Cuba Libre

Once upon a time, about three weeks ago, I went on a seminary travel seminar to Cuba. I swore up and down that, within a week of returning I would write a blog post about my adventures and now it's April 2nd so clearly all the swearing in the world didn't make this blog post happen sooner.

So I went to Cuba and I did a lot of amazing things and even now, two full weeks out from the trip, I'm still trying to process what I saw and what I learned and what it means to me as I follow God's call to ministry. Generally, we split our time between Havana and Matanzas. In Havana, we stayed at a hotel, in Matanzas we stayed in housing at the ecumenical seminary. During the day we did a lot of things and here's a list:

-bible study with a church in Los Palos
-Bible study with Ebenezer Baptist Church in Havana
-Day trip to Varadero beach as well as Varadero presbyterian church AND Juan G. Hall Presbyterian Church
-Visit with Dra. Ofelia Ortega
-Visit with Mission Co-Workers David Cortes-Fuentes and Josefina Saez Acevedo
-Morning devotionals with the entire seminary travel seminar
-a million pictures taken
-visited a museum that was also a fortress (?) in Havana which had a lot of information about Santeria in Cuba
-made friends with countless people along the way (but especially with Hilda our translator, Ariel the kind man who drove us around all week and Leo, a seminary student at SET in Matanzas)
-visited Hotel Nacional
-visit with Dr. Carlos Ham, president of SET (the seminary in Matanzas)
-listened to some Latin Jazz
-had a fresh pina colada (more than once perhaps...)

Let me tell you, I didn't include everything on our schedule. One of the best things, but also one of the most challenging for an introvert like myself, was that we were constantly on the move. During the day we were meeting all of these amazing people doing a variety of important things in Cuba and while our evening activities were optional, on what planet was I going to miss out on a Jazz band at one of the premier jazz clubs in Havana? Not me.

Here's the core of the matter. Cuba is a beautiful, resilient, complicated place. It is full of political and social discord (although it is much quieter and more camouflaged than anything happening in the states right now) bumping up against people who are willing to do anything to try and make it work. The people who work in the church in Cuba reflect that feeling of intense commitment, conviction, and complication.

Someone along the way, I think it was our translator Hilda, said that everyone is a millionaire in Cuba. We must have looked puzzled because she followed it by saying, "Everyone knows a million ways to fix something." Which seems to be the best snippet in trying to understand Cuba. People there love Che Guevara and they respect Fidel Castro and yet a lot of young people also leave because they recognize that unless they are willing to prescribe to being a cog in the machine that is Cuba's economic system, they have no place and no livelihood in their own home. It's easy for us, as Americans who love love love capitalism to question why anyone would stay in Cuba, but maybe it's not our place to critique economic systems, or people, or why people stay or leave a place that they love.

Honestly, that questions reminds me of something a friend asked me while I was living in New Orleans. He said, "Yeah, I know people love it there. But what happens when the next storm comes through?" On the one hand, I understood what he meant. Because there's always another storm. Maybe it's ten years from now, maybe it's thirty, but there will always be another storm that could destroy all your earthly belongings and sometimes even more. But you stay in New Orleans because of the Spanish moss on the oaks, because of brightly colored homes in the Bywater and Snake and Jake's Christmas lounge visits at 2 AM. You stay because maybe, just this once, you'll catch a shoe at Muses, for popeyes and Abita in the neutral ground and trips down Bayou Sauvage for a hike. But mostly you stay because it is home and why would you ever leave home?

And I think that's even more true for Cuba. Why would you stay? Money is tight in Cuba. While things are starting to relax, food rations are still pretty closely controlled, not to mention personal items such as tampons and shampoo and just about everything you could get at a CVS in the US are hard to get your hands on there. There is definitely a system of surveillance in place in Cuba (although, to be honest, the more I learn about things like the Patriot Act and all of these internet privacy bills that are being exploded by our government, the more I'm coming to terms with our own state of surveillance... The only difference between Cuba and American is that Cuba wants to keep tabs on you so you don't try to contradict the message of the Revolution, in America, they keep tabs on you so they can make money off of you- I'm not really sure if one is worse than the other). Only now are small private business allowed to exist. You do not have extensive economic freedom in Cuba. You do have universal healthcare and the highest literacy rate in the world, so before you jump on your I-Hate-Communism bandwagon, there are some things being done well in Cuba that we do very poorly here in the US.

It is short-sighted to simply say, "Well why would you stay?" Maybe you stay for the Malecon, or for the dominos games. Maybe you stay because your family stayed and you know that if you leave you may never get to see them again. Or you stay because of all the bold stray cats that beg for food, or for the cobbled streets of Old Havana or for a shot of sweet, dark Cuba coffee, or for the shared community meals after an evening bible study. Mostly I think you stay because it's home and no one easily turns away from thier home.

I think it's ignorant to assume that leaving is ever an easy choice. A lot of people leave Cuba, in fact, so many young people are leaving Cuba that they are seeing a developing crisis in caring for the elderly. But you never leave home easily and you always take a part of that with you wherever you go.

I feel privileged to have met so many strong, resilient, purposeful, God-filled people while I was in Cuba. I don't know if I will ever be able to lead with the conviction those women and men have, but I can try and I will keep it close to my heart.

Our ride for the week was a repurposed school b


Sights in Old Havana


Dr. Marget Aymer and Hilda studying the bible together




Sights in Matanzas

Some second floor gazing in Matanzas



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