March 26, that’s the day that we got to Cuba, now nearly 2 months later I sit on a night bus heading from Cancun, Mexico to Belize City.
It’s quiet and dark on the bus, we have the whole thing almost exclusively to ourselves and I find my mind wandering, pouring over the last 2 months. In many ways the time seems to have flown by, gone in the blink of an eye. I can remember clearly stepping out of the airport in Havana, it seemed much hotter then Belize, maybe only because of all the concrete and asphalt. I remember following Hatniel (our contact) to a bus, our team was amazed by Cuba, we couldn’t help but comment on all the vehicles, cars older then our parents (sorry guys). This was only the beginning of our journey. We would see much of Cuba and meet many incredible people who we will not soon forget. Now it all seems like some sort of a dream as I sit here in the dark recollecting. While I can do my best to describe the emotions and the experiences, surely my words will fail to do justice to the true experience, none the less I will try.
I have never done an outreach before, but I will take a stab in the dark and say that this may have been a struggle to lead and the way in which Josh and Donny led the team was outstanding. For those of you who have never been to Cuba you may not understand, but Cuban culture is unlike anything I have experienced. I have been to other warm, Caribbean cultures where time is of little value, but Cuba takes it to the next level. Time is a means of only a very very rough estimate; for example you may be told a car will pick you up at 9:00am, but at 1:00pm you get a call saying the car had problems, but don’t worry another one is on the way, the car finally shows up at 4:00pm. While this may not have been an everyday occurrence, it is a good idea of transportation and timelines in Cuba. Now this casts a negative light on the culture and I most certainly mean to do no such thing. The lack of concern for time may be frustrating for someone from a western culture but I assure you there was much about the culture that our team loved.
Food. The food of Cuba was beyond expectation, we could be assured our daily intake of rice and beans but we would also be treated to many delicacies and fantastic desserts. It actually seemed that every new location we went to would have its own dessert speciality, a unique treat to get from street vendors. One place might be churros, the next night have guayba filled pastries, one thing you could count on was delicious Cuban coffee for one peso or the equivalent of 4 US cents. Far beyond the great food was the warmth of the people, no matter where we went we warmly welcomed. We would do house visits to pray for and encourage members of the church, they would often feed us and give us coffee or offer to slaughter a pig… They have a huge heart and reflect the love of Christ so well in this. In fact on one occasion I asked a vendor if she sold coffee, I was told no, but was then given a glass of coffee for free that presumably has been for her personally.
We got to travel all the way for Havana down to Santiago and then full circle back. Along the way we met so many cool people. For example there was our over qualified translator, Pablo, he could rap, play guitar, bongos, sing, do amazing wood carvings and even masonry work. Or there was Joani, he was 41, had been in wheel chair for 20 years. People told him he would be a burden to society, never amount to anything, now he is a carpenter that loves Jesus and he overflows with joy. Cuba was full of warm amazing people, people who loved so so well, like God calls us to. The passion they have for the church, for growing the body of Christ, for knowing the people was so encouraging. They truly are a beautiful people. We went to minister to them, to teach them, yet I know that we walked away with more than we left.
Cuba and all it’s hectic scheduling and random transportation had struggles and it had victories. We took 12 people, most having only been acquainted for 3 months and we went to Cuba. In some ways this trip was extremely difficult. We left with 12 people, and only returned with 8. It’s a hard thing to lose team members regardless the circumstances. I can however say with certainty that even though we may not understand it, God had his hand in it weaving it together for his glory. I won’t lie and say it was easy, it wasn’t, but we pushed through it as a team, leaned into God and grew closer because of it.
Outreach forces you out of your comfort zone no matter who you are, it forces you to ride in cramped cars designed for far less then your number, it forces you to sleep on a cold or hot floor. You get closer with your team members than you thought possible and perhaps then you would have liked. The inevitability of outreach is that you see people at their worst and thankfully also at their best. Like it or not you come out as a family, mess with one of us and you mess with all of us. We leave Cuba a unit, bringing light and freedom wherever we go, that is our mandate and right as heirs of the King.
Do I have regrets from this outreach? Maybe yes. There are situations I could have handled better, there are times I could have stepped up more. Would I change it if I could? Absolutely not. Our team killed it. We were refined by our struggles, we come out better and stronger on the other side. A team of warriors. Again I snap back to the present and I know there is no one on this bus that I would trade away, this team was hand picked and hand assembled for this outreach and it’s awesome. I am excited for what the future holds, I am excited for what’s next for all of us, but surely I will miss team Cuba. Spending 5 months with someone, being with them almost every waking minute, and sometimes every sleeping minute, creates an incredibly strong and unique bond.
I am beyond blessed to have been part of this team and forever changed because of it.