First I would like to apologize for the lack of written posts in the recent months. I thought that you guys would like to see pictures, and to be honest I passed through a bit of a writer’s block. The main reason I have not been able to write anything is because I have been killing myself with my self-created projects here in Cardenas. For the last two months I have been working 10 hours a day for six days a week. Pictures are much better to explain what I have been doing during these last 3 months, (and because I am unable to upload pictures myself I have hired my godson to do it for me. To view these pictures you must go to his Facebook page www.facebook.com/yohandy.torrientebouza the two projects that I have mainly been working on is the construction of a conference and reception area located on the roof of the church dormitory, and the installation of three AC units in the same dormitory. Once I am finished with the dormitory it will be able to attract more visitors and events due to improved living conditions.
Now to respond to the title of this post: What does it mean to be a missionary in Cuba?
The easy answer: nothing like what I had thought when I first arrived here. One thing that was explained to us during YASC orientation is that there is a serious stereotype about missionaries in the church. To put it plain and simple -- people always thing that the sole purpose of a missionary is to go door to door to convert people to a given religion. Missionaries preach the Bible. I can tell you that I am neither qualified nor appropriate for a job position of this type. (Luckily this was not why I was sent here.) My main goal during this year has been focused around one thing: relationship development. What does this mean? This involves developing relationships with the neighbors around the parish, hosting visiting foreign delegations, but more importantly initiating the relationship between the Young Adult Service Corps and the Cuban Diocese.
Many Cubans ask me, “What the hell are you doing here?!” I give them the very same response. I am here to help develop the relationship between the Episcopal Church in America and the quickly growing Episcopal diocese in Cuba. What I have learned during the last 7 months is that the best way to do this is to talk with the local community. My final response to the skeptics that surround me here in my community is this -- I am here for Cuba. And I mean this with all my heart. I truly wish to see the relationship between these two countries grow and evolve, but at the moment the only thing I can do is be a representative of these two churches.
What else have I been doing? As I mentioned in my first paragraph, I have been working a lot with construction. This involves MANY things. First I have to find the money to start the project. Next I must find the materials needed, something that is never easy in Cuba. For example, I have been looking for tubes for the water system for four months and it has been impossible to find. What I am left with is my ingenuity. I now must invent a way around the problem so that the final result works and also doesn’t look ugly. (At this point I also have to explain that I am really struggling to write in English right now. I am at the point where I am thinking in Spanish and translating what I want to say to English. So please excuse me if I sound like a fifth grader writing.) The next step to construction in Cuba is finding people to help you with the work. If you are lucky you have enough money to hire people to work with you. In my case, the majority of the time, I must find volunteers due to lack of funds. This part is the most stressful for me. I must ask people to leave their everyday jobs to come help with the work that I have invented. One of my assistants told me that since I have arrived that I have almost turned him into a missionary with the amount of work he has helped me with. But literally they are paying to help with my projects. This is one thing that I must give respect to all the people who have helped me raise money before and during my year here in Cuba. Without your help I would have not been able to accomplish what I have during these seven months. My host father says that I have done more work here in seven months than what has been done here in the last three years. Thank you St. Timothy’s in Fairfield, Connecticut for your gracious donation last month!
There is a part of my work here that helps with the growth of this community. Growth that does not include the classic sense of preaching the Bible, but growth achieved through communication and relationships. Growing up in the church with parents, who have allowed me to believe what I like, I have been able to explain my experiences to other people. For this reason my best friend here will be baptized this coming month. I started talking to him about what the church means to me, and explained that the Episcopal journey is something that you must undertake by yourself. One of my friends told me that he would enroll in the next Bible study course if I do the same. Without thinking I responded that I couldn’t do that. Bible study or things of that sort must be something that you want to do for one reason only, because you want to. But with that he started to attend the classes and is now an integrated member of the community.
To conclude this post I want to end somewhat like I started. I apologize that it has been so long that I have written a post. But for my next post I need your help. The next post with be a question and answer session about anything concerning Cuba, my year here so far, or other questions you all might have after reading this or past posts. Please post your questions in the comment section. Before I upload my next post I MUST have at least 10 questions to respond. So get asking people.
This post is brought to you by: Gregg and Valerie Dixon, Lucia Savage, Andrew Osmun, and Judith Greene. Thank you all for your support and if anyone is interested in sponsoring one of my projects (something that would make the work that I am doing here much easier) please talk to my father Mark Pendleton.