Nun's 'Peaceful Patience' Helped Her Survive Kidnapping

Sister Suellen Tennyson, who lost 20 pounds in captivity, was held for 5 months in Burkina Faso
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 15, 2022 10:35 AM CDT

Sister Suellen Tennyson sat amazed as one of her captors began washing her feet. "I was just taken aback," the 83-year-old Roman Catholic nun and former international leader of the Marianites of Holy Cross tells the Clarion Herald from a safe haven in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, where she arrived Aug. 31 following nearly five months of captivity in Burkina Faso. One of Tennyson's toes had been bloodied during a motorcycle ride through a forest immediately after armed men blindfolded, gagged, and kidnapped her from a mission site in Yalgo, her home since 2013, without her shoes, glasses, or medicine. She was then handed off to what the Herald describes as "a rival Muslim group," a member of which began the foot-washing practice common to both Roman Catholic and Muslim traditions.

Her captors "treated her reasonably well and did not physically harm her," per the Herald. But life in captivity wasn't fun. Tennyson, who contracted malaria and lost 20 pounds, says she spent months sleeping outside in a tent made from branches and leaves, and later indoors on a floor before a captor found her a sofa. She was given coffee each morning, but mostly ate bread, spaghetti, rice, and sardines. "I have no desire for sardines anymore," she notes. She tracked the days and number of times she moved locations with a piece of paper and pen, with no idea where she was. "I told my caretaker, 'I can't run away—I can't run, and I don't know the way!'" she says with a smile. She says God sent her a message of "peaceful patience." Still, she began questioning "how much longer I can go on."

Her eventual release was as enigmatic as the foot washing. In August, she was escorted on another motorcycle ride across three rivers and assumed she was being moved again. Then she encountered a group of men who told her she was free. They took her to a house, with one man saying, "You need to take a shower. Let the woman of the house help you,'" Tennyson recalls. "I felt like I was in heaven. And then it dawned on me. That was the first woman I had seen in five months." Then in Niger, she was released into US hands without a ransom paid, Tennyson says. She's now regaining strength at the archdiocese with a heart "filled with gratitude"—for her survival and safety and for those who worked and prayed for her release. A video shows the Louisiana native "beaming," per the Advocate. (More captivity stories.)

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