We get asked this question often. People wonder what it’s like for us here, just as I wonder what it’s like for missionaries in other “exotic” places… like Paris, Italy or Greece (basically I just want to go to Europe!) So here is my completely subjective, unofficial list about what it’s like to be a Caribbean missionary. (I am writing from the perspective of St. Kitts & Nevis and Turks & Caicos because this is where I have lived for the last 3 years).
1. You live in paradise! Yeah, you are “really” suffering for Jesus aren’t you?
Oh, this was so funny the first few times we heard it. We get this a lot. As in all the time. Like pretty much every time we tell someone new where we serve. There was a time when it would irritate me (and my husband) but now we just know it’s part of life. While I was being prepped for my c-section in the States it came out that we are missionaries… when they asked where we serve and I said “Turks and Caicos” the entire room groaned and giggled! I guess doctors know about this place huh?
2. It’s NOT Paradise
It may be absolutely beautiful, but it is not paradise. There are legitimate problems here just like anywhere. The only perfect place is Heaven.
3. The Crime
This one aspect is very “un-paradise like”… especially when we lived in St. Kitts. (Although most of the murders were gang-related and did not concern expatriates). We had several friends robbed, our upstairs neighbors were robbed, robbers attempted to break into our house… by the time we moved EVERY property on our street had been targeted. The pinnacle though, was the very first mission team we hosted, who stayed in a house across the street from us, and were robbed while they slept in their beds. We learned to keep our car doors unlocked with absolutely nothing inside so robbers weren’t tempted to break our windows (and yes our vehicle was gone through numerous times). We had burglar bars on our windows and doors and even had deadbolt locks on our bedroom door… and we all slept in the same room, not just to save on air conditioning but for safety. We couldn’t keep anything on our porch over night… not even for one night. We were watched all the time. Turks and Caicos also has it’s fair share of issues although not as bad. But people are still robbed, we still leave nothing in our vehicle, we still have burglar bars and a security system and we still know that we can be targeted at any time. (The resorts are safe though!)
4. It Is Beautiful Here
St. Kitts has the mountains and lush tropical rainforests, with golden beaches. Turks and Caicos has some of the most breathtaking beaches in the entire world. I never tire of looking at the beauty God created! It makes me speechless. God truly was showing off when he made the Caribbean!
5. Perpetual Summer
This is a blessing and a curse! We can go to the beach all year long (although we find the water a bit cold in the winter time, but the tourists seem to think otherwise). The weather is usually nice. We watch people dealing with winter on TV while we are in shorts and tank tops.
6. The Heat
And that’s the curse of perpetual summer. There is NO ESCAPING THE HEAT. The “Caribbean Breezes” typically exist in the winter time. But summer? You can’t even fly a kite. The humidity is insane. In the summer I break out in a sweat simply sweeping the floor. Or really just sitting on the couch. It’s gross. In America, especially in the south where it gets super hot in the summer, you have air conditioners in your home, in your business, in your stores, in your car, pretty much wherever you go. Not here. We do have wall units in our bedrooms but they only come on at night when we sleep (or when my baby needs to nap).
7. The Cost of Living is Enormous
We only turn these air conditioners on when we are sleeping because it’s just too expensive otherwise. Our electricity is over .50 cents per kilowatt. For comparison, it was less than .10 cents when we lived in Alabama. Whatever you pay for power, times that by 5, and you can imagine how shocking it was for us! Because these are islands, most of the goods are imported. So expect to pay anywhere from 2 – 5 times the cost of groceries from in the States. Oh, and because this is “paradise” rental homes are a lucrative business! For what we pay in rent a month we could have a fantastic house in Alabama. (Although if you are coming from New York, Boston or Toronto, the rent probably isn’t that bad!) And gas? We were happy to see our gas under $7 a gallon.
8. The Doors are Open
This is not a hard place to do ministry! Many people are Christians and are excited to have us here to help, train and provide resources. We are really simply coming alongside the church here. Most people know the Caribbean has serious issues, and the Christians want to reach out. We are not persecuted. We are not unfavored. We do not have to worry about dying for our faith. We can freely minister with the blessing of many people in government.
9. There Are Sacrifices
Our biggest sacrifice is being away from home. Our children miss their grandparents. Our baby barely knows them. We miss weddings, funerals, births and graduations. Life back home moves on without us. When we do come home, we don’t feel like we fit in anymore… although the more we travel between the two places the more we are able to adjust. And this really goes for most missionaries… being homesick is real. There are times when it is so tough all you can do is cry, pray and remind yourself of God’s calling. Yes we have indoor plumbing, we do not live in huts, we have “normal” lives… but being away from loved ones takes it’s toll.
10. We Are Close to the States
We had a 3 hour flight from St. Kitts to Miami… just over an hour from Turks and Caicos. We do not live on the other side of the world. We have the tremendous blessing of coming home once a year whereas many missionaries only come home once every 4 years. Our flights home and back cost us about $600 not $6000 like some missionaries we know. In fact it takes less time for us to fly from the Caribbean to Alabama than it would to fly from Alabama to the West Coast.
And really if there is one more thing I would list it would be the struggle of “what and how much to share” with everyone. We have been criticized for posting too many “fun” pictures (even though we barely make it to the beach once a month, much of the time less than that). But we also get told we need to do more fun things and get teased about being “so white” haha. And then there are the people who want to hear about our real life, they want to know about any difficulties we face… but on the flip side there are people who think we are exaggerating or just complaining when we are being real. We struggle to find that line of “what and how much to share”… I’m not sure we even know where that line is… but critical people seem to know exactly where it is! 😉
So what is it like to be a missionary in the Caribbean? It may not be all sunshine and rainbows (literally!) but it’s altogether an awesome experience!