that people are what matter, rather than just the stuff or the performance or the accolades or whatever.

Raeanne:

Absolutely. Well, I wouldn’t doubt that there are some families that are listening to this, that are contemplating going to the ship and wondering, do we take our family and uproot our kids and go on this grand adventure. Do we do this or not? They’re grappling with that decision. What would you say, as a mom who has gone and done it and returned? What would you say to people that are considering going to serve with Mercy Ships as a family?

Jamie:

Yeah, so I would say wherever God has you, is the best place for you. And even though my kids all have different personalities, God used our experience on the ship to grow them in such big ways, like in in their perspective of the world. It was most definitely worth anything that we could say we gave up, we don’t see anything as a sacrifice that we did to go to the ship, because we gained so much through the community and through God’s work and people’s lives, whether it be our patients, or our day crew or even us. If you were to ask my kids now, if they could go to the ship, they would go in a heartbeat. And so, they don’t remember the sacrifices. They remember the joy. And of course, it wasn’t easy. Just obeying God and trusting him is the best place to be. So, I think if God is calling a family to go to be obedient and say yes. And there are some scary things, and there is transition, but my gosh, what you gain compared to what you give up, you can’t compare. I mean, like I said, it takes time, it took time for me to find a place and like in the chaplaincy, I would sit with people who had just got on the ship. And they’re like, what have I done and especially moms or primary caregivers, and they’re like, I gave up this great job that fulfilled me, and now I’m just chasing my kids around this small ship all the time. And they feel discouraged. But then you see them a few months in the future and they’re glowing. And they have their position or however God’s using them on the ship in addition to their family. And it’s like, Oh, he did provide.

Raeanne:

Well, Jamie, thank you so much for taking time to share with us about your experience and truly your wisdom and your wise words of encouragement. I know it’s blessed my heart. So, thank you so much for sharing with us today.

Jamie:

Oh, no, thank you so much for having me.

Raeanne:

All of the children who go on board with their families not only get an excellent education in the academy on board, but they gained so much insight and exposure as their worldview is formed through experiencing life surrounded by many nationalities. Currently, there are 12 families on the Global Mercy and 12 families onboard the Africa Mercy. Maybe your family will be next. For volunteer opportunities, check out mercy ships.org/volunteer

For more information about Mercy Ships go to mercyships.org and to keep up with the guests on New Mercies, follow us on Instagram at NewMerciesPodcast.

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