Cuba 2018 || the people.

Its been four days since our team got back into the States after 10 days in Cuba, and I am realizing, through my talking about it & reflecting on my time there, that no words will ever be sufficient. I kept telling myself that I would write a post about the trip when I had, “the right words,” but there are no ‘right’ words to sum up or describe the 10 days we spent in Cuba the way it deserves – in a way, I think that is actually pretty special. Words are so powerful, and for a mission trip to be so powerful that not even words can fully grasp it, is pretty amazing to me. I think maybe it can only be understood and grasped through living & experiencing it, and I am forever thankful to have done just that. I realize it doesn’t help me much as a writer or blogger, to struggle to find words to encompass what those 10 days were to me, but I couldn’t not write about it, so here I am, just typing and seeing where the words go.

I am still reflecting on this trip each day, letting it all sink in, and taking away lessons from my experience there — I think my time in Cuba impacted me more than my mind & heart are able to grasp and realize right now, which is why I’m sure there will be many more than just 1 post. Firstly, how a mission trip affects you is something I feel you can never quite fully prepare yourself for — you can plan, you can pack all of your necessities, you can talk about it, you can have a (very) tentative itinerary, but there is a lot that you will not know until it’s happening, and a lot that could happen that you simply cannot plan for. From the very beginning, since the day I said, ‘yes’ to this opportunity, I was most excited about the people — the relationships that would be built, both with my teammates and with our brothers & sisters whom we would meet in Cuba. That was what made me most excited, and as I sit here, 4 days post-Cuba, I can confidently report back that the people are what made this trip what it was; the beautiful, beautiful people of Cuba were a part of the trip that I most certainly could have never prepared myself for.

The relationships we built with those in San Juan de los Yeras over the course of a short five days continues to leave me in awe. Before I even met any of them, I would so easily refer to them as my brothers & sisters, because God kept reminding me that they are my family — that we are all one in Christ, and wow, what a difference that makes when it comes to our perspectives and view of others — when we remember that we are all part of God’s family, & that no race, ethnicity, nationality, or language changes that. They are our brothers & sisters, and they inspire me — they persevere, they are tenacious, they are innovative, they are kind, they are generous, they are passionate, you won’t find them complaining or looking at themselves as victims, they love the Lord with all their heart & mind & soul & strength, and they rely on him to the extent that I am still striving to rely on him. And the people I got to call my teammates, who I grew such a deep love & care for over the course of 10 days makes me grateful every day. One of my favorite things to do is to truly know people; to know their strengths, their gifts, their likes, dislikes, and watch them be lights for God. I got to do that on this trip, whether they realized it or not, they each taught me something about themselves and about God and I just love that.

Beth and Kevin are two of the most intelligent individuals I have ever met on this planet. I had the pleasure of sitting in the same row as them on the airplane all four flights, and I found that while everyone else was watching movies, sleeping, or listening to music, Beth & Kevin would sit there and pass the time by doing crossword puzzles or studying a Spanish textbook. Kevin also has a wonderfully unique and simply astounding singing voice. Mary Kaye sings also, and when she sings, the type of sound that exits her mouth is one which you may imagine hearing upon entering the gates to Heaven — I am pretty positive my jaw dropped to the floor and remained there every time she would sing. The presence she has when standing before large groups of people is confident & lovely, as is her spirit, in general. She is so great at connecting with people, which is something I got to witness so well in Cuba through her interactions with the people there. Larry is so subtly hilarious, and also wears many hats — he is a preacher, a bus driver, great at speaking Spanish, and I bet you didn’t know he also has his own bank, “The Bank of Larry — open 24/7.” Paul is remarkably kind, a wonderful pastor & pal, he is always encouraging others, has great wisdom to share, he listens intently to what you have to say rather than simply thinking of how to respond while you’re talking, and is also so, so great with children. Gary was our ‘doctor’ throughout our time in Cuba, and he carried out the title well. He is a calm presence if I’ve ever known one, he checks in on you, and he is a BOSS at the game UNO (but he’s not as great as Pastor Gaspar, sorry Gary). Gary also let’s people pick on him (but not without dishing it right back to you). Joanna is a painting pro, she is so fun to be around, she loves well & cares for people well, she is full of energy, and always up for anything. I do wish I had a penny for every time the words, “where is my wife?” came out of Paul’s mouth — but the answer is that she was always off enjoying herself & taking awesome pics of the beautiful places we journeyed to! Also, the love between those two is #MarriageGoals. Viv – Viv is one of the sweetest individuals you will ever meet. She goes with the flow, never has anything negative to say about anything or anyone, & you will never heard a complaint come out of her mouth. She is the definition of optimistic and I strive to have that amount of optimism! Meredith has the best personality and a spectacular attitude about life & about whatever circumstances she finds herself in, especially on this trip, where she fell down not one but two times. She also so easily formed bonds with the people, especially 15 year old Diana. P.J. is the definition of free spirited. She’s like a little kid in the best possible way, she is super fun to be around, and is always so excited about everything which I LOVE. She was cracking everyone up the whole trip. Kerry has the best work ethic – he sets his mind on a task, he problem solves well, and he helps gets the job done. He is independent but also simultaneously works so well with a team. He has the softest heart, is great with children, and with being relational in general. And when he leads a devotion, or prayer, or communion, he speaks in such a calm manner that one can only attribute to the Spirit.

