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A Day in the Life at a Franciscan Convent

Blog Headers 2022-23 (6)

Editor’s note: When missioner Joleen Johnson found out that she had a day off from her ministry at primary school, she made a plan for how she wanted to spend her time.  But the day unfolded much differently than she expected, with many opportunities for ministry of presence with the residents of the Franciscan convent where she lives.

For this blog, I decided to take an entry straight out of my journal. I wanted to depict a “Day in the Life” of what happens on a given day in Jamaica and in the convent where I live with elderly Franciscan sisters. I wake up every day in Jamaica and I never know what I’m going to get. So here is one, unsuspecting day of my life in Jamaica:


May 11, 2022

8:00am While I was getting ready for school, someone knocked on my door and told me that we are not having school today due to a strike at the water plant (which meant that the school does not have water today). I continued getting ready, but my routine has changed due to the water strike. At the convent, we are running on conserved rainwater. The water out of my faucet in my bathroom has been coming out brown so I don’t drink it. I didn’t brush my teeth this morning because I didn’t want the dirty water in my mouth. (Thank God we still wear masks so no one has to get ambushed with my bad breath, haha!) The shortage of water is a good privilege check and perspective check, and a reminder of what others in the world face consistently with their water injustices.

I was sort of excited to have an unexpected day off. I made a list of all the things I wanted to do on my day off:

  • Finish praying
  • Take a long walk
  • Clean my bathroom
  • Journal
  • FaceTime my grandpa
  • Fix my glasses
  • Pack rice bags for the Food Distribution on Saturday

Once I left my room, however, the day took a completely different route.

9:00am When I went downstairs, one of the sisters asked me if I could start packing for the Food Distribution to the poor, and I said yes. Previously, when I told a different sister that I didn’t have school, she said, “Great! You can come with me to Family Pride,” a grocery store where she buys food for people who are hungry as part of her ministry. At the store, I got lunch meat and mayo for my school lunches. When I calculated it out later in the day, I saw that the lunch meat was $7, and thought, “that’s pretty expensive for my budget!”

12:00pm We got back home perfectly in time for lunch: stew peas. I don’t know how I’ve made it 9 weeks in Jamaica without eating such a Jamaican classic as stew peas. But I really liked it!

Last night, after a busy day, I started a list of all the fruits I’ve eaten in Jamaica so far. I brought the list to lunch and the sisters looked over it. I spelled the Jamaican word for papaya as “paw paw,” very wrong, and two of the sisters were cracking up tremendously! They were coming up with different pronunciations of my spelling, which had me laughing so hard that I was wiping tears away!

1:30pm After lunch and dishes, I started to pack the rice for the Food Distribution to people experiencing poverty. When I got there, I realized that I needed scissors to get the 90-pound bag of rice open. So I went back to get scissors. Little did I know what I was about to get involved in.

As I walked to get the scissors, a sister caught me in the hallway and I went with her to get some tablecloths upstairs. She deliberated about which ones to take down for her birthday tomorrow. After the tablecloths were chosen and I carried them back downstairs, another friend living in the convent asked me to help her with her groceries. She gave me a Pineapple Melon to eat, which I then added to my fruits list. I liked it. It looked like yellow cantaloupe with big black seeds. My friend told me that the sister I was helping with the tablecloths also really likes Pineapple Melon, so she sent me downstairs again with some Pineapple Melon for that sister, who was delighted to get it.

By this point, I had left for a pair of scissors (which, by the way, I kept carrying with me while moving from room to room), and hadn’t yet returned to the Food Distribution.

3:30pm I went back, with the scissors, to the rice bagging—after about 2 hours! But I don’t regret saying yes to anyone that I did. I finally cut the bag open and began scooping rice from the 90-pound bag into smaller amounts.

When I finished bagging all 90 pounds of rice, I decided to quit for the day and I had about an hour until dinner. When I went to put the scissors back, another sister caught me and asked me to help her scoop and pan her famous oatmeal cranberry cookies. So I got 2 spoons and knives and away we went, getting the cookies on the sheet. She put them in the oven, and then I went upstairs to Facetime my sister as she opened her birthday presents.

6:00pm So I changed and went to dinner. Actually, I don’t think I changed—I thought about it but then I decided that I didn’t want to dirty up another pair of clothes, especially since I’ve been refraining from doing wash with this water shortage and dirty water situation. I ate dinner and helped with the dishes and then went upstairs for our weekly Missioner Book Club Zoom. After discussing our chapter of the book and briefly catching up, we hung up at about 9pm.

9:00pm I opened my door and calculated some receipts (discovering my expensive lunchmeat!), and then 2 friends who live here walked by my door. They asked me if I wanted to help them. I said, “Yeah,” and I was in the hallway following them before I had the chance to ask, “What are we going to do?” We got a ladder and hung streamers in the dining room to decorate for one sister’s birthday the next day (the same sister with whom I was getting tablecloths). After we were finished and cleaned up, we discussed a present for this sister.

Then I took a shower. Finally! I had been looking forward to it all day since I was sweating a lot throughout the day. And I’m glad the water came back on, because then I felt better about it, ethically. It was a short shower, of course, to conserve water.


I wanted to write this journal entry just to give an example of one day in the life. One “day off” and how I was asked to help so many different sisters, and got derailed and delayed so many times in my effort just to bag rice for the Food Distribution to the Poor. But I also learned that it all works out, and is so worth saying yes to helping, assisting, lending a hand to those who ask me. And what a distinct honor to be asked, too! The day I thought I would be free turned into grocery stores, and tablecloths, and cookies, and rice bagging, and Pineapple Melon, and streamers, and more! 

Question for reflection: How do you react to interruptions in your day? How might God be speaking to you through those moments of change?

Joleen discovered her passion for overseas service during her first mission trip in 2012 to Guatemala. Since then she has served in Haiti and studied abroad in India, teaching English in an elementary school, after which she began to feel the call to longer term overseas service. Joleen is excited to see what God will teach her through FMS, and looks forward to living out His call for her. She is inspired by FMS’s humble and relational approach to ministry.