The many faces of Cuba

 As I spent time in Cuba and met many people, I was struck by how we are the same.  We all have hopes, dreams and desires of a better future.  I saw my childrens’ faces in many children there.  I kept thinking of the song From A Distance by Bette Midler.

From a distance you look like my friend,
even though we are at war.
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
what all this fighting is for.

I hope as you scan these faces, you’ll also believe that we’re all the same made of the same stuff.


Safety 3rd: Cuban style

In a country where supplies are scarce, it comes as no surprise that necessity breeds a certain amount of McGyver’ing.  It also means that safety is not a top priority.  By no means are the Cubans we met foolhardy.  They are just more willing to accept some risk to get the work done and balance the amount of supplies used.  It is a lesson that when you’re visiting someone else’s home, you can make recommendations but they will decide ultimately how they want to live with it.  When we offered our gloves, glasses and other safety gear; they would wear them.  Otherwise, they would never ask, nor think to ask because it just isn’t something common in Cuba.  So when in Santa Clara…

When we got there, the outlet for the fan was just installed.  The bare wires were twisted together prior to the image.  At least now we got to plug the bare wires into an outlet.

Some rebar needed to be cut. Luckily we brought some 12″ cutting wheels.  The shaft was too small to fit the wheel so a 1/2″ PVC pipe was cut to use as a spacer for the wheel.  You can see the entire wheel because the safety sheild is removed.  You’ll notice he’s wearing hearing protection, and some funny eye goggles.  The glove was on the left hand to hold the rebar.

An outlet was installed on wood beneath the bench.  Very few if any outlets were three prongs … and those that were did not have the ground connected.

Mark burned through many gloves handling the rebar.  Most of the Cubans didn’t use any gloves.

This is a step-up or step-down transformer.  It is about three feet high.  It steps 110 to 220 volt.  At least it is all open so you can see when it sparks.

A wire hangs down in a door way.  Why waste good electrical tape?  It’s just going to fall off anyways.  Here Mark demonstrates the height of the wire.  I think it was about my ear height.  And yes, the wire is bare just above the top of his head.

The wet saw had a broken plug or switch.  Either way, that didn’t matter.

There is no reason to run all new wire.  If the wire breaks or is a foot short, just add another section in.  Color blind electricians are fine here.

Pete had something in his eye.  He said it was infected and ignored it for a day or two.  When he went to the Doctor there, he learned it was a scratched cornea.  The left eye is his good eye.  His right eye is normally blurry.  Next time I saw him, he was on metal scaffolding wiring in an overhead light.

This is the air conditioning unit that we cut a hole in the wall for.  Need electricity?  Just pop out the outlet and run a wire from it.  Want a circuit breaker?  Just tape it to the wire near the power switch for the AC.  The current protector’s light show that the power is “balo” or low.

The work was simple.  Dig out under the foundation of the church and lay a new foundation under it.  We only dug out two of the eight foundations at a time.

Hey, please go take that wall down.  It might be easiest if you prop yourself on the wall while you knock the bricks off.

These are Mark’s safety glasses that he lent me.  Good thing too.  See that scratch on the glasses about an inch below where I’m holding it?  That was a floor board that fell while I was removing a floor while standing under it.

Yordi needed another electrical line for something.  I looked over the wall down at him.   He’s standing on a ladder adding wire to the demarc point — where electricity comes into the building — to pull another circuit.

This is Yordi making another pig tail for something.

Cuban Cars

Yes, it is just like an old movie from the late 1950’s in the United States.  At a certain point I just stopped taking pictures of the cars because there were so many.  When Cuba is fully opened to the US, someone is going to go down and buy up all the old cars to resell in the US.  And they’ll make a fortune.

Here are a few select cars to show:

A wrap up “sermon” of Cuba

Just before dinner on the last night in Cuba, I was laying on a bed with all these words running through my head.  I knew that I needed to write down my thoughts at that moment.  So I wrote.  I actually didn’t reread it until I typed it here.  The words came out as if I was speaking to the folks at my home church about this experience.

Cubans.  The Cubans I met get it.  Religion – actually God – has always been intellectual for me.  I give God one hour each week – if that.  Outside of this building of St. Matthews, God takes a back seat.

The people I met are not like this.  They get it.  I am blessed that for the first time in my life I have felt God.  Nothing has ever touched me so much as having a church lay their hands on you and pray so hard that we both cried.

