Note: Do to the nature of my trip and in an effort to protect the privacy of my hosts I’m not able to share specifics in this format. If you have specific questions about my trip please contact me via email.
“I’m so happy to be here, I never thought I’d have the opportunity to visit with you.” This is all I could come up with last Sunday when handed the microphone. I never even considered visiting Cuba as a possibility so I had no idea what to expect.
So what did I discover? Here are some snapshots.
Under Duress But Not Discouraged
There’s no way to mask it or downplay it. The current Cuban government has a history of suppressing Christianity. There were times when this is overt and harsh. And there are times when it’s more covert, more like religious discrimination or harassment than direct physical opposition. Most often, it’s not unlike if you’re a Christian in the United States… there are always some who portray Christianity as anti-intellectual or say there’s no way you can be a doctor or scientist and also be a Christians. But there are everyday annoyances, too, as the government can make it difficult for Christians to go about their business freely.
In my limited experience I saw Christians who were under real duress for their faith in Jesus but they were not discouraged. History has taught us that The Way is actually most effective when facing persecution and what I experienced last week was the absolute best of Christianity. We came with hearts to serve and encourage. And we left overwhelmed by the service and encouragement we received.
Yes, our trip was serious. Yes, we did a lot of important things. But we also had a trip where a couple dozen American teenagers got to hang out with a couple dozen Cuban teenagers and that provided ample opportunities for cross-cultural flirtation.
“Cool kids in the back!” I don’t know why I say this but I always do. But my school years involved riding the bus to and from school. (The Cheese Box, as we called it.) And for some reason I nearly always migrate to the back of the bus on international trips. And, like on most trips, the back of the bus ends up being it’s own little community with plenty of harmless fun as we travel from one activity to the next.
A favorite moment was on a ride back across town as a Cuban teenager used Google Translate to take his best shot at flirting with the American teenager seated next to me.
Fat on Hospitality
Like many international experiences I’m somewhat convinced that people play a game of “Stuff the American” to see how much we will eat. Here’s an experience we had as we sat down at a Cuban friends house for dinner.
We were so excited when we sat down. We were so innocent then.
Start with a big bowl of cheesy soup. Yes Lord, they know my love language.
Then they bring a mountain of french fries, say… 2 super size portions per person.
Then a plate full of spaghetti with red sauce and diced ham… so you’re about to explode.
Then they bring you a pizza… a 15” pizza for just you.
When your eyes say “oh… NO!” the host explains that they have 2 more pizzas per person coming and asks why you aren’t eating much?
Then, here comes the veggies. She made rice and beans, too but is upset a little that you aren’t eating her pizzas.
So she brings out a giant bowl of flan for every single person. You can’t breathe but, I mean, flan! But let’s feed it to one another and try to make it so much fun that they won’t notice you are barely eating any.
Then she brings out the rest of the dish of it… you know, in case you want more.
Then they cut up a papaya and set it on the table.
Next, how about coffee? And a cookie. Always a cookie at the end.
Now… i just have a few friends stopping by, would you mind if we worshipped a little? OK, great. How about a bible teaching, could you offer a small bible teaching, say 30 minutes? Next thing you know… here comes the music and a 90 minute worship service where 4 people get saved and a baby gets healed.
Then, as you’re leaving… “Are you hungry? How about you take some food with you?”
And then… just as you’re leaving to make the world’s biggest deposit at the toilet bank… “You know, you’re looking kind of fat. you should lose some weight.”
I’m having a bit of fun with this description, but in all seriousness the hospitality we experienced from our Cuban friends was absolutely stunning. A beautiful expression of Christian love.
“But what about immigration and customs?”
I was nervous about this part of the trip. I always get a little nervous when I visit a country for the first time but let me tell you, it’s a piece of cake. The hardest part is just purchasing the entry visa… which isn’t that hard. Since I didn’t have a checked bag my daughter and I were through immigration and customs and out of the airport with our hosts in about 10 minutes. The rest of our group had checked bags and that, as is typical, took a little longer.
But the immigration process itself? We stepped up to the booth, handed them our passports, they took our picture with a $5 webcam, asked us no questions, stamped our passports and said, “Welcome to Cuba!”
Time with Megan
One of my favorite parts of this trip to Cuba was sharing it with my 15 year old daughter, Megan. Over the past few years I’ve seen more and more families doing trips like this together, that’s a trend I’d like to see continue. It’s such an honor to experience these trips with my kids.
Speaking of adults going on youth-oriented trips… all of the adult men on the trip were dads and we did our absolute best to keep the dad jokes flowing from beginning to end.
What else did you do?
We spent long days with our friends. I’ve done a bunch of these types of trips and never had so many consecutive 12-14 hours days. Toss in the heat and humidity and we were one tired group by the end of the week.
For our day off we headed to a beach resort area. And the beach… you could say it was acceptable.
We have two more trips to Cuba in July, it’s not technically too late to join us. If you’re interested in going later in 2017 or for 2018 let me know.