Author Archives: theflamingheretic

Craig D. Atwood is the John Comenius Visiting Professor of Moravian Studies. This position is named for the Moravian bishop and theologian John Amos Comenius (1592-1670), who is known today as “the father of modern education.” Comenius was an active public figure who drew upon his faith to confront the injustices and cruelties of his age. He explored creative ways to educate the public about God, the world, and human responsibility, and many of his writings remain classics. The position of Comenius Professor is a joint effort of the Divinity School and Home Moravian Church.

Atwood teaches history of theology, history of Christology, Moravian history and theology, and has guided student projects in spiritual autobiography and Credo. In the area of public theology, he tries to bring the resources of the Divinity School to the wider public. This includes making the public aware of special lectures and programs at the Divinity School and working with the local community in organizing public theology events. Atwood also serves as Theologian in Residence at Home Moravian Church, and his weekly Adult Bible Class is broadcast live on WSJS radio, am 600 on Sunday mornings.

Prior to coming to Wake Forest, Atwood was the Clarkson S. Starbuck Assistant Professor of Religion at Salem College where he also served as chaplain. In addition, he served as a pastor in Philadelphia and was Assistant Dean of Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pa. He has received the David Bishop Award for academic excellence from Moravian Seminary and the Dale Brown Award for excellence in scholarship from the Young Center for Pietist and Anabaptist Studies. He is an ordained minister in the Moravian Church.

Atwood is the author of the award-winning Community of the Cross: Moravian Piety in Colonial Bethlehem and the editor of the 11th and 12th editions of Handbook of Denominations in the United States, one of the most widely-used reference books on American religion. He has published several articles on various aspects of German Pietism and edited a volume of Nicholas von Zinzendorf’s sermons. He has also held leadership positions in national and regional academic organizations and is editor of The Hinge: A Journal of Christian Thought for the Moravian Church. In addition, Atwood often speaks to church and civic organizations.

Trip to Cuba

I just returned from a wonderful seven days in Cuba, but it was very hard to get internet access while I was there. So I each day I typed up my blog posts about the trip and saved them on my computer. This morning I uploaded several days of the blog. If you want to read the whole story of the trip you have to go back several days.

It took many people to make this trip possible, and I want to thank them beginning with my wife Julie who was a single parent for more than a week, and who somehow managed to stay in contact with me despite all of the problems. And who had to drive to Philly last night to pick me up because I missed the flight to ABE.

Bishop Sam Gray was my guide, translator, organizer, confidant, and companion. If you ever get the chance to travel with Sam Gray, do so! Thanks to Sam I saw a Cuba that tourists rarely even glimpse.

Angelica Regalado, a Moravian from Peru, translated over 200 PowerPoint slides into Spanish, which made teaching so much easier.

Armando Rusindo is the patriarch of the Moravian Church in Cuba and worked very hard to make sure that all transportation was taken care of and that the classes were a great success.

There were Moravians in Camaguey that arranged for the facilities and meals, which was all perfect.

The casas we stayed out were managed by the nicest women who supplied morning coffee and much cheerfulness.

The students I taught was fantastic.

Thanks to the Joe Gray foundation for paying for much of the event, to the Aldridge Fund, and Board of World Mission for paying for the rest.

Frank Crouch, the dean of Moravian Theological Seminary, let me take a sabbatical, and I am very grateful.

And a special word of thanks to whoever it was centuries ago who discovered that the application of hot water to ground up beans produces the elixir of vitality that we call coffee.

Home to a wind chill of 4 degrees– Jan. 19

All went well getting through customs and passport control in Cuba, but the flight arriving from Miami was 2 hours late, which meant that our departure was two hours late. We landed at 4:30 p.m. and my flight to Charlotte was at 5:20. Our gate was also a long way from customs and immigration. I practically ran off the plane, but then had to take the skytrain to customs. So the running did me no good. I sailed through customs thanks to Global Entry. I had my electronic boarding pass and TSA precheck, but I got held up in security because of a bottle of liquid I bought in duty free. It had to be checked and the person was very slow in doing so. I finally told him to keep it and give me my bag. I had to race to concourse E from D. By now I’m am sweating. I finally get to my gate at 5:14 p.m. and they had closed the doors at 5:10. All that effort wasted! I could have waited at security and kept the bottle of Havana Club after all.

