The day after Christmas 2015, Pastor Laurie joined a delegation from the California-Nevada Annual Conference to make a historic and unforgettable 2-week journey to Cuba. Twelve of the participants (including Pastor Laurie) took part in an intensive Spanish language immersion experience, receiving hours of daily instruction and staying in the homes of Cuban families. Others joined Bishop Warner Brown on a tour of Methodist Churches in Cuba. The two groups gathered together to compare notes, and worshiped together at the Methodist Church in Marianao on a Sunday morning and on New Year’s Eve. The Methodist Church in Cuba is growing by leaps and bounds, with most of its membership and leadership under the age of 30. The American group came into contact with a wide variety of people from different backgrounds and perspectives, and came home with full hearts. What follows are some of Pastor Laurie’s reflections on the trip.
Cuba is a country of stark contrasts. Crumbling buildings sit next to beautifully restored ones next to severe government monuments; there is ample evidence of both poverty and opulence; on the street, one sees tourists and tired faces; and in the air there is both hope and despair.
The variety of connections our group experienced — from church people to academics to host families to taxi drivers — helped us gain a broader perspective, as there is no one “Cuban point of view” when it comes to the challenges facing this country. Nearly everyone we met was eager to talk about politics, and many were quite thoughtful and well-informed.
The historic churches we saw had no identifying signs on the outside. It was only inside the most “touristy” hotels and in churches (and in my host’s living room, which seemed a rarity) that we saw Christmas trees and Christmas lights — nothing on the outside of buildings.
Worshiping with the Methodists in Cuba was incredible. The joy and welcome we felt was deep and genuine. I learned the rich value of the resources of people and time; if you have these — people who are willing to give of their time — then you have everything you need, and with them, everything is possible. Money, buildings, “stuff” doesn’t matter — and these things cannot buy the other, more important human resources. I believe it makes a great difference that there is virtually no Internet access in Cuba; it makes for few distractions.
I was particularly struck by where the various people I met seem to find their hope. Some are hopeful because of the changing climate in diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, while others are skeptical. For some, hope (and sadness) comes in the form of children and grandchildren who have left the country. Many take deep pride in their people’s ability to simply survive. The people of faith, however, possess a quality of hope that is distinctly different; it seems more abiding and more all-consuming. It results in a generous spirit, more ready smiles and laughter that is not forced.
I am deeply grateful to my fellow adventurers, teachers, and hosts, and to the generous people of Windsor Community UMC who helped make this trip possible for me. I return home far more confident in my Spanish language skills, and with a heart full of prayers. I am eager to share what I’ve learned and to get to know my neighbors at home better.