In talking about her 42 years as a Maryknoll Sister of St. Dominic missioner on the remote Marshall Islands, and the book she wrote about it, “Ocean Pathways,” Sister Joan (pronounced Jo Ann) Crevcoure tells you a story she believes personifies God’s ever-present love.After staying all night on the atoll and village of Milli, Milli, Sister Crevcoure and Sister Janet Sue Hockman set out on foot for another of the atoll’s islands called Nallu. But soon the water was up to their necks and the current was getting strong. With white water all around them now, both realized they had judged the tide wrong and were in serious trouble. “It was one of the few times I was really afraid,” recalls Sister Crevcoure. “So we grabbed each other’s hand and prayed, ‘Sweet Mother, we place this in your hand.’”When they opened their eyes, a very tall Marshallese man stood just five feet away. “Yokwe” he said, a traditional Marshallese greeting. Then pointing, he told them to actually move out closer to the ocean towards a higher coral ridge. “You will be safe,” he said.That’s counterintuitive; we can’t do that, Sister Crevcoure was thinking. “I turned back to say that to him,” she reports today, her voice getting lower, “and there’s nobody. Nobody before, nobody after. But God all around.”After a quick prayer of thanks, they struggled toward the ocean ridge. And when they found it, walking in the shallower water was, in fact, much easier. In silence, both marveled at their near death and strange rescue experience as they made their way to Nallu.New assignmentAfter a 12-year assignment in Hawaii, where she earned a master’s degree in education, Sister Crevcoure, at age 36, was assigned in 1962 to the Marshall Islands. Three Maryknoll sisters had established a new mission in 1950 on Likiep atoll. One of those nuns, Sister Rose Patrick St. Aubin, would play a big part in her 40-plus years of ministering to what is today the Republic of the Marshall Islands, comprised of 29 atolls (or circles of small islands), stretching north to south in two parallel chains. Lagoons formed in the islands’ deep center of long-extinct volcanoes. The islands, no higher than six feet above sea level, are vulnerable to typhoons and other storms.By the time Sister Crevcoure arrived in the early ’60s, most of the people had moved from Likiep to the developing atoll of Majuro. A Jesuit priest, Father Leonard Hacker, had established a grade school, which soon became a boarding school for children from other distant islands. The new nun wound up teaching two grades at the same time, with 52 students in sixth grade and 57 in fifth, in classrooms next to each other.That was one challenge. The next was communication: Marshallese is an oral language, with almost nothing written down. Sister Crevcoure knew only about five Marshallese words, while her students knew maybe 100 words of English.“You just went ahead with what had to be taught,” the enterprising religious says. “They were so eager to go to school, so that was like gold on a mountain right in front of you. But it’s one of those things that takes time. You did anything that might get a point across. Draw pictures. Use sign language. Anything! You’d write words on the blackboard and they had wonderful memories. Marshallese are an intelligent brood of people.“But it was always a challenge,” she admits. “And I would say it’s another instance of just God working through us. We did the best we could, and it worked.”Nuclear testingSister Crevcoure says after she taught for a number of years at Assumption School on Majuro, Father Hacker asked the nuns, “Couldn’t some of you just go over and visit the Arno atoll like on your vacation times?” “Rose and I looked at each other,” she says, “and it struck a chord. We made a real decision. These people needed to know God. What we did was church — developing faith with the hope it would continue after we were gone. So we put a big effort in training prayer leaders and catechists.”And there was something else that made her want to be more involved with the Marshallese people.“It was a little after the time the United States was using the Marshall Islands for nuclear testing,” she continues. “Anybody who knew these people were angry about that. I still get angry. They took advantage of a people who were very simple and trusting, especially of the United States.”The two nuns knew they had to develop a curriculum to educate not only the children, but also the adults. For one thing, the Marshallese had to know about other nations. They had to have some picture of the broader world. And from this would come: What did they want for their country? “But they had to have some vision, and that had to come largely from education,” she says. “So we had to go into adult education.”So their combined teaching-pastoral ministry spread to more and more Outer Islands, where the people asked the Maryknoll sisters to visit them. At low tide, they would walk between the islands of more distant atolls. Even sharks didn’t stop them. “We adopted St. Paul, or he adopted us,” Sister Crevcoure says with a growing grin. “So we always felt like Paul. He was shipwrecked like us. There were many experiences we had like him.”A “terrible sense of isolation,” especially during the first few years of her Marshall Islands assignment, was the hardest cross she had to endure. But the warmth and generosity of the people soon made the atolls and islands her home. She believes this was another example of God’s grace.The two women religious even wondered why they were in the Marshall Islands with so few people, when they could be ministering to many more in Africa or Asia. “Rose and I talked of it many times, because we’d be working with maybe 12 people,” she reports. “And this was a time when we had lots of sisters, which is, I guess, why we got sent out there. They could afford us. But we just wondered, you know, if this really was the best way.”But she stayed and ministered on the Marshall Islands for 42 years, before coming back to retire with some 32 other sisters at Maryknoll’s complex in Monrovia, near the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.“Oh, I’ve had a wonderful life,” Sister Joan Crevcoure muses. “I’m just grateful. I consider it all blessings.” “Ocean Pathways” can be ordered from or purchased at Vroman’s bookstores in Pasadena. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0222/missionary/{/gallery}