The nice ticket agent put me on stand-by to Philadelphia and I have no checked bags, but another long walk to the other gate. My shirt was soaked, but thankfully I had a clean one in my bag. And a flannel shirt to wear over it. I panicked after changing when I couldn’t find my credit card and quite a bit of cash and called my wife to ask her to report the card stolen, which she was kind enough to do. When I later pulled out my jacket, I found it in a pocket, but I can’t remember putting it there. Whew. The plane to Philly was full, but I was first on the waitlist and then second because of a priority passenger. If I couldn’t get on I would have to spend the night in Miami, but finally they called my name. A wave of relief rushed over me, and I texted Julie with the bad news that she would have to drive to Philadelphia to pick me up at 10 p.m. and the good news that I would be coming home.

I felt so bad for her because she is sick with a cold and had been taking care of two other sick people all weekend. And the weather in Pennsylvania is cold. The wind chill when she came to get me was four degrees (temp 16). She was kind enough to bring along a coat and hat for me, but I had to wait for her outside with just my flannel shirt and a sports coat on. Freezing and very hungry. It was so good to see her after ten days. A quick drive through a Wendy’s for a burger and root beer convinced me that I was truly back in the USA. And then home to the children! It is so good to be home. It is so good to have a family that is willing to let me run off for an adventure like this.

And now it’s time to get back to the daily problems of life: car repairs, mortgages, balancing the check book, cat litter, laundry, and all the tasks of modern living. It was wonderful to take a hot shower this morning even if I did have to go out in the freezing cold to take my daughter to school. Even that is a blessing.

It was so nice to spend a short time at least in country where there are still horse drawn taxis, no billboards, and where I did not even have TV. I met some very memorable characters on this trip and many helpful people along the way. I feel like I was privileged to see a unique country on the cusp of radical transformation. Some of the change will be good, but some beautiful things will be lost in the process.

Heading home– Jan. 17

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.

The Reverend Doctor Dances – Jan. 17

Today was our last full day in Cuba. I woke to the sound of torrential rains lashing the windows and winds hurling limbs and trees through the air. El Nino is raging this winter. Havana has had severe storms for over a week now. We had beautiful weather in the east, but each day here has had weather challenges. When Sam left to gather breakfast from a local buffet the skies were blue, but the storm hit while he was at the hotel and he was stuck for an hour. Thankfully the rain stopped in time for church, but attendance was much lower than expected. We had about 20 in the new Moravian Church, which is in a converted house. They have only been worshiping there since November, and the interior is beautiful.

Armando is the pastor and he spends hours writing the liturgy and preparing the music, most of which is recorded and shown on a screen. The pictures that accompany the music are often very moving. He started with a Spanish recording of Ode to Joy that was very moving. I often think that it may be the single best piece of music ever written. From there we moved to more contemporary praise music. Sam sang one of his original compositions. Armando even had one song in English called If Jesus Say Yes Nobody Can Say No and he taught the congregation to sing the chorus. They were clapping to it and he started dancing, so I started dancing too. The congregation was very surprised that a professor was dancing so vigorously if not very gracefully. I don’t normally work up a sweat during the singing in church. Near the end of the service – after more than an hour of music – I preached a brief sermon from Colossians 3, especially the verse “Clothe yourselves with compassion.” At one point I got choked up, but otherwise it went well. People seemed engaged with it. It was one of the best worship services I’ve participated in.

One of the members of the church wrote his dissertation on Comenius and is translating it into English. Another is a bus driver who helped change our bus tickets so we didn’t have to take the night bus to Havana. The most remarkable person was an elderly woman who was both an accomplished artist and an art teacher. Some of her students are the most celebrated artists in the Caribbean with works in many museums. On my next visit I want to visit her and see her paintings.

They fed us one of the best meals I’ve in Cuba, which provided enough leftovers for our dinner tonight. After a long afternoon nap, we went back to the hotel to sit by the pool and smoke our cigars. They have a large beautiful pool and I swam about 30 laps even though the water and the air were cool. Not many people were crazy enough to swim so I had the pool to myself. It was good to stretch out and wash away the cares of the week. I am no better at swimming than I am at dancing, but it gives me quiet time to think.

After my swim we sat under a cloudy night sky and discussed so many issues in the Moravian Church. Sam informed me of the details of things that I knew only in passing, and I learned more than two sides of different controversies. We talked mostly about the future and what can happen if the Moravian Church is willing.

