Today I Saw God
Today is our last day in Cuba. This morning we visited the United Methodist seminary and the church that is attached to it. There are around 55 students who will be graduating this year from seminary with another large class right behind them. The students come to classes for a month at a time, they live in dorms, share meals and take classes together. After the month they all return to their churches, where they are full pastors, and work until it is time for another class. The professors we met are excited to be teaching these students and see great hope for the church of Cuba as more and more pastors are being equipped for ministry.
The students are blessed with a small computer lab and library but the selection of books is quite low and the computers do not always work. In addition they are always working with the water filtration system so that students can remain healthy while in session. It is an interesting contrast in abundance of spirit and scarcity of things.
We were able to speak with the pastor of the church and were once again amazed at the stories he related. Last Saturday in worship there was in attendance a person who had been paralyzed since birth. During the service, when the pastor had asked for anyone who wanted to be touched by the Holy Spirit to come forward, this person raised his hand. The pastor came to him, reached out his hand and prayed for healing. I asked the pastor what he was feeling and thinking and he said, "I just asked God what he wanted me to do and he said, hold out your hand and tell him to stand up. So I did." The man stood up and walked and is still walking today. We are hearing all sorts of stories like this here in Cuba. It gives all of us much to think about and ponder over. It is as if we are living in the first century church and we are constantly amazed at the signs and wonders we are witnessing.
After the seminary we visited the Old Folks Home for United Methodists. This is a home that is completely reliant on charity for all of it's funding. The home is lovely and full of delightful older people who are grateful for a place to live and especially for the family of the church. A woman named Jilma asked us to be sure and tell our friends to pray for them. She is missing her sister who moved to the US 25 years ago and who she has not heard from for three years.
Our day ended in downtown Havana where we observed the ritual firing of the cannon over the harbor which has been happening for over 500 years. It was an interesting ending to the day and captured the great dichotomy between the vitality of the church and the pomp of the government presence in Cuba.
We are looking forward to returning home but of course we are filled with sadness at leaving our new friends here in Cuba.
Today is Sunday here in Pilon. Sunday means quite a bit of church attendance here in Cuba. This morning I was given the honor of teaching the adults of the church (about 40). Needless to say I was a bit nervous. Of course the Holy Spirit was alive and the lesson went well. We then all gathered together for worship. I'm sure as others have explained worship here is alive, loud, and spirited. What a way to start your day.
Having been here a week working, eating, being served and serving these people are truly our family. Brothers and sisters. How quickly and deeply we have bonded and tomorrow we leave. At the evening worship Barbara preached. Pastor Alcibiades convinced her to preach a second Sunday and basked in the "time off" grinning like the Cheshire Cat. The congregation responded so heartily to Barbara's message as it was translated as fast as our coordinator Alba could speak. Near the end of the service we were prayed for as a team. Surrounded by the congregation, hands laid on us by the pastor, prayers came streaming forth from not only the Pastor, but the people surrounding us as well. The experience was intense and hard to fully impart the feeling of love, connectedness, and power of the Spirit moving around us. Gloria Dios, Bendiciones, Te Bendiga, Spiritu Sanctu, just a few of the words to be heard in the circle of escalating voices swirling around us.
The day was incredible and caps a week here in Pilon. I will miss my new family. Warm faces everyday, smiles, hard work, spontaneous praise songs from Joel and Alexis. They are honest, and humble with integrity and a consistent recognition of God in the center of everything they and we do. It is easy to come here and see the lack of what we have in the U.S. but to realize that they lack nothing from God. I'm trying to internalize a great irony; the freedom that they actually have in Christ and my bondage to my northern VA way of life. If I carry a fraction of their trust and faith what a blessing that will be.
Has life sold you a bill of goods?
All the stories I read as a child ended this way
It doesn't look or feel this way right now.
I guess I'm no longer a child.
I can't close my eyes and wait for the happy ending.
And even if I could, the reality is:Happily ever after does NOT equal None of this ever happened
God seems to be doing something big. Something about what we are living through is what we are meant to take with us in the Happily Ever After.
What is God working in you in these days to ready you for "ever after"?
I had the privilege to help in the kitchen. The ladies were very organized. They made huge meals. Working in very small kitchen everyone had an assigned task so it made the work flow very smooth. I also helped with the laundry. There is a small washer in the kitchen so it took hours to do laundry for ten people the clothes were hung on the clothes line to dry just like in the olden days. It was a joy to work with the ladies it allowed me to get to know them a little bit better.
Hace muy calor! Today we are mixing concrete, by hand, for the laying of tile around the church. Joel, the foreman, and Luis make it look like children playing in the sandbox but when we try to do it we realize it is hard, heavy and hot work.
The other night we were able to go to a mission church here in Pilon. A mission church is similar like a satellite church in the United States. The church was started by some members of Casa de Dios in another location in Pilon and is pastored by a man and his wife who started here are members at Casa de Dios. We were taken to the service by Manuel who drove our bus through the dark town, narrowly missing people on bicycles and dodging the deep, deep ruts in the road. The congregation, of about 35 were praising God with music and dancing when we arrived. We were greeted at the door by a young boy who completely understands the concept of radical hospitality. We were ushered into a very small room on the side of a house and given the seats of honor near the front. When the praise music stopped the pastor welcomed Pastor Alcebiades and he introduced each of us. After preaching, prayer and more music we were each given a gift made by a member and taken outside to enjoy cafe under the stars.
As I mingled with the congregation and enjoyed the fellowship of these warm, spiritual people I was struck by the depth of trust in the Holy Spirit they exude. Many of the people do not have enough to eat, because they are United Methodists they are often singled out for harassment by the local party members, and yet they eagerly gather to worship God. They use speakers to blast the music and speaking out into the streets and they enter into praise with all of their being. There was a CD playing as we were enjoying each other and the words brought tears to my eyes,
"Greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city." I have no doubt that this congregation with the leadership of this humble pastor and his wife can accomplish great things for Christ.