in Jamaica: February 2017


This trip, my photos were about 10% sunset/sunrise/blurry pictures of the full moon, 10% food, 10% Bible quizzing, 9% sea urchin spine removal process, 1% cows on the loose, and 60% silly selfies. Which is a pretty accurate idea of what my week was like! 20170209_071825

We are kindred spirits, and always have been. 20170209_095837a20170206_134301a

It was a blast to have my friend Julie along with me! 20170208_123354a20170207_101850a


more from Jamaica


My traveling necessities: pillow pet pig, nook, kleenex. 20160202_101015

Watching this school start its day was a highlight all week. As students filter in, different classrooms are singing or clapping in rhythms or doing devotions. Small groups of kids would be sweeping or washing out trash cans together. Even for those who may struggle first thing in the morning, it makes you smile and think, “Oh yeah, this will be a good day!” 20160203_075902

Every morning I’d watch the ocean for a bit, keeping an eye out for Billy’s van. 20160203_100416

Sweet girls!! I miss them. That was the best, having tons of small group time every day. We’d talk and study the verses together or ask questions. Just getting to know each other!20160204_102629

My love for yellow continues! Actually in the same way we say “red, white and blue” in America, the colors of the Jamaican flag are “black, green and gold.” So yellow, gold, whatever, I like it. 20160204_111405

Supreme is such a fantastic school, I always look forward to being there. This year they had a majority of boys on their teams, with STRONG PERSONALITIES and show-stealing goofiness. Which was such a blast (I’ll take high energy over bored/not caring any day) but also lead us to bring the girls outside for some confidence-building separate practice time.20160205_085054

With my new friend Pearline at the registration table on the morning of the tournament!20160205_103005

This old organ was outside the door of my quiz site. So cool! 20160205_152837

The church who graciously hosted us this year was Hillview Baptist. Perfect name although “hill” is almost not a strong enough word! How great it was to simply have one building to work with. In the past we’ve rented three churches right in downtown Montego Bay. In 2014, I had the kindest police officer in Jamaica assist me as scorekeeper, and he raised some concerns about security and safety- with school children crossing busy streets, lots of entrances and exits, etc. We all agreed about that, plus it was crazy expensive, and very tough logistically to run a tournament in that setting. We never could find a better option until now. This church, and the pastor who bent over backward to help us, was a blessing from God! 20160205_145133

Championship quiz! John Rollins Success (my original favorite school) came in first, Howard Cooke took second, and Chetwood took third! I get caught up in the competition, it is the most fun ever. My small team had practiced with the kids at Chetwood all week and it was SO exciting to see them come so far! Wow! We got to present their medals. So cool. What an awesome group of students. 20160205_152749

I love a happy aftermath! We were all celebrating. In fact in my mind I could just hear the “end of the movie” music start up! After many struggles and defeats over the past two years, the goodness of this week was not lost on me. My brain is full of ideas and my heart is full of hope for next time!

For more about my adventures in Jamaica:

Jamaican Bread & Jam for Frances
Jamaica Video
Sixth Grade
It’s the same all over the world

caregiving, mon


Big smiles all around at the start of Bible Quiz season in Jamaica!!  From students, teachers/coaches, principals, the team in Jamaica, and me in Nebraska wearing a necklace from the island to remind me to pray! Today I’m looking through pictures posted by my fellow Jamaica travelers and I’m so there in spirit. And kindof pretending to be there by putting myself in the picture. Later I will probably have to woefully drink my last Ting, stashed in the back of the fridge, while scanning all the trip updates again and again.

Because I’m a caregiver, I get to go to Jamaica once or twice a year. I am not thinking that too many people have ever said that sentence before. Because I’m a caregiver, I’m freed up to give some of my time so that students on a gorgeous little island can put God’s Word in their hearts and feel awesome while doing so. Because I’m a caregiver, I’ve collected a treasury of experiences that I will no doubt still be talking about when I myself am old & gray. Because I’m a caregiver, I get to be a tiny, small, little part of several priceless ministries.

What a random set up I have going.  (Or, what a perfect plan God has going, that’s what.)

I like it.

(Go here, here,  or here for more Jamaica posts.) 


