Van Yandell

“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” — 2 Thessalonians 3:10

Last week we discussed some of our experiences in 2007 in the Cuban city of Cienfuegos. Four years later we worked another short term mission project in Colon, Cuba, so named for Christopher Columbus.

I was talking to one of the church men and he asked me, “How do you like Cuba?” I said, “It’s a beautiful country and appears to be a good place to live.” I was curious as to what his response would be. I was not surprised when he said, “This is not a good place to be right now.”

One of my Cuban friends was named David (Da-veed). Out in the town one day we went into a grocery store. The only product was bread. My skin color was essentially the same as the people in the store but they instantly recognized me as an American. They would not look at me and cleared out of the store quickly. They were not afraid of me, but the repercussions if seen around me.

I made the mistake of mentioning the name Castro when I first arrived in Cuba. The name caused people to ignore me and walk away quickly. The mention of his name resulted in an instant look of fear on their faces.

Another recognized name in the Caribbean and most of Central America is Che Guevara. His picture and name are seen in giant murals all over Cuba. His name generates as much attention as Fidel Castro. Che Guevara, byname of Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, was born June 14, 1928, in Rosario, Argentina and died in 1967, in La Higuera, Bolivia. He was a theoretician and tactician of guerrilla warfare, and a prominent communist figure.

Guevara was an effective guerrilla leader in South America. A major figure of the Cuban Revolution, 1956-59), hiss image has become a universal countercultural symbol of rebellion and global insignia in popular culture. After his execution by the Bolivian army, he was regarded as a martyred hero by young revolutionaries.

In a store in Colon, Panama, I saw (and bought) a key chain with Che’s picture. I was surprised to see him in Panama. When I asked about him and why he was famous there, I was told, “He is famous everywhere.”

The people in Cuba own nothing, not even their clothes. Most are told where to live and what job to work. Everyone is required to work but we saw many on the streets at varying times of day making us wonder what the details were of that requirement.

The people seemed to be making the best life of a bad situation as they possibly could. We could hear music and a street party most every night from our hotel balcony. One night I tried to leave the hotel and walk there. I was stopped by a door guard and motioned back to my room. I couldn’t find a back door.

Our main work on the mission assignments is to share the gospel of Christ Jesus. A general perception in Christian ministry is to go where the people are. Another part of our work was church restoration and maintenance.

I worked several plumbing and electrical jobs at the churches. One experience, I will never forget; I was attaching a pipe fitting to a water supply line for a lavatory. The threaded pipe out of the wall was badly deteriorated and I could not get it tight enough to stop leaking. I so much wished I could go to hardware store and buy a roll of Teflon tape, but there are none of those in Cuba.

Finally after much frustration, one of the church men handed me a torn plastic bag. I knew immediately what he intended for me to do. I tore off a piece of the bag, wrapped it around the pipe, screwed on the fitting and no more leak. Adapt, improvise and overcome, takes on a whole new meaning in Cuba.

If any American wants us converted to communism, I’d like to invite them to go to Cuba. It wouldn’t take long until they changed their mind. Nothing is as it seems under communism.

Most Americans don’t think of the magnificent old world (European) architecture existing in the Caribbean. Cuba has many of these amazing buildings, statues and other structures. The genius of Spanish architects and craftsmen have impressed and surprised me. They are masters with tile, granite and marble. Spanish masons possess a creative genius unmatched in this world. Their history is and will continue to be alive and well in their architecture.

There are many jaw-dropping architectural masterpieces in the Caribbean. I can imagine any American architect turning green with envy. The old-world Spanish architecture in Colon is beyond outstanding but needs a crew with pressure washers for several years. You might google Colon, Cuba and click on “images.”

Colon is in the Cuban province of Mantanzas and about 120 miles east of Havana. Our housing there was unique in itself. We found rooms in a Catholic convent. The nuns made breakfast for us every morning and would smile toward us but never say a word except Buenos Dios (good morning). When we heard them talking among themselves, it was a whisper but not to keep from us, we understood very little Spanish anyway, it was simply their demeanor.

I had learned a little Spanish (Espanol) and Cubans seemed to appreciate and be surprised when I attempted to communicate with them in their language.

A neighborhood rooster announced daybreak every morning. Actually, there were several roosters and I’m quite sure they were in competition. At least with the roosters crowing before the sun rose, we got the first showers. The grounds of the convent had great potential, but were in much need of mowing and trimming.

Early one morning, we were asked to come to the convent assembly room. A Cuban official (they all wear army uniforms) was there to check our documentation. We had been checked and rechecked at the airport so I suppose he just needed something to do that day. Possibly, it was the government’s way of telling us we were being monitored.

In these articles about Cuba, I hope to enlighten readers concerning the people of Cuba and the oppression and intimidation under which they live. Cubans are a kind and gentle people. They helped us with the work and appreciated greatly the work we did. I would go back tomorrow and do it all over again. The experience was a little harrowing at times but I would not take anything for the experience. Having made several lasting friends there, I’m sure a phone call could set me up with a flight.

Christianity is strong there in spite of the communist attitude toward religion. The church is alive and well and we found strong, dedicated Christians in every church we visited or worked. Please pray for the people of Cuba and keep them in your thoughts and prayers.