Old Habana – Jan. 16

Saturday was our day off from teaching and travel. It is nice here at the Casa Alejandra and the senora is so sweet. She gives us coffee each morning. In the morning we went to the breakfast buffet at the Coppacabana, which was less expensive than breakfast at most diners in the US. The casa we are staying at is much less expensive than a hotel, but it is just a few blocks from “embassy row” and the wealthiest part of Havana. We walked past the Russian embassy, which is a monstrous concrete edifice with a strange top that houses communications equipment. It is a grim reminder of the Cold War.

After omelets, guava, and bread, we returned to the casa. Alejandra had polished by shoes and left them by the door without my asking. It was good because they were in sad shape from days of walking on dusty roads. Then I worked on my sermon for Sunday so Sam would have plenty of time to translate it. The sun came out and it was suddenly very hot and humid, so I changed into tourist shorts and a T-shirt that identified me as someone who had been to the beach in North Carolina. We walked to the main road and hailed a cab. It was a 1956 Bel Air and it already had three passengers, but there was room for two more in the back seat.

We headed straight for the capitol, which is modeled on the US capitol. On the way we passed the American embassy and saw the flag. The same three Marines who took it down in 1959 raised it when the embassy was reopened last year. At the square across from the capitol there was a line of old cars for hire for an hour, including a beautiful red Thunderbird. It was tempting to rent a convertible, but the weather had changed again. It was overcast and cool, with rain threatening. We walked quickly through the tourist streets of Old Havana, past all of the usual shops, past all of the usual hawkers and gawkers. It was so different from Camaguey. Old Havana is beautiful, if crumbling. We saw an ancient fort that now houses the police, but we have not seen many police. Certainly less than other countries I’ve visited where police carry automatic weapons. From a distance we saw the stature of Jesus overlooking Havana harbor, and it was touching to think that this was not removed early in the revolution, the way Stalin tried to erase the church.

We ate in the Hotel Florida just because it was so beautiful inside with a marble courtyard. A pianist was playing old standards like As Time Goes By quite well despite a piano whose days are clearly numbered. Cuban pork steak, rice and beans, and then a quick detour to see the house where Victor Hugo lived. I needed a picture for my daughter who is a huge fan of Hugo, thanks to Les Miserables. The plaque on the wall commemorated Hugo’s commitment to the right of people in Cuba to govern their own affairs.

The best part of the afternoon was spent at the Hotel Nacionale. This is the place where celebrities and world leaders have stayed for decades. They have pictures of the famous people like Nat King Cole, Gary Cooper, Yuri Gagaren, and even Vladimir Putin. Surprisingly one of the biggest pictures was of the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church. We sat on the veranda overlooking the sea, sipping drinks, and smoking cigars. Key West Florida was just over the horizon. It started to drizzle so moved under a tree and we were the only ones there. Then it came down harder and we retreated to the pleasure palace of the rich and famous and powerful.

We went down to the cigar store and there was a 68 year old woman who has been rolling cigars by hand since she was 19. She showed a picture of her younger self in the Romeo y Juliet factory. She was so pleased that I was interested in her work that she showed us the whole process of making a cigar, and she talked about her life. She used to live in a cold shack in the tobacco fields and then got a job in the factory. They went to using machines, but the machines could not be repaired, so they went back to better way. Machines do not have a feel for the tobacco, she said, as she carefully removed imperfections and blended the light and dark leaves. She joked about Winston Churchill’s very long cigars, which may have been compensating for other things. We laughed that the ones I bought were so short. She and Sam talked at length in Spanish, some of which he did not translate, but the gist of it was that he and I looked like we were truly happy people. We left with two of her cigars for each of us. They were the least expensive we had purchased and that evening we discovered they were also the best. Were they truly better or was it just the knowledge that they were made by a beautiful women whose wrinkled face brightens when she laughs, kissed me when I left and told me that I happy?

In the evening we went to a beautiful hotel near the casa. It was where Sam and other Moravians used to stay in Havana, but the prices have more than doubled and we could not afford so many nights there. It is lovely, but we would not have had Alejandro greeting us each morning with coffee and warning us about the pickpockets. We managed to read emails but not much else. I had a long email from my wife who I very much miss. We had a small bottle of Havana Club, glasses, and the new cigars. We sat by the pool under the palm trees. The clouds were gone and the stars were bright overhead. Orion was rising. The sky was such a dark midnight blue that the red stars were clearly red instead of the pale shades I’m accustomed to. There was a large group of Belgian tourists who had just arrived late the night before. For some reason they were fascinated by Sam and I as they walked past. Several commented in French with smiles about us lying there smoking. An older couple walked past and I said Bon soir, which confused them since they thought we were with their group. But they knew English and we talked for some time about their plans and Cuba. Such lovely people. Such a beautiful night. Such a wonder to be alive and get to experience all of this.

