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.


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.

Cuba: Introduction

I was given the chance to participate in a mission trip for an eight-person team from St. Matthews United Methodist Church in Virginia to go to a Methodist Church in Santa Clara, Cuba.  We were told that it was a little painting and some masonry work.  It turned out to be heavy work busting reinforced concrete out with hand tools.

I’m going to devote a section of my blog to writing about my experiences.  There are too many little stories that I don’t want to lose and want to share.  These are all my perspective and how I feel from a limited exposure to the people of Cuba.  I will try to post these as often as time allows.  The experience was wonderful and look forward to the day of open relationships so I can bring my family to meet Pastor Yordi’s family and the work I did.

Today, I can say that I have gone to Cuba, touched the foundation of a church so it can expand, and been touched by God in a most unexpected way.