I am back from Cuba and I wanted to first Share with you the blog entry I posted to my church website while we were in Cuba. If you would like to read more about our time there we kept a great daily account of our experience. http://hydeparkumc.typepad.com/
July 10th, 2011
Where do I start when talking about our time here in Havana? I have been blessed in so many ways by so many people. I have so many things I want to talk about and share but yesterday, in particular, was an especially emotional day. It’s sort of funny, because I started the morning saying to one of our team members how well I had been able to keep it together and that I had expected to be more of an emotional basket case. I should have known better, not much time passed before I was beyond emotional!
I went on my first shopping trip in Cuba to look for some supplies for the children’s activities we were planning. We were looking for paint we could use for face paint and the Pastor’s wife (la Pastora) walked my mother and I around to some local stores to find some. I had heard that shopping for anything was difficult and that you often had to go to many stores before you could find what you were looking for. Indeed, we had to go to more than 7 stores to find something we could use for face paint. The stores have lots of shelves, but they are empty. As for art supplies, they may have only a couple color options and then another store may have something different, or absolutely nothing on the shelves at all in that department.
The Pastora took me into a toy store. As we walked in off the bustling street, the first thing I noticed was that the store was void of people. We were in a toy store with no children and the prices of the toys were astronomical. The Pastora began to explain that many children do not have toys since many of them cost more than their parent’s monthly salaries. As we were on our way out a small boy came in off the street, he ran up to a small plastic airplane and pointed at it. With a big smile on his face he looked up at us and said “That’s the one I want, and I hope to have it one day.” The Pastora replied asking him “How much does your father make?” and the boy told her an amount in pesos that is the equivalent of $10 US dollars a month. I looked back at the plane and the price was marked at the equivalent of $24 US dollars. I walked out the door of the store, and I could no longer contain my emotion. I began to weep in the middle of the street. I could not help but think of how inexpensive that toy plane would be back in the US. I could not help but think of how easy it is to go run an errand to buy something simple like craft paint. I could not help but think of my home, full of things, and that I have spent my entire life wanting for nothing.
When we got back to the church it was time for lunch and I shared with a team mate what had happened at the toy store. She shared another story about a boy who was helping us paint at the church. He had fallen into some paint and when our team tried to take off his shoe to clean it he didn’t want to because he was embarrassed by the holes in his socks. This story, too, made me cry. After we finished our meal we left the dining room and went on with our work. The boys from the baseball team that were helping us were called to eat their lunch. When I walked by the dining room the boys were being given a bread roll. It was at that moment that God had completely broken my heart.
I found a quiet spot in the back pew of the sanctuary and I wept. I don’t know what it feels like to go hungry. I don’t know what it’s like to not have new clothes, or good shoes. But here I was surrounded by so many who feel these things on a daily basis.
After speaking with the pastor and his wife about what I had been experiencing that day they told me that they are used to this way of life. That they understand it is difficult for us to come and see how they live but that it’s just how it is. Yes, they do have a list of things they need, and they pray about them often, but it is their faith in God and the way of the Lord that gives them life. When they put their lives in the hands of the Lord, he always provides for them. It is so powerful to see this kind of faith in action here in Havana.
Witnessing people living in a communist government is hard. It really makes me appreciate the freedom we have in the US. Here people are not free to choose their jobs, or to travel wherever they wish to go. They cannot express their political frustrations with their neighbors. It is in the church, though, where they are free to express themselves however they feel. They can give glory to God in whatever way they want. They can sing, dance, and raise their hands, and there is no one who can tell them not to. With God, they have freedom of expression and it is within the walls of their sanctuary that they are free to let go.
Every day we are greeted by the boys of the baseball team and the other children of the church with kisses, hugs and big smiles. I am grateful that God has chosen to break my heart here. It has taught me so much about living in faith and to be grateful for the many blessings He has constantly given me throughout my life. I hope He continues to break my heart again and again so that I may grow closer to God on this spiritual journey.