Thursday, August 1, 2019

Adult Leader Cuba Reflection - Ray

Throughout my week in Cuba, I wondered how this beautiful island became the country it is today. Was it the U.S. policy that hurt the people because of our long history with the Cuban regime and the allies they keep? Is it the years of embargos and strained U.S. relations where families have been split apart? Is it the Cuban government that limits and controls access to just simple things that we take for granted here in the states? No matter by design or through their form of government the Cuban people, while sometimes lacking basic needs, don’t appear to be missing a thing and have learned to survive and even thrive in their country.

Things as simple as food, clean water, basic maintenance items, construction materials and infrastructure are hard to find. Just the act of exchanging our cash for Cuban pesos became a weeklong subplot in our Cuban adventure. Three months ago there was a bread shortage in Camajuni that put a strain on the community which hit me with the reality of the situation. I did see a stark contrast between Camajuni where there was no local hotel or tourism with crumbling building facades, limited retail shops and restaurants, versus Remedios where there was a historic Catholic Church from 1550 with historically significant artwork, a vibrant town square, a few hotels, restaurants and shops versus Cayo Santa Maria which is a full beach resort with a military check-point and a long single seawall road in and out of the resort area helping to limit access.

Most of the FPC team stayed in Camajuni. Sarah and I attended a special Session meeting on Thursday night (we were not able to get out of session after all). The church has about 80 members, 40 active and they have an average attendance of 30 people in worship each week. A Korean Church from Canada helped a few weeks before our arrival with Camajuni’s Vacation Bible School and they had 50 to 105 kids in attendance a day for the week. The Church provides community clean water service, wash clothes for the elderly, serve a Friday community lunch, provide visitations with food bags to the sick, perform children events on Saturday and hold worship with food provided for the elderly before & children after service. The Camajuni and Remedios Churches want a partnership of mutual respect, friendship and understanding. They also seek partnerships to bring in money and supplies to help the local community and grow local jobs at the Church. They said they can take up to 20 partnerships (not all visiting
annually) to help scale and build the church in Camajuni. However, 16 to 20 visitors is about the biggest size team they can handle today between the two churches.

The Cuban people are lovely, kind and gentle. They greet you with a kiss on the cheek and bid farewell with a gift in hand. I found the Love of Christ alive and well in Camajuni and Remedios. I feel we were lucky just to take a little of that back to Austin. The life of a Cuban revolves around service to others and preparing the next meal. The service is either a job, putting together a bag of food for the sick, helping kids paint, make friendship bracelets or just have fun playing dominos or cards while sharing a new game and story. The day of our house visit, Leo & Susan visited a man named Evan’s family and gave them food with the Pastor of the Camajuni. Evan died that day but I was joyful the Church was able to be part of that day. At another house I met Nena who lived in the same home with her daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughter. She treated us like we were her own family. At another house a pair of 7 year old twins kept us entertained by holding us captured with a Star Wars Darth Vader and Storm Trooper mask.

Food is an event. There was no risk of us going hungry last week but it was a job for the local Cuban team to make it happen. Collecting fresh fruit from markets. Getting eggs from the local egg farmer from his back yard. The boiling of unpasteurized milk. The making of fresh mango, watermelon and papaya juice. The slicing of avocado bigger than a hand. Digging up sweet potato and collecting yucca from the Church garden as a starch. The fried plantains. The vinegar, onion and cilantro salsa. The ice cream, mango slices, peanut butter bar and flan like deserts. Pasta, roasted pork, grilled chicken and fried fish were all on the menu. A fine hardy breakfast of eggs, ham, goat cheese and bread was waiting for us each morning.

One cultural difference is how fast the youth of Cuba grow up versus our youth group. It was interesting to see young men and women as old as 28 still considered youth of the church. Many worked, went to university and were what we would consider as our Young Adults without Kids. It was something we had to manage as we had to respect their norms and values without breaking our own as well as the trust of the parents that expected us to keep their kids safe. In the end friendships were made as we learned to understand each other better. We are connecting on Facebook, WhatsApp and by the old fashioned mobile phone.

Time management and planning in Cuba is hard as material availability, people and locations change. We as a mission team were forced to slow down, take a breath, connect with people and overall just go with the flow. There is a lot of quiet time on the island to reflect, think, create and interact with other people. A Cuban person is never late versus they were just required somewhere else for longer.
I was humbled to see a group of ladies in their 70‘s and 80’s make it to Church on Sunday. Pilar had a lower leg tumor and Nena was recovering from a femur fracture that had her in bed for 8 months. These ladies in the U.S. would be homebound or in a nursing home. Here in Cuba, they are cared for by the entire family. It is definitely an inspiration to see the importance that worship plays in their life.

Worship was great on Sunday. Sarah gave a sermon on the “Fruit of the Vine” 100% in Spanish. I felt like it was FPC history in the making and it was great for the girls to see it in person. The team got a
chance to do a few dances for the congregation and the locals really liked the performance and a few started to join in.

You should be proud of the care, patience, ingenuity, knowledge, humor, love, faith, creativity and kindness the youth of FPC/ UPC displayed on this trip. Every parent should feel proud and grateful of the young person they raised. I feel they got a chance to see a new culture, teach others about their own way life and discovered not only that they brought the love of God with them to Cuba but that Christ was already alive, well and thriving in Cuba.

Ray Lopez, FPC Austin