Sunday, October 27, 2013

Matanzas, Cuba 10/23/13 What in the World have I been up to?

            I feel like this is one of the questions that many people are asking about my trip at this moment. It has been a while since my last post, and that is somewhat of a good thing because I have been so busy with work here I haven’t had many chances to write.
The common understanding of missionary abroad is that they are there to convert people and to assist with the growth of the church. During orientation for this journey we were told that we should not think like this; that we are going abroad to help in any way we can. I have embraced this to the fullest and take any opportunity I can to assist. This includes construction, painting, helping serve diner at the weekly Bible study, tagging along for pastoral visits, and simple communication with the members of the congregation. I am slowly becoming a man of all trades. I am now an expert at mixing concrete (by hand), and have majorly increased my painting skills. This past week we built a concrete walkway next to the church. My first task was to rally the troops, a job that ended up being much harder than expected. It took about a week to finish this project and three out of those five days of work I was a one-man army. My determination to help gave me the strength to move over a ton of materials by myself.
            Going back to the old perception of a missionary, growth is something that is very important for the church. Although I am extremely unqualified to preach the Bible, I have found ways to assist with growth that really has nothing to do with the church. The way I can do this is by building relationships. In my last post I talked about the role of youth in the church, and the need to expand this young presence. The easiest way to do this is to bring people in with activities that don’t directly have to do with the church: movie night, a day at the beach, bowling, dancing at the local club. Once relationships are formed the churchy stuff can follow. The goal of this method is to not scare people away by overloading them with the Bible. Let them find out for themselves that the church is a place of community, and let them investigate religion in the way that is the most comfortable for them.
            Another thing that I have been doing is tagging along with Reverend Aurelio for pastoral visits. He aims to visit everyone in his congregation at least twice a year. This adds up to about 300+ visits a year. During these visits I do not say very much: I let him do all the talking. But just by being there I have the power to assist with the impact of the visit. It is not very often that people have an American visiting their house. This is work that is very rewarding for me because it allows me to initiate an individual relationship with each member of the church.
            Well that is all for now. In closing, I have realized that I am in the country of rainbows. I have never seen so many rainbows in my life. I am sure that to the Cubans I seem like the double rainbow guy from YouTube (you need to Google that one) but this doesn’t stop me from pointing them out.
            This post is sponsored by: John Shea, Kitty Nardiello, Michael and Petrea Poler, and James and Jeannie Kohm. Thank you all for your support.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Retreat weekend at Camp Blankingship with the men of the Episcopal Church.

A few weeks ago I had a dream. In this dream I was back at my house in the US and it was only October. I realized that I was no longer in Cuba and that for some reason I had to leave Cuba early. I was not happy with this. I immediately went downstairs to find my dad eating breakfast and told him that he must send me back to Cuba. I was practically in tears because I had to come home early. “I didn’t even have the chance to experience Christmas with my host family,” I thought. When I woke up from this dream I thought, wow I must really be happy here. If I am dreaming about leaving and demanding to come back I must be in the right place. This gave me a new sense of motivation and desire to continue my work here once I awoke the next morning.
            For the last weekend in September, I was with the men of the Episcopal church of Cuba at Camp Blankingship in Santa Clara, Villa Clara. This retreat was for several reasons. First, to work at the Episcopal Camp Blankingship -- helping clear the land of thorn bushes and planting trees to be used for several purposes. The trees that we planted included avocado, mango, plantain, oranges, and other trees used for shade. On the first day, it was my job to attack the thorn bushes. My weapons of choice were a machete and a branch; the branch was used to part the bushes so that I could reach to bigger stems located close to the ground. After about an hour of straight up war I was attacked by two wasps. I guess I lost the war because after that I decided to take a break to snap some pictures of the work that was being done. A few hours later I was exhausted, and decided to follow a few people to check out the stream located on the property.
            As I approached the brownish water, I thought to myself that there was no way I was getting in this stream. The two other people that came with are already prancing around in the refreshingly cold water. I stand looking at them in a state of envy, but my American health consciousness is overpowering my urge to jump in. Then one of them shouted out to me, “Just come and join us. How many opportunities do you have to swim in a Cuban river after a long day of work?” He had a point, I thought to myself. Yet I still wasn’t convinced. They realized that I most likely wasn’t going to join them, and I continued walking further down the river. As I was watching them, I thought to myself, “Oh what the hell, you only live once.” So I jumped in and followed them down the stream. Once they turned around and realized that I was right behind them they said, “you couldn’t stay away could you? I promise you will leave feeling like a new man.” And this was true. After about an hour of relaxation and conversation it was time to head back to camp. When I got out of the water I felt like I was ready to get back to work, as if the previous five hours of hard work under the intense Caribbean sun never happened. Jose Marti once said, “Cuba’s sun doesn’t burn.” I’m not too sure which sun he was referring to.

            This blog post is sponsored by: James Fellows, Peter and Christine Baldwin, the Rev. David Holroyd, and Berry and Becci Bernard. Thank you all for your support.