Final day in Camaguey – Jan. 15

This morning we decided to take a bicycle taxi to class. He worked hard to pull too good sized Moravians. When we arrived, the students were eager to begin and we started outside on the patio. We discussed the changes in the Moravian Church after the death of Zinzendorf. We haven’t followed the original itinerary for the lessons, and I haven’t really followed the slides very well, but the people here are very flexible and willing to change plans. I concluded by saying that the Iglesia Morava in Cuba is one of the fruits of a 550 year history and global mission. This is their history, too. But the most important thing in fruit is the seed, and I believe that this small church can be the seed for a new transformation of the Moravian Church as it spreads in Spanish-speaking lands. I feel renewed by this experience. I am amazed that I have felt at home here even though so much is foreign to me.

Armando handed out their certificates for having taken this course. They were signed by the president of the province, the chair of the Board of World Mission, a bishop of the Unitas Fratrum, and a professor at Moravian Theological Seminary. But we are brothers and sisters in this church, and I learned much from them. Armando gave the first certificate to Barbara who is pregnant because Zinzendorf had said that even unborn children can have faith!

With many hugs and kisses on the cheek we made our way to the car that would take us the bus station. We crowded into this tiny, Russian car, along with our luggage, and a bag of fried chicken. We ate the chicken at the bus station and the dogs took the bones happily. The bus to Havana is more modern than the first one we took, but the road is still long. It was not crowded at first and I could stretch out and take a nap, but now it is filling up. We will get to our casa sometime after 10 p.m. But tomorrow we are taking a day off and I get to be a rich American tourist in one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in the Western world! Hello, Coppacabana!

Faith, love, and hope – Jan. 14

It is just Sam and I now. Our companions returned to Havana and will soon be with their families. We walked to the conference center and the Cuba pastors welcomed me now as a friend rather than a professor. There are four women who are always together like the Musketeers. This morning they were swinging on the swing set near the pool and laughing like children. They said they had learned from Zinzendorf to be like little children! I nearly cried because this is what the church should be. We talked about the Essentials in Moravian doctrine, and I think they should be teaching Moravians in America. They especially understand why love is an essential.

More than most American Moravians, they wanted to discuss creation as an essential and that we are to love creation as God loves creation. They have no problem with the concept of environmental ethics. They see this as an expansion of liberation theology because climate change will affect the poor the most. They also understand Comenius’s idea of the imago dei being the basis of our Christian ethic. They also were more interested in the sanctification of the Holy Spirit than most Moravian groups I talk to in America. Of course the Spirit works within us to make us more like Christ. Of course we can only love our enemies because the Spirit empowers us. We had some interesting discussion about the millennial and Moravian hope for a better future. Very good questions, especially from those with theological education.

Next we discussed the Ministerials: the Bible, sacraments, and other important tools of the church. Again, Armando understands this better than most Moravians in the US. I talked about the meaning behind Moravian practices, and when we were discussing communion many of us were wiping tears from our eyes as we talked about how Christ is present in communion. It does not matter much whether you accept the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation or the Reformed doctrine of sign, so long as Christ is truly spiritually present. I talked about how meaningful it is to me to serve communion in the Moravian Church: to offer the body and blood to each person individually, to look in their eyes and see the love of Christ.

We ended early so Sam and I could go downtown. We had excellent mojitos and a very tasty fish dinner at a restaurant filled with Canadians. It was sometimes difficult because beggars, partiers, and prostitutes would wander through the sidewalk café, and some were quite demanding. With the changes in Cuba as communism declines, these things are increasing it seems.

We had limited success with internet, but I did get some emails. One of them told me that my brother was in the hospital having quadruple by-pass surgery. I realized just how far away I am, and how difficult it is not being able to be in contact with people at home.

