Ruth and Tim Leacock
When Jesuit priest Jim Strzok asked Ruth and Tim Leacock, “What about Africa?” the question hung in the air. “There’s this moment of invitation,” says Tim. And, eventually, they said, “Yes!”
When most people are thinking about retiring to a warm climate, few are thinking of it the way Ruth and Tim Leacock do. Their warm climate is literally 10,000 miles away in the heart of Africa. In their mid- 50s, with four children out of the home and two grandchildren eager to jump on their laps, Ruth and Tim are living a second career as the founders of an international non-profit, Computers for Africa (CFA). In less than ten years, through Computers for Africa, they have ensured that over 70,000 Africans have access to computers and the Internet by refurbishing over 2500 computers and establishing computer labs in 132 African communities. They credit their experience as Ignatian Associates with giving them the opportunity and the courage to respond to this call.
“I came to the Associates looking for a foundation where I wouldn’t burn out,” recalls Ruth. She didn’t know anything about Ignatian Spirituality, but knew that church prayer groups she attended weren’t cutting it. “They were all internally focused on their problems. I needed a place to help me be outwardly focused and to learn.” Even though Tim had seriously considered being a Jesuit himself some 30 years earlier, the idea of practicing Ignatian Spirituality as a lay person never struck him until they saw an ad in the local Catholic newspaper about the Associates. In 1997 they were a formation group of two while Tim was an electrical engineer at Union Pacific and Ruth was finally getting to finish her college degree. They made their first Promises in 1999 with no idea that their new found spirituality was about to lead them to an early retirement, working full time for no pay, downsizing their home, and moving to the other side of the Earth.
“The Retreat in Daily Life totally reframed my understanding of suffering, especially in my handicapped children,” says Ruth. “I went from ‘why could you allow this to happen’ to seeing the suffering of Jesus in this.” The Ignatian focus on action and being a person for others motivated them and gave a new purpose to their lives. “Ignatian spirituality helps us in so many ways in our work in Africa,” she explains. “You start in the deep love of God so you can face the evil in the world. You use the Rules for Discernment so you don’t get lost in the emotions. You learn it is about the relationships, not the numbers. And you return to the positive in your prayer every day.” As a very independent farm girl, Ruth was more used to relying on herself than on God. “The Promise of Simplicity to me is lived out in having a simplicity of heart to trust the profound goodness of God to take a small work, bless it, and use it to bless thousands.” That’s what she believes happened with CFA.
Ruth and Tim greatly appreciate their formation as a couple in the Ignatian Associate community. “Sharing the same framework and language and motivation is crucial,” according to Tim. “Most couples don’t even have the language to talk about subjects like social justice and apostolic availability, let alone make the time to practice it.” As Associates, Ruth and Tim live it every day, now running CFA together from their home in Omaha.
For both Ruth and Tim having a community of lay and Jesuit companions has sustained their journey time and again. “I was amazed by how much the Jesuits put into the Ignatian Associates to get it started and how supportive they were of us,” says Tim. “It was even through a Jesuit that our invitation to Africa came and to this day we continue to have so many contacts through the Jesuits in Africa and even serve the Jesuit schools in Kenya.” Ruth notes the gift of having a community that really witnesses to the Gospel and tries to live it out. “Having a supportive community who understood what we were attempting by moving to Africa and a place where we could share our values and doubts and concerns made all the difference.” Over the years, both have guided others in their formation and served as IA community leaders and they have taken the practices of Ignatian Spirituality one step further than most, becoming certified as spiritual directors themselves, hoping to share it with the people of Africa as well.
Tim smiles broadly when thinking about how the two of them have grown over the years since they saw that ad in the paper, saying, “I can’t imagine what I’d be like if I wasn’t in Ignatian Associates.”