“This is Cuba.” A phrase frequently used on my 3 week journey to Cuba to describe the flexibility and lack of logic throughout our trip. It really became comical. The power went out randomly for entire days at my home-stay in Havana. Our bus, holding all 27 students and our luggage, broke down for4 hours on our way to Playa Giron, and again going to Santa Clara, delaying us an entire day. We got soaking wet right as we approached the steps of El Morro, the open-air castle defending Cuba’s eastern coast from pirates. We waited an hour and a half in the baking sun to exchange our American dollars into Cuban convertible pesos (CUCs) because Cuban banks only allow 3 people in the building at a time. A tarantula was casually centimeters away from my legs as a group of us sit in the cool night breeze in Santa Clara. This is Cuba.
I knew my May Experience Trip would be far out of my comfort zone. Going to Cuba with 26 people I did not know, taking a class in a department I’ve never experienced, right before the most influential decision-making year of my life was all intentional. What I didn’t expect was the most clear experience of God’s love and grace that I have felt in my 20 years of life thus far. There’s something about Cuban people. The way they care for others, the way they constantly relax sitting on the side of the road for hours, the way they love Americans. It all adds up to the most beautiful picture of my God, yet they don’t even know Him. It’s overwhelmingly heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. I’d like to believe I successfully shared the light of God while I was there, but I guess we can never be sure. But maybe that’s the point of faith.
The 3 week time slot seemed perfect at first, as it allowed for my return to the States and start of full time work for church for two and a half months before senior year starts. But I could’ve stayed in Cuba forever, struggling with my out-of-reach Spanish skills and painfully noticeable pale skin (at least pale in comparison to native Cuban citizens). God put a spark in my heart for this place and all of the faith, inquiry, patience, pride, and love it taught me. That simply cannot be captured in a picture or essay.
I can only hope my return to America will bring a new translation of our oh-so-common phrase from the trip. I can say “this is Cuba” as I serve others before myself like my Havana host-mom, Myrna. I can say “this is Cuba” when life takes an unexpected turn and it doesn’t raise my blood pressure like the unplanned stay in Bayamo after the bus breakdown. I can say “this is Cuba” in the process of asking difficult questions as I fill out seminary applications in the coming weeks, just like the Catholic and African religion tours throughout the country taught me.
When I think of Cuba, I think of the Needtobreathe song, “Washed by the Water.” The beautiful ballad has always had a place in my heart, but now it seems to mean even more to me. It perfectly sums up the challenge and the promise that Cuba stands for. Cuba brought the challenges of questioning communism and socialism in comparison to my all-too-familiar capitalism, as well as the challenge of describing the importance of God to a country who has never really experience Him before. But most importantly, Cuba brought the promise that God’s heart follows you wherever you go. Even when your plans get ruined or the power goes out or you struggle to have answers to difficult questions, God’s promise is prevailing. This is Cuba.