Update #1 August 4, 2014 Santa Cruz, Jamaica, West Indies

We have arrived in Jamaica!  And a phalanx of 4 nuns in veils and 2 cars met us to escort us. “You are home now,” said Sr. Agnes Mwongela, as she patted our hands. They are excited to see us, as we are to see them after 2 hours of delays, squabbles with immigration personnel who were also tired, and customs lines. The sisters had been at the airport at 12:30. We were to arrive at 1:30. We got there at 3:30. Sheesh.

We started on the two hour drive “home” into the midland of the dark island. Silky strands of clouds draped themselves around the shoulder of sleepy mountains behind which the sun masked it setting brilliance. These scars of mist settled around us with a certain ethereal quality. We really want to see this place in daylight.

As have been many of TATENDA’s trips, this one, too, has a hair-raising transportation story already. If we weren’t gray or white before leaving the airport at Montego Bay, we will be by the time we get to Santa Cruz, we thought. Our travel team was divided between the two cars and we sped through the night over narrow, washboard roads, only half of which were paved. Skinny dogs darted across the road every other mile with skinnier people stepping out nonchalantly from the murky shadows into our lights. There are many fatalities here, obviously. Fortunately, we have not become one, yet.

Today, Monday, we slept in as best we could in the swampy heat until 8:00, and after breakfast of mangos, egg, and toast, we took off for pastoral visits to the clinic. Sr. Patricia, a charming young Kenyan nurse, carries that ministry alone with her assistant pharmacist.  In the “lobby” a number of patients waited their turn, periodically tuning into a Hallmark film of Glenn Close as a western bride named Sarah. Intermittently, the feed was off and they were lulled into silence by the heat. Sr. Patricia has a lot on her plate.

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We, then, went and visited several Christians from St. Croix and Christ the King churches, communities that are run by donations and very little outside help, unfortunately. This area of Jamaica is the third and most recent diocese, under-funded and supplied entirely by missionary sisters and priests from other countries. It is very much a struggling community with many needs and Sr. Agnes is pastoral minister for both.  This evening as we sat in chapel in the sweltering heat, one could look across the room at the fatigue. Sr. Helen noted that this is the result of the climate, which is such a challenge. It is definitely time for a rejuvenating retreat away. We look forward to that tomorrow. Kingston, here we come.

That is it for now. Hoping for less heat and humidity tomorrow. We already dream of fans. Please keep us in your prayers. The sisters are so grateful we are here and they are great hostesses. We feel blessed.

Peace and gratitude,

Nicki Verploegen and Pamela VanWechel

TATENDA’s team in Jamaica