Armando, the Cuban Zinzendorf – Jan. 13

The Moravian Church in Cuba began in 1997 with Armando Rusindo Hernandez who once was a Catholic priest. He established a relationship with the Moravian Church in Jamaica, and the more he learned about the Moravians, the more convinced that Cuba needed the Moravian Church. Many of the pastors have come from other denominations, especially the Reformed Church. Some have a Pentecostal background, but they all know what it was like to be church under a communist regime. Some pastors were forced to go to work camps, others were imprisoned. They could not have church buildings. When I teach them about the Moravian essentials of faith, love, and hope rather than Bibles, pastors, and sacraments, they understand. They related strongly to the first Moravian Church that broke away from an oppressive regime and tried to live according to the simple teachings of the New Testament.

Today was the first day I needed the alarm to wake me, and it took a while to get going. The senora at the casa made us coffee that was very strong and sweet. It was just what I needed. During our breakfast at the conference center they provide hot milk (leche) with sugar and spice, which is wonderful. I would love to serve that at a lovefeast! At break I had my first taste of sugar cane juice, which is very sweet, but refreshing. I think I will have to abstain from sugar for several weeks when I return!

As soon as we began class the power went out, and so we moved outside on the patio under the palm trees. That was much nicer, and the students seemed more willing to talk and ask questions. There was lots laughter when I describe the practice of using the lot to made the final decision on marriages and that sometimes spouses were sent to missionaries without even having met. The class suggested that this would be a good way to provide a wife for a particular pastor in the group.

I prepared three PowerPoint demonstrations for each day day, but yesterday we only did two because we ended early. Today we only did two because I talked some much beyond what was on the slides. And because the class had so many good things to say, especially about the early Moravian missions. I don’t think I have ever had a group of students so interested in these materials. They loved the painting First Fruits, which depicts Moravians from many cultures worshiping Christ in heaven. I told them about Rebecca in St Thomas and Magdalena in South Africa, who are matriarchs of provinces.

After that we talked about Zinzendorf’s theology of the heart, which they also seemed to understand intuitively because they have lived it. Except for a couple of people committed to Calvinism, there is little disagreement with Zinzendorf. I was very surprised by how well they understood his idea of the motherhood of the Holy Spirit. This is a Moravian Church that from the beginning welcomes women in ministry and values the gifts of everyone Christ has called. We talked about Zinzendorf’s belief that conversion should make us happy and joyful people. One older women, whom they call Saint Theresa, is a living example of a Moravian whose face shines. If I were a painter, I would paint her portrait to hang alongside of Mama Zinzendorf. We discussed Zinzendorf’s idea of childlikeness and they loved the Society of Little Fools.

Am I one of those fools for Christ? It seemed so foolish to make these long trip to a country where I cannot speak the language, where I have to depend on others for everything, where I cannot even drink the water. One day I in the Hilton Inn in Austin swimming in a rooftop pool and listening to music in a bar. A few days later I am in bar surrounded by mango trees and palms, teaching about Zinzendorf with a translator. Yes, a fool. A richly blessed fool who is loving every minute of this trip (except for transportation parts!).

It is hard communicating with people since I need an interpreter, but we saw much with our eyes and smiles. After lunch we met to talk about the 1957 Unity Synod and the Ground of the Unity. Everyone, including me, would have preferred to take a nap, but they tried to be attentive. Sam and I decided to go downtown for dinner and to unwind. Before we could, though, the senora at the casa gave us some of the rice pudding she had made for dessert. So good!

We tried to connect to internet, but I had less than success than Sam. I did get some emails and learned that it had snowed at home. Julie and the girls had to sweep the sidewalks while I was enjoying the tropical breezes. I try to feel guilty, but just can’t!

First day teaching – Jan. 12

I’m calling this a blog even though we have had internet access only for a few minutes so far. Last night we went into downtown Camaguey and there is WiFi in the town square. So I was able to check email and text my wife, but could not post these blog entries I’ve been writing. We are going to a church service tonight, so no internet. Riddick and Thomas are leaving us tomorrow so it will be just Sam and me from now on.

I slept well last night and woke at 6:30 a.m. refreshed and eager to start the day. Around 8 a.m. we walked with the local pastor, Aldo, and Obed from Jaguay. Obed’s English is the best in the group, and he loves to joke around. He came to the Moravians from the Reformed Church. At one point he was the Reformed Church’s representative on the Council of Churches for all of Latin America, but he disagreed with his church’s opposition to women’s ordination. They asked him to leave. He had been impressed by the Moravians in Nicaragua, Jamaica, and Antigua, and so he learned more about them. He and his wife decided this was the church for them, and the Moravians believed that God was using him to open a door in Cuba. He and Armando disagree in love about many things, especially predestination, but they labor together.