As Mark later said, he stood there standing in a puddle of tears as they filled up our spirit.  It was empty when we left home at 3:30 that morning heading to Cuba.

We thought life was hard.  Cubans have a philosophy: God is busy.  He will provide for us when he has time.  Our mission trip was the vehicle of God’s grace.  With us arrived the permits for them to build.

The rebar was bought two years ago because Yordi knew God would get there and he wanted to be ready.

You sent us.  You made that happen.

God touched me.  It was not intellectual.  It was emotional.  On that last night that we were in the church, I stood in the church alone and cried.  I wanted to soak in as much spirit as I could but I was lacking.  It was like standing in front of a fire hose trying to fill a cup.

The Holy Spirit brought the gift of tongues to the apostles so all would understand.  It was not words that tongues brought but feelings.  I did not know what Yordi said but I did not need a translator.  It held so much power that I felt His power through the force of Yordi’s emotions.

Pastor Yordi is a powerful man.  He picked me up on his shoulders and spun me around.  He visions how the church will look and is strong willed enough to get them all there.

But that is not his greatest strength.  It is his faith.  Yordi is not a man of the past, but instead looks to a blessed future.

He minister to a man in prison.  He knows not how the man got there.  He knows not why he was released.  Yordi knows the man found God.  Yordi knows the man found a wife and child he didn’t know he had.  Yordi knows the man looks to a blessed future.

How do we bring this home?

I could stand here and exclaim and show pictures but you won’t feel what I felt.  I cannot make God touch you.  He will come when he has time.

When we said our good byes, I said that we will see each other again but I did not know when.  The response was simple: We will see each other in heaven.

We do not look the same.
We do not speak the same.
We do not live the same way.
But we all have the same God.

We do not praise him the same.  I’m not saying better or worse, just not the same.

However, if we want the angels in heaven to look down on us and say that we’ve put our whole heart in it, we need to step it up a notch.

One hour on Sunday may keep the bogey man away but it will not do much more in terms of reaching all God’s children.

That’s the church’s motto, right?  A home for all God’s children?

It’s time to get out of the house and bring them in.  I call on you to look inside and recall when God has touched you.  Find your spiritual center.  Get there.

And if you haven’t truly felt God, step out of his house and call others to join you.  God’s love can only touch you through others.  Only by others can you feel God. 

God is all around you everyday.  When your heart is silent, it is not empty.  God is waiting for you to call others.  Be the voice you need to hear in your heart.


Fox News Interview, March 18, 2011

I was interviewed by Garrett Tenney of Fox News for a story about cell phone use in disasters.  The story was published on March 18, 2010 at  It is reprinted here.

Memorizing Cell Phone Numbers Could Save You in Times of Crisis

By Garrett Tenney
Published March 18, 2011 |

Many Americans feel naked or lost without their cell phones. 

But in times of crisis those very devices — instead of connecting people — can sometimes lead to collapses in communications.

One reason: who memorizes cell phones numbers anymore? 

A week after Japan’s 8.9 magnitude earthquake, there are still more than 10,000 people unaccounted for. 

Philippe Stoll, a spokesman for the International Red Cross, told the BBC earlier this week that people are still alive, but can’t tell anyone because cell phones that were not swept away by flooding waters quickly ran out of power. 

“I don’t know how many of the phone numbers saved on your mobile phone you know by heart,” Stoll said. “How do you reach someone whose number you have in the mobile you lost?”

In tech-savvy Japan, cell phones are widely used by young and old, as opposed to the U.S., where they are predominantly utilized by just the younger generation, said Ken Wisnefski, founder and CEO of 

“In Japan, even the older generation was reliant on technology, for some time, so the impact of this crisis is more far reaching because a large part of the population relied so heavily on that technology,” said Wisnefski. 

A study released earlier this month by Research and Markets, the world’s largest market research firm, revealed that of Japan’s population of roughly 127 million, 117 million are mobile subscribers and 90 percent of those users have access to a high speed 3G network. 

Communication in and out of Japan has begun to improve, and some wireless carriers, such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint and Comcast have been offering free calling to Japan from the U.S. 

But, in some of the hardest hit areas, communication with the outside world and emergency responders is still difficult. 