a few camp favorites

In an alliterative list form, because it just Worked out that Way.
Waiting for my campers to arrive. (Not the RV campers you see in the background, I mean the small children, who come to the camp, so we call them campers.) 
Walks & practicing my Bible memory verses.
Wranglers who are so encouraging & help my girls be brave and try new things!
Wacky quiz practices. One of the ladies helping in the kitchen kept watching us from afar, shaking her head sympathetically. But I realized that I love a good ole chaotic environment where we are silly but still get a lot done. The noise does not bother me and I’d rather the students be interacting and having fun than sitting there silent and bored. I mean, not to boast or anything but my team went absolutely undefeated so I must have been doing something right! Right? (Or my team was stacked with good quizzers. I’ve heard it both ways.)
Wishing I was as eager a learner as our youngest campers. The way they soaked up my dad’s Bible stories, listened and remembered and asked questions, was amazing.
Wearing red staff shirts along with a truly fine, funny, humble & caring group of people.
Whiling away the hours in the Tradin’ Post. It’s a tough job I’ll tell you that much.
Wondering why we didn’t start doing Bible drills with the young, squirmy, hyper ones years ago. It’s kinda an old-fashioned deal but man.. it holds their attention and they have a blast. We started this after noticing that probably 90% of the students coming to camp (this is including lots of church kids and even AWANA kids) struggle to find Genesis much less Psalms in their Bibles. It was cool to see their confidence build as they learned their way around the Bible.
Wildly cheering on my quiz team. I love the competition! So fun. All types of students enjoy quizzing, but my most favorite is when a kid who is maybe a bit of an outsider, not so athletic, not popular, very smart but with very little confidence– when they catch on and realize they can be awesome at it.
“Wow” Dad. The older campers this year played a ton of basketball, and my father was right in there with them! Pretty awesome. And loud. 🙂
Well, well, well. I have nothing to end with except this normal average sunset picture. But I enjoyed all the days I got to spend back at camp this summer, even the normal average ones!

monday gifts

Thankful for…

the best kind of Sunday dinner. Cinnamon rolls and biscuits and pasta and Jamaican soda and haricots verts pronounced in every possible way.

how a 5 year old boy will talk about football, Legos, and his favorite pair of underwear, all in the same serious, conversational way. It was a fun night babysitting for Erin!

the ups and downs of caregiving.


my work of creative genius- a children’s book of sayings from Psych, illustrated by me. According to Kathy “This is the weirdest children’s book ever” but Han & Caleb laughed alot when I gave it to them so I say it’s a success!

a new Flavia book, I’m trying not to race through it. Jill and I were #1 & #2 on the library hold list, we’ve been anxiously awaiting this book!

26 teams signed up for the Bible Quiz tournament in Jamaica next week! That is the most we have ever had! Very awesome. We are taking a smaller group of teens this year though, which means some of us will be running a quiz site solo. Doable, but I know from experience you end the day with no voice, a shattered brain and crossed eyes. Pray for us!!


photo by Jenny Schwager/Seasons Photography

fun night supporting Anna in her new career as a model! haha. (It was just for a church women’s event and she’s still planning to be a doctor as far as I know.)

my planner. May I never lose it.

my most battered old quiz book. Using it to re-learn verses for memory group this week. 1 John was and is a favorite of mine!


Lazy Girl Memorizes

A couple years ago, I did a 31-day memory challenge. A chapter in a month. You can read about it here.

This summer, I have a new goal: memorize Romans 8! 


Circumstances that are oh-so-convenient: 

  • The Friday mornings, 6 a.m. memory group I have alluded to. Add this to my list of “things I said I’d never do” and also to the “things I’m 100% glad I did” list. The convenient thing is.. I hijacked the group. The first week I went, I mentioned something about how I wanted to memorize Romans 8. Several others chimed in, “I like Romans 8,” “I want to memorize Romans 8,” “I’m memorizing Romans 8 this summer with my mom” and next thing you know, the group has abandoned it’s previous verse plan and jumped on board with mine! Ah ha!
  • I’ll hear it a zillion times this summer at camp, from the mouths of kiddos. It’s the chapter the campers will be memorizing/Bible Quizzing over this year. (Which is why I chose it in the first place.)

Memorization methods that are also convenient & basically easy: 

  • Reading the verses before I go to sleep at night. Really does cement them in my brain. (Click on the link to read a goofy car pun, a rambling story of sleep/memory, and some research on the topic.) 
  • Walking + quoting. Just like 15 minutes at a time. Makes a huge difference in how much gets into my memory.
  • Using the audio Bible on my phone to listen or quote along with.
  • Using this tool, seriously, i s w a t (it’s so wonderful and tremendous)!
  • And, obviously, having that moment once a week where I either say some verses, or I don’t, in front of 6 other women holding coffee cups. Of course there is totally grace for if I don’t but that accountability is downright helpful.

And the easiest one, I haven’t gotten around to actually doing yet, but I will (maybe): 

  • Writing the verses down and taping them where I’ll see them often. That’s all. You must experience it to believe it.

I’m excited about this!! Summer is a good time in which to memorize something! Hint, hint! Maybe even a whole entire chapter, way more doable than it seems, I promise. 

monday gifts


Thankful for…




late night nerts/snert which is a genetic compulsion in my overcompetitive family; also, it’s a card game. (“Game” sounds too casual and fun to describe such a serious matter.)


conversations in a bookstore with a cute guy in overalls.


an awesome day watching Bible Quiz regionals in Missouri with my friends.

students I’m proud of.

using all the dishes.


6th grade

When I was in grade 6… 

I spent hours sprawled around the house, reading books of my choice.

I climbed on hay bales with Cherry, built forts outside with the boys, and made paper dolls for my cousins.

