Dr. Charles Keffer, former provost of the University of St. Thomas, has been sending reports of his (and wife Barb’s) service work on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. This is his ninth report.

Jan. 12, 2001

Hello from St. Vincent,

Since our last report we spent about 10 days in the Twin Cities spending time with family over the holidays. I cannot believe that the Twin Cities and St. Vincent are on the same planet given the weather difference at this time of the year. Needless to say, we were shocked to confront the second snowiest December on record and the third coldest December on record in the Twin Cities! At least from the weather perspective it was nice to get back to the Caribbean.

At the same time it was good to be home for a while. It felt like we were able to spend some quality time with our children (and one current and one prospective grandchild). We got a special plane fare (courtesy of our daughter SusanÕs Web Êsearching skills) that saved us over 300 dollars for each ticket. It routed us through Washington D.C. each way. So we spent one night (going) and Êtwo nights (coming back) with my brother and were able to visit my mother as well.

There is a tradition in the Caribbean (I may have mentioned this in an earlier Êcommunication) that when you go on a trip away from the island someone always asks you to take something with you for delivery to another person and someone else always asks that you bring something back for them. True to form, we had a small request on the outbound trip but the inbound trip involved a major shopping list! In fact the one extra empty suitcase that we brought with us was not sufficient for the return trip. We had to add another for a total of five suitcases. And this didnÕt involve much in the way of clothes for us since we had no winter clothes in St. Vincent to take with us to wear in the Twin Cities. We were grateful that the customs officials in St. Vincent didnÕt ask us to open our bags. It was hard enough saying that we were simply returning from "holiday" with five suitcases!

On the trip back into St. Vincent we traveled the last portion from San Juan with Dr.Christina Schwindt, a young medical doctor (specialist in pediatrics, allergy and immunology) who will be spending two months as a volunteer here. It is usually a real challenge to get the proper clearances, etc., to do volunteer work but I was able to help her accomplish this task in only about two months.She is staying with us at St. MartinÕs House and has already become fully engaged in helpful medical activities, especially assisting the one nurse practitioner in the country that works with asthma patients.Ê

Our welcome at the airport was special. I got out of the plane first and was waiting for Barb to disembark. It finally dawned on me that my name was being called. When I looked up to the observation deck, there was Mary Schmitz with the four youngest inhabitants of the Bread of Life community shouting my name. They changed their call when Barb came down steps, now shouting her name. When we each came out from the customs area, we were jumped on by at least one of the two young girls (Krystal and Tamisha) and one of the two boys (J.J. and Justin). We felt great! When we got to St. MartinÕs House we discovered that Mary and Sister Carmencita had brought us some welcome-home groceries.

Activities are beginning to pick up again. A stewardship commission meeting will occur next week. The board of directors for a proposed home for the aged is also meeting next week. The lay formation program begins Unit II on Jan. 24. The Diocesan Resource Center now has 850 titles catalogued. I am actually beginning to worry about running out of shelf space!

Next weekend I will be offering a training program for ushers (or ministers of hospitality) at the cathedral parish here in Kingstown. It is being designed from scratch and we hope that it goes well so that we can use it in other locations around the diocese. I hope to develop a program for training of lectors and another for training of sacristans as well.

Barb has contacted a priest who is a native of the Caribbean with a doctorate in ministry in preaching to conduct a workshop on preaching in April (for priests, religious and lay persons who give homilies during Mass or in communion services when a priest is not available). We are looking forward to this program.

Prior to Christmas we were able to participate in the first day of the ÒNine MorningsÓ celebration that is somewhat unique to St. Vincent. It is a cultural and social activity held on the nine mornings preceding Christmas day. Events begin around 4 a.m. each day. There is a conscious effort to integrate religious activities as well. On this first morning, Bishop Rivas said Mass on Bay Street in downtown Kingstown. This is a good example of the way that religion and the churches are very much a part of the life, culture, government, etc., of this country.

I was able to resume the programs for young people in Sandy Bay (windward) before Christmas doing a program on male-female relationships and starting a new series on leadership. The young people from Bellevue also want to get involved again so IÕll be doing the leadership program this Sunday there. In the future, then, as I continue with other aspects of leadership (communication skills, decision making, etc.) I can do programs in Sandy Bay and Bellevue on the same day (as Barb and I did last year).

In my last report I forgot to mention that I participated in the 2000 National Squash Championships. I was in the veteran category with three other men. Needless to say, I got wasted by each one of them!! But it was fun and it was good exercise