We are meeting in a small resort owned by the government’s sugar company. It is not a luxurious, but it is very nice. There are rooms for families, a pool where people play volleyball, a dining hall, and other facilities. A member of the church convinced the government to allow us to use the facility for the conference, which really reduced the costs. We Americans cannot stay there because we are foreigners. We are staying in a nice guest house several half a mile away. The walk is doing me good. Since it is so warm, we decided to hold classes in the only air conditioned room, which happens to be the bar. We took a painting off the wall so we could project the PowerPoint slides from the bar. We pushed the tables together and eleven men and women sit on one side like the disciples in DaVinci’s Last Supper. Almost half of the students are women. All are working for the church. One woman’s husband is an electrical engineer who is in Ecuador doing work, but he is starting a church as well. She is studying to teach him more about the Moravians. One of the students is starting a Moravian church in Guantanamo, not far from the US base that is the center of so much pain and shame. He comes from the Pentecostal church and is eager to learn more about the Moravians.

We started with basic Moravian Church history, beginning with Hus and ending with the death of Zinzendorf. They asked very good questions, especially those with theological training. We project the slides in Spanish and Bishop Gray translates what I say, which is often only tangentially related to the slides. There is an interesting discipline and rhythm that goes with pausing for translation. The students were very engaged in the material. When I described some of the old Moravian practices, especially the kiss of peace, there was a lot of laughing. I made the mistake of asking who you kiss today, forgetting that in Cuba you kiss everyone!

We stopped about 4:30 p.m. and the Americans went back to our casa for a brief rest and then joined the group for a lovely dinner in the conference center. Rice and savory meat. It was nice to finally exchange money and we got a surprisingly good rate. Sam has been paying everything for me so far.

After dinner the whole class got into the brand new Moravian bus, with people sitting on top of each other. We drove down one of the worst dirt roads I’ve been on (and that is saying something), past the slaughterhouse, to a poor neighborhood where pastor Aldo and his wife have a thriving house church. Moravians in America helped to build a water filtration system so the people have clean water, and Bishop Sam is taking samples back to the states to test for bacteria. The service was led by women and was quite charismatic with much singing and praying. Those who know me well know that I have no rhythm, and it remained true. I hope people do not think that the Spirit is not moving me just because my body does not move. Thomas Baucom gave a very solid sermon, translated by Bishop Sam. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” A good end to a busy day.

Ten hours on a bus – Jan. 11

Monday Jan 11 Ten hours on a bus

5 a.m. alarm. Quick shower. Cuban coffee – sweet, strong, and hot. No food, which was a mistake. Crowded cab to the bus station. And then a journey across most of the island to Camaguey. Our first rest stop was supposed to be ten minutes, but lasted much longer because the bus needed repairs. The driver put on coveralls, got out his tools, and crawled under the bus. It was a modern bus, if a bit worn in places. Along the way we picked up passengers, including pastor Obed, whose English is quite good. He and Armando both have a delightful sense of humor.

What surprised me most was just how rural most of Cuba is. We were on a major highway and went miles without seeing buildings. We passed farms where oxen were plowing and horses were pulling carts. We drove over plains, past sugar cane fields, banana plantations, and pastures. We went through the hill country and finally stopped at a lovely roadside restaurant for lunch. Cuba is so beautiful and green. I think the most refreshing thing about the trip, other than lunch, was the fact that there were almost no billboards or other advertisements. In marked contrast to other places I’ve visited, no one was trying to sell things or asking for money. So far the Cubans have been among the most polite and pleasant people I’ve ever been around.

We were greeted at the bus station with a delegation of men and women from the Moravian Church. Hugs and kisses and smiles. They all know and love Bishop Sam. We are staying near the church in a lovely guest house. Tonight the owner’s mother celebrated her 78th birthday and they invited us to share in the beautiful pink and white cake. So gracious. We took a cab into the old city for dinner, and we were able to access WiFi in the square near the Catholic Church. So finally I could text my wife to let her know that I am safe and being well fed and watered. It was good to know that they are well even if one of the daughters tried to microwave a metal coffee cup!

It is now 10 p.m. and time for sleep. Tomorrow classes begin. I’ve done bilingual education and am naturally quite nervous. One of my students this fall, Angelical Religado translated all of my powerpoint slides into Spanish and Sam printed them as booklets for the participants. Over 200 pages!

And so, with prayers of gratitude, it is time to sleep.

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