A Country Frozen in Time and Ripe for Harvest: My take on CUBA in July 2011
It was Tuesday July 12th, in Meredith, New Hampshire, and I was enjoying a much needed four-day break with my family, when I received a strange text message. It read simply, “My name is Sandy and I got your number from Gayle. Would you call me when you get a chance?” Not having any idea who Sandy was or what the text was about, I simply responded by explaining that I was on vacation, had about half a bar of cell service, would be returning to Baltimore in the morning, and would give her a call at that point. When the response to my message was, “Well, this is a bit time sensitive and may sound bizarre but…” I decided I might need to try to find some cell phone reception. The conversation that followed was one that I didn’t expect, to be sure. It more or less consisted of the following… “Come travel to Cuba (next week, by the way), you’ll see Havana, experience the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes, probably have dinner with some Cuban political types and maybe a Castro or two, hopefully be able to share a bit of your faith, work with a camp of about 800 people in rural Cuba, and oh we’ll definitely need you to be able to teach Cubans about lacrosse.” Needless to say, it sounded more like a dream than reality, and I was not in major need of convincing. I simply needed to get permission from FCA to go and find a means of financial provision to do so. Thankfully, it didn’t take 48 hours for permission to be granted and for the Lord to provide the finances.
Within about a week I was headed, as always, from one FCA event to another. We had just completed play at the U15 National Championships in Orlando, and I was on the next flight out of the U.S. to Cuba via Panama City, Panama. I landed in Havana at midnight and after waiting for my bag for 45 minutes was detained by Cuban security for about an hour and a half of broken English questioning, confusion about visas, and a lack of understanding about my purposes in the country. Finally, after much conversation, a demonstration of the use of a lacrosse stick and ball, and me showing a picture of my friends with a member of the Castro family, they let me through customs and I was on my way.
Over the course of the next five days I was in for an astonishing experience. In the mornings we would explore Havana and then head out into the countryside to work at the camp in a western province of the country. The camp was an 800 person mixed-age bible and leadership camp run by a Cuban church and funded by a wealthy Puerto Rican lawyer and politician who also happened to be our connection for entering the country. There were also missionaries, Canadians I believe, who were there in support and leadership roles and aiding the Cuban and Puerto Rican pastoral staff that appeared to be leading the ministry and logistical aspects of the camp. We, too, were there in a support role, sharing the game of lacrosse, spending time with the Cubans, building relationships, and just sharing life and faith with these people.
You could tell that this sharing process in and of itself was a blessing to the people with whom we interacted both young and old. There was a definite sense that there was a craving for something more. I believe it was, in part, an openness to know more about us, about America, and about this exciting “game with sticks.” But I also believe there was a real sense of openness from these people to grow, to share life and to share faith. It really made sense to me, too. Here you had a group of people that in many ways are isolated. They are on an island nation, with an inability to travel overseas, with restricted internet use, with restricted external phone use and a relatively minimal world view or at least a restricted world view. After all, if you limit knowledge (like North Korea and Iran) not only does that knowledge become a commodity, but it also becomes a means of control. In this case, the positive result was that the people of this communist state were very much open to us and wanted to know more about whatever we would share.
Now, with these thoughts shared and in fairness to the Cuban government I will say that at no point did I feel unsafe, mistreated, or withheld from any of the liberties we enjoy here. We were in a (relatively) air-conditioned hotel, with access to clean water, food, nearly full internet use, ability for currency exchange, and with freedom to go where we pleased when we pleased.
Therefore, Cuba was not the oppressive Communist regime and enemy of the U.S. I had expected it to be, or at least not to me. That said, to the Cuban government I was officially considered a tourist/missionary and therefore means of financial income and American foreign income at that.
But the people of Cuba with whom I interacted on a daily basis were very friendly, were fascinated with the fact that we were Americans in Cuba and were excited we were there. At one point we were walking through a crafts market and an older man even reached in and gave me a welcoming hug explaining that he had family in New York. The Cubans I met were incredible and on top of the welcoming nature, there was also a wealth of history, culture, and natural beauty to be experienced.
In short, the experience was a great one! The opportunity for relationships to be built and the opportunity for people to be ministered too remain great; and regardless of the embargo, there are people in need that we have the opportunity to minister, too! The possibility to return is great, and my hope is that we could return with an FCA Lacrosse “missions” team very soon.
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For more information about my trip to Cuba see the below links connected to articles published by Inside Lacrosse Day 1 & 2, Day 3.
There was also a four page article in the most recent issue of Inside Lacrosse in it’s “’11 Fall Preview” edition pages 98-102.
The opinions and perspectives of this article or expressed by Inside Lacrosse represent the thoughts of individuals and do not represent the opinion of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or FCA Lacrosse.