When I was presented with this opportunity to travel to Cuba with Global Ministries I immediately thought to myself, “This would be a fascinating chance to get some perspective on life and Christianity from a people who have largely been ignored by the western world since the 50s!” In the months prior, I had been making a concerted effort to broaden my understanding of perspectives from different communities on the global scale, and this seemed like a wonderful opportunity to embark on that endeavor.
I tried not to go into this trip carrying too many expectations, as I find it is easier to absorb more of one’s surroundings with an open a mind as possible, but I would say that I thought beforehand that the government would be vastly more involved in daily life than it turned out to be. To the people of Cuba, the government is much more an enigma that, on the surface, employs almost everyone, but is almost entirely disengaged from the day-to-day happenings of life. People get their basic food rations from the government (rice, cheese, bread, etc) and the infrequent and pitifully fruitless paycheck, but beyond that they do not closely control individual dissent or freedom of movement/assembly in the same way the western world perceived other “communist” countries.
I was also taken aback by the amount of passion and emotion the people we encountered put into their church community and their relationship with Christ. Life is not easy at all for the people of Cuba. The average Cuban will take home about $20 (US) at the end of every month. For many, at the end of the day, the main things that give them joy are their families, the church community, the ability to express oneself wholeheartedly through profoundly rhythmic and lyrical Cuban gospel music, and the knowledge that Christ will always be there to listen to what is on one’s mind.
One of the more profound encounters we had was with a young couple who was embarking on restoring a run down church building, and starting a congregation there. They wanted to take us to see it, even though they had only just started, just so we could have a vision in our mind’s eye when we prayed for them. This building literally had nothing going for it. Hardly a roof to speak of, debris everywhere, water damaged floors and walls, and I’m quite sure an abundance of animals in residence. But, we joined hands and stood together in this dark, mold-filled room and this couple prayed one of the most powerful prayers I have ever experienced. The presence of God was flowing like adrenaline up my arm, through my core, and out my other arm again as it passed around our circle. The passion and outright certainty that this couple had that they 100% were going to make this into a thriving community of Christ, no matter how long it took was absolutely awe inspiring. These people literally started with less than nothing and so firmly believe that they will succeed and the spirit will carry them along the way was a deeply profound experience for our whole group.
Church is much more fun in Cuba. There’s salsa music, the sermons are a lot more like an active conversation between preacher/conversation/God, and less like a lecture. They play Bible trivia at the beginning of church. These people know their Bibles cover to cover. “What’s the chapter in the exact middle of the Bible?” Boom. 15 hands all go up with in a tenth of a second. If there were a model for the “God is Still Speaking” slogan, these churches would absolutely fit it. The room is filled with an overwhelming sense of excitement for discovering the unknown, analyzing the familiar, and rejoicing in the wonder of it all. Though they do not have much in terms of material goods, the spirit of the Cuban people is powerful and vibrant.
- Peter Tarantino