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Those are the people I got to travel with, and I have to say, traveling with an A+ team like them and then meeting even more amazing people during our time in Cuba filled & continues to fill my heart in a way I really cannot express in writing.

I would go as far as to say I was convicted on this trip in that I did not realize how much more I really need to be showing the love of God through my own actions, until I met the people of Cuba, and was shown so vividly how Jesus loved with his actions. Way before I left for Cuba, I was talking to a friend of mine expressing some concern because I barely know any Spanish, and she told me, “on the mission trips I’ve been on, I’ve found that God’s love always overcomes those language barriers.” I had no idea just how true that statement would play out to be. God’s love is something that should be shown more than merely talked about. I witnessed, experienced, and received God’s love on this trip in ways I had never before. I received love & generosity from people who are more rich in it than I have ever been, and I’m thankful for that conviction. I’m thankful for the love I was shown and thankful for the presence of so many beautiful people all in one place for those 10 days (especially the 5 days we spent in San Juan). I was so content being surrounded by these beautiful people, listening to them, laughing with them, playing UNO with them, worshiping with them, sharing meals with them. And it’s funny, because I’m an introvert, so while I love & adore people, I need my time alone to gain back energy I pour out eing around people for long periods of time, but on this trip, I was constantly around people, and not once did I become anxious and tired of being around people. Id be lying if I said I was anxiety-free the entire trip, but never any anxiety about being around so many people so often. To me, that was God giving me the energy, strength, and fuel he knew I needed to be my happy self and be present on this trip, with the people — my brothers & sisters. That was a common theme throughout those 10 days — God doing what only God can do.

The verse I clung to during this trip was Psalm 4:3,  “the Lord takes personal care of the faithful (CEB).’ It’s the first verse I opened up to in Psalm when I was preparing to lead devotions our first morning in Cuba (Saturday, the…). Every single person on our team was there because they were faithful to God’s call to ‘go.’ I was comfortable outside of my comfort zone, and I think that so describes what life with God is — he calls us out upon the waters, literally out of where is comfortable, and he takes care of us the whole time –  never fails. I never in a million years would have seen myself going to Cuba on a mission trip, or preaching in another country with a translator, but I said to God, “here I am,” and so there I was.

& I will be back. I knew the moment I got there that it would not be my only time in Cuba. The people — they, I believe, make Cuba the place it is. The country is beautiful, the old cars are neat, the history is fascinating, sad, difficult to understand, & yet powerful, but the people — you know the beauty of Cuba when you know the people. I cannot wait to go back.

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This picture was from Wednesday evening worship — we were each gifted with straw hats which we had no idea about…there were many hugs, tears, and smiles.

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(i’m going to Cuba!!)

Perhaps you remember me writing at the beginning of this year about how, coming into 2018, my ‘new years resolution’ was to be intentional about asking God to take my plans, wreck them completely, and have his prevail instead. He has done an excellent job of doing that so far in the 21 years I’ve been alive, and although it is sometimes tough to watch the plans I have for myself crumble and change, His plans always, always end up being far greater than mine would’ve been, so I thought – why not go ahead & make it a point to ask him to do it. In addition to this, I wanted to challenge myself to come into the new year being more open to God, more open to doing things that scare me, more open to him leading me places I never thought I’d go, and more open to him using me however & whenever he pleases. The way in which I have gone about carrying out this ‘new years resolution’ of mine has been to simply offer up to him short but loaded prayers, such as, “here I am” “send me” “use me” “lead me”

When this semester began in January, my friends & I decided it’d be fun to make beaded bracelets with words that we wanted to carry with us into the new year on them, and I decided to put the 3 words “here I am” on mine (pictured below). I chose these 3 words because I think they are one’s that really encompass what it means to give your whole self to God, and open yourself to his using & will, whatever it may be. The bracelet hasn’t left my wrist since making it, and I have a feeling that will remain the case as the year progresses because of what a great reminder it has been to me.

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These words which Isaiah spoke to God in Isaiah 6:8, and words which many other individuals spoke to God in the Bible as well, such as Mary (Jesus’ mother) and Samuel, have been words that I have found myself saying often to God through out the course of this year so far, and I have to tell ya – God hears these prayers, & he does not ignore them

God takes these prayers seriously you guys!! 

