Love, Cuban Style

The scarf was purchased on my return trip from Cuba with the label reading: “Do everything with love”. I smile at God’s reminder of this incredible journey. Speaking of the Cuban mission, Kristen Gray spoke it best, “We love on these people.” I nodded not fully knowing until ten days had passed, then understanding dawned as I sat in the Atlanta airport absorbing the experiences God had given me.

How do I begin to explain the attachments that had formed with these beautiful, gifted, intelligent, caring people; people not even on my radar ten days ago, who now were etched firmly in my heart? The Miguel’s, Luis’s, Irma’s, Margarita’s, Israel’s? The former craftsmen, teachers, authors, musicians, laborers? These lovely people (Norma’s, Salvador’s, Amaria’s) who suffered with arthritis, near blindness, Parkinson’s, strokes? We were greeted with smiles, hugs, kisses – so appreciative of the meals served and the workshops that allowed them to craft small gifts for them to keep or give. They grasped and treasured every item and simply beamed as we spent time with them.

Cuba Team

My workload the previous week seemed trivial in comparison; the spreadsheets, graphics, activity reports were pushed from my mind as we spoke to the ladies from the prayer group and were graciously invited to their Saturday afternoon bible study. I listened to beautiful, clear acapella voices raised in praise to their Lord and Savior. If I thought sharing my story before a Christmas Eve congregation was powerful; it was surpassed when I opened my heart to these women about the loss of my husband, my anger towards God and my realization that my Immanuel was still with me – and that He was still with them and loved them. I felt a bond with these sisters, The Andrea’s, Irene’s, Evola’s, who knew more sorrow than I could imagine and who chose to gather and support each other in word and song; who hugged me with tears, expressing thanks. I was humbled. I am the one who is grateful for their teaching.

These are women who have lost families and are virtually ignored by their government, but chose to smile and laugh in spite of the pain. They teach me the strength of fellowship in a shared meal. They are thankful for plastic bags (items I never give a second thought as they seemingly multiply behind my cabinet doors). They grasp my hand warmly as our team completes a fresh coat of paint on their home’s entry and kitchen. Their eyes sparkle as I pen “Dios te Amo’” on the valentine they will give away. Clearing the table as the noon meal ends, I listen to their joyful songs. How they love their music! I observe as food is divided into containers they’ve brought. The meal will be taken home for a day when there is no food to be found. And I recall the food I’ve tossed aside in my own kitchen, thousands of miles away from this poverty they face daily.

We rise early to set tables, prepare food, sort rice and beans, sweep floors; these are simple tasks that are necessary to provide a welcoming spot, a nourishing meal. I sit at night on the upper patio, bombarded by street sounds. It seems this section of Havanna never sleeps. 95,000 people in a one-two square mile section. Some families share a few hundred square feet space; one family sleeping while the other is on the streets. Then in 12 hours the roles reverse.

On the 3rd floor I read Ann Voskamp’s devotional: One Thousand Gifts: “Lord, help me in the true work You’ve assigned me today. To name the graces you give me this day. Cause me to name the ways You love so I can own my own name; Beloved.”  God calls us Beloved. Whether I am in Omaha or in Cuba. God is in the moment. I may have made plans, but God guided my footsteps. I may have thought I was serving food, adding color to Raphel’s home or worshiping with these people, but God said, Doneta show my love to these lovely children because they are worth it. It’s not about your tired muscles, hands wrinkled from dishwater, painted-spattered clothing or arms sore from lugging 40 lb. suitcases of supplies. It’s not about you. It’s about Me and my command that I give to you: Love one another. John 13:34 Humbling.

Blessings as you kneel and let God shower you with His grace. Doneta


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