Last night we had a good internet connection and I had a long email from my wife telling me about the trip she and my daughter made to Manhattan to see Hamilton on Broadway. Madeleine became obsessed with the music of Hamilton months ago and Julie read the biography it is based on. It is an amazing production, but I just find it hard to listen to rap music, even when it is sophisticated lyrically and historically accurate. They had a great time, which is good to hear. I was also able to get a boarding pass for my US flights. I could not print them, but I should be able to get them on my phone in Miami. That is a relief. Three flights today, which multiples the things that can go wrong. I’m hoping customs in Miami is quick since I have Global Entry. I signed up for that last year and it makes international travel much more pleasant.
We didn’t shop in the tourist zone in Havana, and I haven’t seen many shops elsewhere. So I haven’t bought things for the family yet. We’ve got two hours at the airport, so I’ll shop there. Perhaps a Che shirt for Sarah. A Cuban flag for Madeleine. A soccer shirt for Creed. Havana Club for Julie and me. And maybe some cigars although I don’t smoke at home. The smell bothers the family. I have some gifts from Austin, too. I had thought Austin would be my exciting trip this year, but then the opportunity came to go to Cuba. Now it is hard to remember what I did just nine days ago.
I will be taking back over a hundred pictures that do not begin to communicate the reality of this experience, but they help me remember what happened. How do you tell people what it means when two people who cannot speak the language of the other look at each other and speak with their eyes. I have rarely felt such a deep connection with other people or seen students’ eyes well with tears as we talk about theology, history, and serving others. Yes, I enjoyed the food, the rum, the cigars, and the scenery, but it was the people who made this trip special.
At first it was the Americans, Thomas, Riddick, and Sam, who love to joke. Then it was pastors Obed and Armando who have been through so much and yet still love to laugh and tease. Most of all it was the men and women in the seminar at Camaguey. I never even learned all of their names, but the images are etched in my mind. Pastors talking about life under a regime that was hostile to religion and is now helping the church. Aldo and his wife who have a house church and provide food in a very poor neighborhood. The four women joyfully playing on the swing set because Zinzendorf said we should be like children The man building a church with his own hands. Saint Theresa whose every smile is a sermon. The woman who will soon be joining her husband in Ecuador and is now leading worship beautifully. The pastor who began class sitting in the corner with arms folded, but who ended with warm hugs. And then to end it all with the worship in Havana was wonderful.
Some of the people in Havana had taken the seminar with Riddick the week before I arrived, so they did not know me. They had learned much from Riddick and took their study of the Moravians seriously. They showed me kindness and respect, but after worship they showed me love. They were so happy that I danced with them in my own very unique style and could still discuss Scripture. At lunch Tanya kept talking about the worship and how Armando has bridged so many forms of Christian expression.
The American flag was taken down from the embassy in Cuba the year before I was born. The Bay of Pigs and the Missile Crisis were when I was a child. I grew up hearing about Cuban troops fighting in Angola, and the American naval base in Guantanamo Bay. I would watch the Olympics and hear the commentators being upset when Cuban boxers beat Americans and won medals. When flying to other countries we flew around Cuba. I have heard the anger over Cuba in American politics. I saw the pictures of the young boy Elian being returned to his father and how hard other people tried to keep him in the US. In my lifetime Cuba has been a closed land and I was told that the Cubans are my enemies. I heard how much Cubans suffer from the embargo and from communism.
Things are changing now, and I think the change will be rapid as Americans meet Cubans. Yes, Cubans have to been innovative because of the embargo. Yes, there were places where the toilets did not work and there were no napkins. There is little trash in Cuba because people have to reuse so many things. I’ve been impressed even though I miss some of the minor luxuries of life in America. There is so much that is beautiful here, what does it matter if I don’t have a napkin?
The most important thing on this trip is that I found brothers and sisters in Cuba. I hope to return. As eager as I am to be home, it is hard to leave. Let governments be enemies if they choose, but leave me out. I am seeking friends and companions with whom I can do a small part to heal the world.