Reflections on Cuba, December 2011

Photo by José Aurelio Paz, Coordinador Área de Comunicaciones del CIC
Michael Kinnamon (right) general secretary of the US National Council of Churches chats with Cuban political leader and Politburo member Esteban Lazo (left) during an ecumenical delegation of US church leaders to Cuba. The delegation included Church of the Brethren representative Becky Ball-Miller, a member of the Mission and Ministry Board from Goshen, Ind.

Becky Ball-Miller, a member of the Church of the Brethren’s Mission and Ministry Board and CEO of Troyer Foods, Inc., an employee-owned company in Goshen, Ind., wrote the following reflection after she returned from an ecumenical delegation to Cuba:

It has been a little over a week since I returned from Cuba as part of a delegation with the National Council of Churches (NCC) meeting with the Cuban Council of Churches. I have not “scribed” my thoughts to paper before this for two reasons; first, life tends to be very full as we enter Advent and return from travels, and second, and mostly, because I have such a myriad of thoughts, feelings, and responses to my time away.

I travelled to Cuba in 1979 for a January term class at Manchester College. I was curious to see how much I remembered from that trip and how my responses may have changed–both because of the change in Cuba and especially because of the change in my life assumptions and expectations. In 1979 I was a self-described “poor college student” and today I might be described by some as a wealthy, successful business person who is blessed with opportunities to serve my faith community.

I was intrigued by how similar my reflections have been regarding the Cuban people and our relationship with Cuba. As one colleague reflected, the Cuban people will often say they may be poor but they are not desperate. It is apparent that they feel “cared for.” They advocate strongly and verbalize often their belief in the fundamental right of all Cubans for healthcare, education, food, and shelter. Cuban Politburo member Esteban Lazo shared that if he has two potatoes and his neighbor has none, then he should share his with his neighbor. It’s hard not to have images of the early church flood to my mind.

As we worked with the Cuban Council of Churches to develop a joint statement on our relations with Cuba, as we listened to the Cuban people and government representative, as we spent time in prayer and reflection, it seemed clear to me that the US embargo feels very much like bullying and holding a grudge. When they shared the dire economic conditions experienced in Cuba after the fall of the wall in 1991 (which they equated to our great depression), I couldn’t help but think that we missed a perfect opportunity to reach out and be the good neighbor, both exercising and asking for forgiveness and entering into a new and life-giving relationship.

What does this mean now? What have I learned from my experience? How will I live differently? I was intrigued by how similar my responses have been to 1979. My sense is that many Cubans have a strong sense of Christian identity and perhaps “do” church better than many Americans. I was intrigued with the level of fundamental care for one another in the midst of what we would define as poverty and perhaps even oppression. I was curious about the statement from an economic advisor we met with that they are not a socialist nation, but a nation founded on socialist principles. Another colleague shared that many of the parishioners described Castro as a strict father who took care of his children and they needed to do as he said.

Perhaps as you read this many mixed emotions and thoughts swirl in your mind, as they do mine. It became clear to me that there is no place for judgment and tremendous opportunity for learning and for improving the human condition–for all of us. It has certainly touched my mind and spirit with a new level of interest in ways we can increase humanitarian aid to Cuba and other people in need.

My life lessons from this experience are still forming. Yet, this I know: I have been much more sensitized to both the “different” and the “same” among us. That first and foremost, I want to focus on the need to offer life-giving care, for my neighbor(s) both near and far, for God’s earth, for God’s creatures (yes I couldn’t help but notice the cats and dogs and even reflect on the difference in care for our pets) and even for myself. It has been very meaningful to step away from the “norm”–my usual hustle and bustle–and be reminded of the spiritual connectedness that the noise in my life can often drown out. I believe this experience will continue to develop me, my relationship with others and my relationship with God and for that I give great thanks.

May we look at each day this Advent season–and always–as a new gift and an opportunity to share in Kingdom living.

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