I practiced my violin but was not overly disciplined. I went to AWANA but was not great at it. I went golfing with Dad mostly to drive the golf cart.

In school I know I dreaded math, but everything else was pretty great. I had a fun workbook where I looked for editorial mistakes in fake news articles. I made a salt map of Egypt. Since I was homeschooled I was usually done for the day by early afternoon. I took a standardized test maybe, but it was more for my mom’s reassurance and it wasn’t a big deal to me.

My life was largely carefree and I had endless time to just enjoy being a kid.


A Jamaican 6th grader*… 

Stays up until late at night and gets up early the next morning to study, in the weeks or months leading up to the GSAT (grade six achievement test). Perhaps their schedule looks like this:

“Right now, I am feeling very excited, I wasn’t nervous at all. I knew I would get into my first choice,” [a student with a top GSAT score] told the Observer. When asked why he was so confident, he said, “I went to school seven days of the week, I went to extra lessons and I cut my television and computer time.” 


Has a test prep book the size of a large dictionary and carries it around to squeeze in review during any spare moment of the day. 

Is trying to understand 9th grade+ level concepts.  

Pulls from the newspaper a section for kids with GSAT practice questions and does those on a Saturday morning. (What I’ve seen before looks like a cartoon section or kids puzzle section, but it’s test prep.)

quizzing looks like 1

Has their parents help them select their 5 top high school choices. They probably do this with crossed fingers and lots of prayers. There are a limited number of high schools, period, and an even smaller number of good ones; and depending on where you live, they may not be close. 

“In 2012: According to the Ministry of Education, of the 43,300 students who took the GSAT, 28,315 were placed in schools they selected, while 13,343 were placed based on the proximity of their homes to schools. The remaining 1,642 were manually placed.”


Feels pressure. A lot of pressure. From family, from teachers, from society. And the family, the teachers, the society feels the pressure, too.

“It is not about the test; you need enough places of suitable and available quality.”
-Dr. Russell (a creator of the GSAT)

          “The children are crying. They feel as if they have failed.. I know the Ministry [of Education] is trying and they will say all our schools are viable, but we have to be realistic,” [a school principal] said. “The concern for parents is not so much the academic standard of those schools, but the social fabric, because the cultures of the children are very different.”

She said, for example, she had two non-Jamaican, second-language students placed at Tarrant High. [A school that in the past has had trouble with crime.] “One is from mainland China and the parents are not even sure what to do at this stage. My concern is, will they be able to manage socially and emotionally?” the principal lamented. (Full article here

Knows that this is going to determine the future course of their life. A sixth grader has this weight on their shoulders.

Critics say it is unreasonable to subject 10-to-12 year-old students to a “one-shot” exam with such huge implications for their future education.

Hopes, hopes they get a good score.. if they don’t, hopefully, hopefully they have a supportive family and take the news well. Some don’t.. and it’s tragic:

“Important evidence is when a child takes his GSAT and is not placed where he wants to go, the child is threatened with bodily harm; and instead of the child waiting for the parent to inflict that bodily harm, he pre-empts it and does it himself, because a lot of children hang themselves and take poison when they are not placed where the parents want them to go,” Dr Russell [GSAT creator] stated.


This week, on Thursday and Friday, the 6th graders of Jamaica will be taking the GSAT. Will you join with me in praying for them? And for the parents, teachers, educational system, and the whole wonderful country of Jamaica?

I’m praying especially for the students who chose to continue Bible quizzing this year even with the mental challenge of GSAT study on their plate. Their teachers discourage them from doing this, out of concern for them being overloaded. But some chose to do it anyway, because they love Bible Quizzing, they want to do it for their last year, and because they love God and learning His Word. Praying that the memory work and the encouragement of Scripture will strengthen their minds and hearts as they take the test. And that they will hold on to the true hope for their future no matter what the outcome is. 

I’ll finish by quoting this prayer from an email I received from my friend, a former teacher who helps with the Bible Quiz:


Some of the newspaper articles I quoted / for further reading:

GSAT Joy and Grief
GSAT Defence 
GSAT Problem 
Letter to the editor: GSAT changes
Just a cool story
Optimistic GSAT student
Jamaica Ministry of Education on facebook

*A LITTLE DISCLAIMER: this is based on things told me by teachers I’ve met in Jamaica, my own observations from being there, and some online research. I know I only have a tiny grasp on this complicated issue and I probably got some things mixed around! So I apologize in advance! I’ll keep looking into this because I’ve come to care about the students of Jamaica. 

I’ve learned of the efforts many are making to improve the educational system there. It is definitely not something that can be fixed overnight. And of course as you compare education in Jamaica with the education children get in other countries of the world, well basically it becomes a much bigger thing than I’m able to wrap my head around! There are both positive and negative things everywhere. 

The majority of students I’ve met in Jamaica are incredibly bright, talented, disciplined and successful in school, with the help of their hard-working teachers. It’s no wonder that these children are valued as highly as they are by many Jamaicans. I value them too and appreciate you reading my thoughts. Thanks!! ~Frances