A couple weeks ago, I was walking home from campus, looking through my phone, and I saw that I had an email from Heritage UMC, which is the church that I attended during my freshman year of college. This email was about an upcoming interest meeting for a mission trip to Cuba as part of a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team.

For whatever reason, every word in this email seemed to jump right out at me as I read it. I went directly to the calendar on my phone after reading it to check my summer class schedule to see if going on this trip would even be feasible for me (when I transferred college’s 3 semesters ago, unfortunately a whole semester worth of credits did not transfer with me, so I have to take 3 classes this summer if I want to graduate on time) BUT sure enough, after looking at my summer class schedule, I would be finished with summer classes by the time this mission trip rolled around, if I chose to go. So, I sat with this email for a bit. I sat with what I knew about it: the location, the dates, the cost, the purpose, the people I’d be going with. After sitting with it, I reached out with a couple inquiries about the mission trip, such as whether or not this trip would even be open to me, as a young adult (I thought perhaps the skills that I would/would not bring to the mission trip could perhaps be an issue considering I’m barely 5’3 100 pounds and can’t lift many things heavier than a chair) (I can climb though so maybe that will come in handy?)

I was however informed that the trip was open to people of my age & people of my skills (or lack thereof). So thus began the prayer about whether or not this was something God was leading me to say “yes” to. I couldn’t go a day without thinking about the possibility of going which I think now is safe to say was God nudging/pushing/shoving me towards the opportunity to go and serve him in this way.

So to make a long story just a little shorter –  after lots & lots (& lots) of prayer, I sent off an email confirming that I will be joining this team on their mission to Cuba.

………I’m goin’ to Cuba!!!

I wish I could relay to you the excitement I have in simply typing that! But come see me in person and maybe you’ll get a better feel for it because according to those around me I apparently can’t talk about it without smiling.

I know of course only the minor logistics as of right now because it is still super early, but I wanted to take the time to gush about it now in between the loads of studying and homework assignments I currently have, because I thought the way in which God worked in this was super cool. Also, I’m sure it goes without saying but I will definitely be writing more about it as I learn more & as it gets closer (and after it happens of course!)

The team going on the trip will consist of some folks from Heritage UMC, including the pastor and his wife who I know are wonderful individuals, and then as I understand it there will also be some couples/individuals from various other churches in the area. We will be going as part of a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team, which I had actually had never heard of before, but after clicking around on their website, it is so evident that they are doing amazing work all over the world in the name of Jesus. Our team will be heading to a small town in Cuba to help repair a neglected church, so that the people who live in this town will have a formal place to worship our awesome God and be in fellowship with one another, as a church family. While you and I both know that the church is not a building, rather, a people, the idea of helping to create for these, our brothers and sisters, a place to gather together and worship God is very special and powerful. I can just picture all of the fellowship that will take place, all the songs of praises that will be sung, and all of the sermons that will be preached.

Needless to say, I am so, so excited. I am excited to help play a very small part in the very huge work that God is doing in this world. I am excited to see the ways in which God works around us, through us, and through those we’ll meet, and I am excited to see the ways in which he impacts lives and uses our imperfect selves to help make this church a place where people can come and worship.

Does going on my first international mission trip scare me a little? For sure. Will I get home sick? Most likely. Do I wish I had taken Spanish in high school/college instead of German and Latin? Yup. Do I love flying? Nope (although thankfully, I am not one of those poor people who panics at the mere thought of hopping on an airplane).

Going on this trip is definitely an example of something that is out of my comfort zone, but I have quickly found that God seldom calls us to do things inside our comfort zones, and he rarely sends us places we are fully comfortable going. (can I get an amen?)

And all fear aside – my confidence in God’s ability to use me and every single person he is sending on this trip is sky high. I am so eager to not only watch as he works & moves but also experience his movement, in preparation for this trip, while on the trip, and after it as well.

I pray that we are able to go and be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in all that we do while in Cuba. I pray for the individuals whom we are going to serve. I pray that God would help prepare the hearts & minds of everyone planning to go, and I pray that our eyes would be opened and that perspective would be gained. I pray for the relationships that will be formed, both among the awesome people who are going on the trip and among the people we will meet in Cuba. I pray that those whom we do meet are able to see Jesus in us, as we work to repair for them a church – a church for public worship, for prayer, for Bible study, for fellowship & communion with one another. I pray that we would be able to communicate joy and love to each person we meet even if some of us find ourselves in the midst of a language barrier. I pray that we all never fail to remember that the people outside of the country we live in are our brothers and sisters just as much as those inside this country are our brothers and sisters. And as a couple of my friends put it, the goal of international mission trips is not to go into these different countries and “fix” or change them, or “bring God” there. God is already there. The goal is to go and serve, and love,with all our might. I am so eager to do that, where I am now, and also there, when the time comes.

Your will be done, God. I am here and I am all yours! Use me, use us, however you want.

(stay tuned!!)