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Sorry I Forgot the Camera


Editor’s Note: Missioner Janice Smullen reflects on some of the new sights she’s seen in Jamaica and how sometimes it’s less about getting the photo and more about engaging the people and sharing bits of each other’s stories.

There was an old Saturday Night Live skit, probably in the 70’s, with (I think), Buck Henry and Gilda Radner driving on a vacation trip through the Utah scenery and as he points out each outstanding scene, she responds with an apology for forgetting the camera. “Oh look, a pterodactyl!” he exclaims and she responds, “I forgot the camera!”

My mission here has yet to evolve and at first I felt that I didn’t have anything to write a blog about.  One day, as Erin and I were walking to a local church to begin to explore their ministry options, several beautiful events occurred.

As we approached the bus stop where we wait every day, I noticed a man walking up the slight hill and picking some kind of plant.  When he came back to the sidewalk, I asked him what it was.  It was a piece from an aloe plant and he needed it to feed to the hurt bird that he had found and was carrying in a cardboard box.  Sure enough, inside the box was a darkly colored, medium sized bird, with a definitely recognizable parrot beak!  But I didn’t have my camera!

We turned the corner to begin the trek up the larger hill toward the church and saw two men who had stopped to talk to each other.  One had six or seven 3 foot long stalks of sugar cane tied and balanced on his head…and he was seated on his bike!!  We didn’t see him pedal away, but it doesn’t matter because I didn’t have my camera!

We proceeded up the hill and I stopped to look at a shrub growing on the edge of the sidewalk.  It had pretty, pink flowers that reminded me of my favorite fuchsia plants that grew as hedges in England.  As I was looking at it, a man walked by and volunteered, “That is called rice and peas’ which caused Erin and I to chuckle because rice and peas (the “peas” are really kidney beans, to us) is a normal staple of our diet here and it is not pretty, as these flowers were!  Sorry, I don’t have a photo to share.

These little vignettes can happen every day.  I see people doing things I have never seen before.  Everywhere.  Every day.  Sometimes I stop to engage.  Sometimes I pass by.  Sometimes it is very difficult to push my introverted self to engage.  On good days, it is always a fun and rewarding experience.  A woman I know here related the same type of opening:  “I was having a difficult day relating to my elderly father.  I was impatient and frustrated.  I had taken a break from him to go to Mass, and definitely felt the Lord telling me to LOVE.  I went back to my father, and just listened to him…really listened to him; and just responded when needed.  I felt much better.”

My head knows these things.  My heart knows how it feels when someone takes time to be with me and engage.  I have to continue praying for patience, confidence, faith, and joy.  I have to actively choose to react to nagging students with a smile and a laugh and time to listen.  I will choose to enter ministry as an opportunity to see God’s plan for me unfold, and surprise me.

These will be the Kodak moments that my heart remembers.  I have to access the love that is always accessible, the    “love of God [which] has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”  (Romans 5:5)


(The included photo is of one student that approached me one day as I was going into the school library.  I asked her if she wanted to share some reading time with me there. I expected her to run off and play but she said “Yes.” Inside, finding a book, she totally impressed me with her ability to read with expression, understand context clues, and read with emotional expression! What a gift to me! I had my camera that day!)

Reflection Questions: What are the star photos in your life’s album? Thank God for those. Which ones would you prefer to delete? Ask God to help you edit those, to do better next time.

*Featured image: adaptation of photo by Pexels user Karolina – labeled for reuse 

Janice has been granted the fruits of a family vocation and many community volunteer experiences during the past 40 years. Each experience has helped to build her faith in God's unending and unconditional love. She has been a CCD teacher, doula, ESL instructor, retreat facilitator, and mentor to refugee families. Now, Janice is grateful for the freedom and health and the opportunity to continue service and growth overseas. She lived most recently in Greensboro, NC, and loves to garden, sew, read, hike, and do yoga. Janice has been in Kingston, Jamaica since March 2016.