Keith Robertory, manager of disaster services technology with the American Red Cross, said this is a reminder to everyone to be prepared in the event of a disaster. 

He said people can take these few, simple steps to help improve communication and get you on the path of personal recovery:

–Save all your contacts on your home computer, update them every few months, and print a hardcopy of your contacts to keep in your car in case of an emergency. 

–Write down the toll-free numbers for your banks and utility companies. In the event of a disaster, this will allow you to turn off your utilities, reprint credit cards, and temporarily change your address. 

–Designate a friend or family member who lives outside your area to be your family’s emergency contact. In emergency situations, long-distance calls have a better chance of getting through jammed phone lines because they only require one connection to get through, while local calls require two connections. 

–If you are in a disaster area, and aren’t able to get a hold of family or friends on your phone, change your voicemail to say the current time, your location, and that you are safe. This will allow anyone trying to reach you to know you’re alive and where rescuers can find you. 

Robertory said communication in crisis situations is vital for families and communities. Although preparation is a personal decision, families should make plans to handle disasters, he said.

Safety 3rd

My recent trip to Cuba hammered home the concept of “safety third”. I stole the concept from Mike Rowe. Basically, it means that there is a certain amount of risk that someone needs to accept to get a job done. If everything were truly safety first, nothing would get done. Take a look at his blog entry at the following link.

Mike explains himself even more in the following TED talks video.

I bring this up because I’ve got a whole slate of photos for a blog post called “Cuban Safety 3rd” which will be coming soon.

Cuban religious music

One of the most immediately striking things that I’ve witnessed is how the Cubans have integrated a very lively music to their service.  Once they get a hold of a song, they add more life to it then the original source.  I listened to a few of the songs after visiting Cuba and I just couldn’t take how slow it was.  Here are some videos just to give you a taste of what I heard.  Some day I may get around to adjusting the audio quality to bring up the treble.




The following clip is bad video so just listen to the audio.  One evening, Mark was asking Isabelle about how the Cubans make their music.  Specifically the song “Lord I lift Your name on high”.  Two people sat down at the piano and performed the following after one quick run through on the standard slow version that most people are familiar with.  Look closely at the keyboard and you’ll see the shadows of four hands.

My devotion while in Cuba

All the members of the mission trip were asked to prepare a devotion to share.  I had a rough idea of what I was going to do, but it didn’t hit until Sunday service.  The service was in Cuban Spanish – obviously – and I did not understand most of it. 

I am used to services that are done in quiet and contained reverence.  I have not really experienced a service where God is celebrated by exploding with full life.  The service was loud.  The service was fast.  In every way the service was as reverent as any other that I have been in.  Continue reading My devotion while in Cuba

Pastor Yordi

Pete (l) and Pastor Yordi (r)

Pastor Yordi is a man who has a vision, a will to make it happen and a faith that it will happen.  I was told that the Cuban people have a philosophy of “God is busy. He will provide for me when He has time.”

Yordi bought the rebar for this project two years ago.  He was criticized for the purchase since he did not have government approval for the project.  Yordi’s response was simple: when we have the approval, there will be no rebar available.  He was right.  Approval for the project was granted the week before we arrived.  All the materials were waiting for our arrival because of his forthought.

Yordi provided some insight into his past.  His father believe in the communist/socialist way and was training him to be in the electrical or construction trade.  Yordi didn’t take that path and became a Minister.  His father was very angry and said “God stole my son.”  Yordi left all that behind him and doesn’t carry the baggage; he looks forward to a blessed future.

The Bishop asked Yordi when he will stop building.  His response is that he’s a reformer and will fix everything he sees broken.

I was also told of a story of a young man in jail.  He was sentenced to a long prison time.  The man’s mother asked Yordi to minister to him in prison.  Yordi prayed with the man every week.  The church did a collection to give him a phone card so the man could call his mother.  They prayed for him.  One day, the young man called Yordi for money to go home.  Papers came through to release the man.  Yordi never asked why the man was put in jail.  Yordi never found out how the man got out.  Yordi only cared for the man’s future.  The man has since found God.  He found a woman and child he never knew about – and married her to start the family.

Pastor Yordi is a strong man.  He lifted me up on his shoulders like a shepherd does to his sheep; and proceeded to spin me around.  This has never been done in my adult life.

We will all meet again one day.  I hope in Cuba so I can share his home with others.  Definitely in heaven.