Acts 1: 8 “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Cuba is only ninety miles from Key West, Florida so we probably wouldn’t think on it as being “the uttermost part of the earth.” Aside from the geographic location, however, Cuba is about as removed from the U.S as any place on this planet. Culturally and politically, Cuba is in the uttermost.
Several weeks ago, I published an article based on my experiences in Cuba in 2007 and 2011. Apparently, based on responses to the article, there is considerable interest in that Caribbean island.
Our introduction to the Cuban culture and attitude began at Jose Marti International Airport, Havana. The security checks were intense and thorough. The government blames the U.S for all Cuba’s troubles and problems. As we drove out of the airport in 2007, a billboard with George Bush’s picture depicted him with fangs and blood dripping off his teeth.
Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean covering over 42,400 square miles. In length, Cuba is 780 miles from east to west and averages 120 miles wide from north to south. It is slightly larger than the state of Kentucky.
Our short term mission work in Cuba gave us several experiences we would never have had in the U.S. The communist regime of Fidel Castro changed the way of life for the people of Cuba in such a tremendous way. Many of us have no concept or realization how drastic and horrible that change actually was.
In America, we have enjoyed a freedom, unequalled in all of human history. Even before Castro, Cubans lived under the military dictatorship of Flugencio Batista. His government was American supported but the people did not enjoy the freedoms of the American Constitution.
I’m concerned we take our precious constitution for granted. This sacred document affords Americans an abundance of rights and privileges not found in the rest of the world. A few countries come close but fall short of the nearly complete freedom we enjoy. I remember being taught, we are free to the point our rights begin to infringe upon the rights of others.
Our experiences in Cuba helped us understand just how precious our rights and freedoms are. Actions we engage in and take for granted, simply don’t exist in Cuba. One such right is the freedom to assemble. When we attend church services or a club meeting or even meet in a restaurant for a meal, in Cuba we could possibly be arrested for violation of the assembly law. Any group of more than four immediately comes under suspicion.
Margie taught a Bible lesson and crafts to a women’s group in one of the churches. The class was in an up-stairs, balcony type area. One of the women stood at the entrance watching for government officials that could show up at any time for inspection. Religious activities are monitored closely. She was instructed to sit while teaching and the interpreter stood so as to leave the appearance that Margie was not teaching. We were told, we were constantly being watched and it was against the law for an American to teach in Cuba. She thought of herself as a facilitator, but the officials might not have agreed.
The U.S. State Department knew we were there and possibly because of that we weren’t bothered. Being constantly observed by the government is unsettling at best.
On our first trip, we worked in a church in Cienfuegos (cee-en-fway-gos), a city on the south coast about 180 miles southeast of Havana. On the surface, it appears to be a typical Spanish city with considerable French architectural influence. Upon further observation, the streets and sidewalks are in much need of repair and actually need to be removed and rebuilt. I saw very little that appeared to have been painted since the revolution in 1959.
The infrastructure (highways and bridges) had not been resurfaced or even patched since before the revolution. There’s no need for a speed limit on the highways. Pot holes tend to slow the traffic. There has been a piecemeal amount of infrastructure work done since Fidel died. Raul seems to take a little more pride in appearance. Hopefully, the new president of Cuba, Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel, assuming power in 2021 will rebuild Cuba.
Cienfuegos has numerous business places along the central boulevard. The problem is, there’s very little product in the stores to buy. People walking on the streets appeared well dressed but we were told newer clothes were imitation products smuggled in from Central American countries.
Walking through a residential neighborhood, I saw two men with a truck loaded with meat. They were selling it on the street to first come, first serve. Had they been caught, they would have likely spent time in prison. Only government officials were permitted to have meat or lobster.
Any meat bought by ordinary citizens was illegal and a severe penalty would have been issued had they been caught. As we understood, all citizens received a bag of rice and a bag of beans each month (size depended on size of family). Also received were thirty Cuban dollars for that month regardless of the occupation or position held.
We were told to take Euros and not U.S. dollars to Cuba. The state banks would take dollars but the exchange rate was much better for European currency. Our group leader provided the churches with cash for our meals. I must say, the preparation and presentation of the meals was outstanding.
I’ve never seen such tables as the cooks presented. I do not know where they obtained the food products and knew better that to ask.
In America we are blessed above and beyond our deserving. God has been so good to us because (I believe), up until the present, we have been a strong Christian nation, we have supported Israel and have freedom to worship.
Next week is Part 3 in this series about our experiences in Cuba. My hope is, the reader gains an insight into the lives of the Cuban people and will keep them and the country in your thoughts and prayers