Today we traveled to Pilon from Camp Canaan. After our delicious breakfast of fried Spam sandwiches and fruit we were on the bus. We were excited for our planned stop along the way. After 6 hours of driving, Manuel, our bus driver, made a few turns on some dirt roads and then pulled to a stop across the street from a structure with a solid foundation, windows and a roof on the front of the building. Aldo stood up and announced, “There it is!” We were looking at the Methodist Church being built with funds that Floris UMC had donated a few years ago as part of the Christmas Eve offering.
We piled out of the bus and went to greet Blanca, the pastor of this church, who was eagerly awaiting our arrival. She was extremely gracious and kissed each one of us as if she had known us for years. Her smile was contagious and I instantly felt like a part of her family as we explored the church while the men continued to work around us. They have made great progress since razing the original structure and in our minds we can imagine the great celebration that will be held when the final touches of the church are complete. For now, Blanca holds services for the people near the structure under the stars, giving thanks to God for all things. What a blessing it will be to worship in the building. While Blanca wants us to return next year to celebrate its completion, we know it is unlikely that most of us will be able to be present. What we will know, however, is that because we are united in Christ, we can share in the celebration no matter where we are. We can stand anywhere and know in our hearts the joyful celebration to the Lord that will take place on that day.
The people of Blanca’s congregation had been preparing for our arrival as well. We drove a few miles to a home where Blanca’s mom and other women had been preparing a love offering for us:the meal of the century! We ate and laughed together and enjoyed our visit so much. I felt truly a part of a larger community visiting our Cuban brothers and sisters. We did our best to communicate in our cryptic Spanish, longing to knock down any boundaries that would keep us from loving one another. As we prepared to leave to continue our journey to Pilon on the bus, I felt a longing to stay longer. Blanca’s joy and grace was contagious and I wanted to stay and experience more of it. One of our team members captured her spirit perfectly when he remarked later that “love was just pouring out of her eyes”. Reluctantly we prepared to go. We made a joyful commotion as we left, hugging, kissing and taking pictures of each other as one would do at a family reunion. So much love and laughter between us; strangers just a few hours before. I felt truly blessed to be there and will remember that day for a long time.