Sister Michelle Collins received a 50th Anniversary Scholarship Grant to travel to Jamaica in September. Read along with her experience!


It was a good thing I set my alarm…and even better that I packed last night. I was just finishing an email that needed to go out before I left when my ride knocked on my door.  Ready or not…time to go.

The most awkward part of a trip with people you don’t know is the gathering time…waiting for everyone to arrive, figuring out who is going to sit in the front, asking the mandatory questions and then forgetting the answers because the person doesn’t really exist yet, making small talk looking for common ground.  This is not my favorite part of a trip.

But it doesn’t take long to start getting a sense of who people are.  That guy talks…a lot.  That guy turns everything into a joke.  That guy assumes he doesn’t fit the mold and already sees himself as an outsider.  That guy takes a lot in but doesn’t talk a lot.  The group is made up of 4 pastors from different denominations, myself, and the person coordinating the week.  It will be interesting to see what kind of group we end up becoming.

And then we got to the airport.  43 people in the plane and two hours later we are flying over the Caribbean.  I’m struck by the shades of blue in the water…and I imagine I can actually paint or photograph the scene from an airplane window in a way that captures the grandeur.  Instead, I take pictures of the clouds.

IMG_1640Landing in Montego Bay I am flashing back to my recent trip to Kenya and South Sudan.  There’s something familiar about this country…even though I’ve never been here.  The airport is easy to navigate, chaos-free and incredibly clean–very different from the airport in Juba.  The immigration lady doesn’t make conversation or ask questions…just welcomes me to Jamaica.

Driving out of the city I try to take in all that I am seeing.  But in my mind I am back in Juba, where the traffic is much worse, the streets are much dirtier, the road has worse potholes, and there are pedestrians everywhere.  But the mountains in Jamaica are beautiful…I had forgotten that Jamaica has mountains.  Or maybe I never knew.  And then I am thinking about a recent conversation about pine trees and palm trees, and I wonder if life will ever lead me past palm trees.

Stopping for lunch at what in Kenya would be called a tourist trap…but without tourists.  I think in Jamaica it’s called a “Jerk center,” which lends itself to all kinds of jokes within the group.  But we don’t quite know each other well enough yet to go there.  The rain that started up earlier doesn’t seem to be letting up, and as I enjoy Jamaican jerk chicken, I ponder what that means for our agenda tomorrow, which includes working on a farm.

After lunch I can’t keep my eyes open and I snooze in the car.  The conversation about the history, size, geology, politics and sociology of Jamaica, combined with the rain outside and my lack of sleep combine together to create a rare lullaby that I finally just give in to.

After 3 hours of driving along the coast and then inland and up the mountain slightly, here’s what I know:

1) tourism is a mixed blessing, 2) beautiful coastlines are not the full story…go inland, 3) value is relative, and 4) there’s got to be a balance between honest curiosity and too many questions.

We pull up to the house we will be staying at all week, and claim our rooms.  One advantage of being the only female: I get a room to myself.

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Grocery shopping…enough said.

Over supper we begin more formal introductions and formal conversation.  It’s clearly going to be an interesting week.  A Nazarene pastor, a Presbyterian pastor, a United Methodist pastor, a non-denominational pastor with a charismatic flair, and myself.  Lots of talk about where the church has dropped the ball…but somehow we are still committed to it in some form.

It’s the end of the day.  I cannot think or analyze anymore…I only hope I can sleep.