Missionaries and the Perils of Transatlantic Travel

The "African Enterprise" -- the steamer on which the Climenhaga family traveled during their return trip from southern Africa to the U.S. in 1960.

Today is the fifty-fifth anniversary of the tragic sinking of the S.S. Andrea Doria, the Italian ocean liner that was struck off the coast of Nantucket and capsized, killing 46 people, on July 25, 1956.

That event might not appear to have anything to do with Brethren in Christ history — but it did inspire one now-grown Brethren in Christ missionary kid to share her reflections on the perils of transatlantic travel in the postwar years. Here’s a taste of Donna (Climenhaga) Wenger’s recent blog post:

. . . When this [Andrea Doria] story was first in the news, I was riveted with the details. Our family was one of those ocean-traveling families. With my parents [David and Dorcas Climenhaga] doing mission work in southern Africa, which they first went to in 1946, we had to get across the Atlantic Ocean, somehow. The very first time, we went by plane which is standard now, but very unusual then. After that trip, we crossed the Atlantic in 1954 to return to the U.S., then again in 1955 to return to Africa.

So, crossing the Atlantic was something with which I had familiarity, when I first learned of the Andrea Doria sinking. It did not instill great confidence in me. The only thing I really feared crossing the ocean was the prospect that the ship could sink. It didn’t help matters when on one ocean crossing the ship we were on showed a movie Run Silent, Run Deep about submarines preying on ships.

Sure, it was great fun to cross the Atlantic in a huge ship, such as the Queen Elizabeth I (as we did). And the time spent on shipboard was a wonderful way for missionaries heading home to decompress. But, the prospect of another ocean liner striking the ship we were on did not thrill me.

When I returned to the U.S. for the final time in 1960, we once again crossed by ship–a ship called the African Enterprise. I even found photos of it on the Internet–shown below–which completely matched my memory of the ship. The photo of the ship’s main lounge really brought back memories for there was a piano there on which the ship’s doctor–an Italian opera lover–played the Triumphal March from Aida JUST as we steamed past the Statue of Liberty into New York harbor.

Read Donna’s complete reflection here.


About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
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One Response to Missionaries and the Perils of Transatlantic Travel

  1. Elaine Reed says:

    Very interesting. I hadn’t thought about that aspect of what missionary kids had to go through.
    We used to really enjoy it when missionaries visited our church. Those were great spiritual and cultural experiences for us. But that too must have been hard, including for the children.

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