It was already hot and humid in the Trinidad jungle at 8 in the morning on a certain Saturday some years ago. I was waiting, sitting outside of a little white church in the Matura village. I had been told that the leatherback turtle project manager for whom I was volunteering, was in the habit of going to that church on Saturday mornings. I really wanted to talk to him after not having seen him for a week. The project was not being carried out as it should have been. The manager’s presence was required: he needed to show up.
Finally, closer to 8.30 a big white Mercedes-looking car drove onto the parking lot. A big black man dressed in a dark suit and a white shirt exited the car first. A big black woman in a colorful party dress stepped out from the passenger side. Finally, two big black children, dressed in their best Sunday attire, extirpated themselves from the backseat.
The big man came to greet me and introduced himself as the pastor of the church. He invited me to wait inside the church. Someone turned on the fans, which felt like a relief in the sweltering heat. As I was sitting on the last row, I observed people who started entering the church, all well dressed, men in black and white suits, and women in colorful dresses. I felt out of place in my casual Bermuda shorts and short sleeved T-shirt. Everyone, without exception, came and greeted me cordially in a kind of English language mixed with French words. So far, there was no sign of my project manager.
Then the parishioners started singing. I was standing between two elderly ladies who gave me a songbook. I joined the singing. Everyone seemed to know the songs by heart. After fifteen minutes the singing stopped and we sat down. The pastor standing in front of the congregation greeted us with “Good morning” and then said:
-“Today we have a special guest from Finland, Sister Maria”.
Wow, what a coincidence, I thought. There is another Finn here in the Trinidad jungle! I looked around at the black faces that had turned toward me.
-“Sister Maria, could you please tell us what brought you here, to our little village?”
Now the pastor was walking toward me in the center aisle, and I realized that he meant I was Sister Maria. That was a bit intimidating.
Slowly I stood up, tried to smile reassuringly to the expecting faces, and started telling about the leatherback turtle project. How important it was that we all made an effort to protect them, so that these oldest surviving animals on the earth would continue reproducing and prospering in the modern world.
People were nodding and looked more serious now. I could see they were thinking gravely about what I had said. Happy that I had saved face, I sat down and started planning my escape. I hadn’t had time to eat breakfast before I sat off earlier, and my stomach reminded me loudly of its existence.
Escaping wasn’t easy, however. The Bible text of the day, read by a young child, was about the Good Samaritan. After the reading the pastor asked the congregation:
-“Who is your neighbor?” meaning who should you help?
First he gave the floor to an elderly man, who responded:
-“Sister Maria is my neighbor and pointed at me.”
Again everybody looked at me and nodded, confirming the deep truth in those words.
The meeting, or should I call it a service, continued, with more discussion on the topic. Then a group of school children performed the Good Samaritan drama dressed in costumes that looked like bed sheets or curtains.
At some point, the pastor’s wife gave a persuasive talk about how we should help our sisters and brothers in Europe. Therefore, there was a need to collect and send money to three sister-congregations in Europe. One of them was in Brussels, Belgium, another in Bulgaria and the third in Portugal. If I understood correctly, at least one of these was building a new church, maybe the one in Brussels. I can’t remember why the two others needed financial support from these poor people in the tropical jungle.
I put all the money I had in my shorts pockets in the collection bowl, once it reached me. That was probably an error. Later the wife of the pastor, after seeing the result of the collection, gave another, even more powerful speech. She announced that more offerings were needed and that we should show more generosity and give what we had to help the sisters and brothers in Europe. I felt a bit ashamed that I did not have anything more to give even though a little devil was whispering to my ear that the money possibly went to feeding the pastor’s family.
A couple of hours later, there was a break. That was my opportunity to quietly leave the church to get a late breakfast. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to talk to the project manager.