Two of my friends from Cuba came to stay with my family and me for a week recently. While they were here, I was helping them to make contacts in this area to support their ministry. (And I am particularly grateful to Rev. Jon Ferguson and the good people of Stillwater UMC, the Evangelical Fellowship of West Ohio, and the doctoral students and mentors at United Theological Seminary for their help!) My friends, Guillermo and Adria, are the pastors of a Methodist church in central Havana. Guillermo is also the district superintendent of the Havana area.
Life is very difficult for people in Cuba. A middle-class North American like me lives a life of luxury compared to the average Cuban. This is not simply a matter of affordable access to things like appliances, televisions, and air conditioning. In Cuba, people struggle to acquire basic necessary resources. My friends were astounded simply by the sheer volume of food that we have access to in the U.S. In my house, the refrigerator is full of food. In our pantry, you could find things like chips, cookies, and granola bars. Americans throw away large quantities of food. Among those of at least modest means, we have so much food we don’t even notice it.
Guillermo and Adria have a ministry in which they provide about two hundred meals to children each week. These meals aren’t Lunchables. They don’t necessarily involve attention to the four basic food groups. Most weeks the meals consist of rice and eggs. Over and over and over, rice and eggs…. And almost every week, they are praying for miracles of multiplication, like Christ feeding the multitudes in the wilderness. Were it not for these meals of rice and eggs, many of these children simply wouldn’t eat.
My friends are also feeding seniors in their community. They have programs for youth. They work with drug addicts and prostitutes. They teach lessons in etiquette. They have grown their church from less than a hundred in attendance to over 850 each week. Sometimes they have no idea where the resources will come from to carry out these ministries.
It is no wonder that they pray so much. These saints pray all the time. While they were here we had a brief conversation about some difficulties I was having in one part of my life. They immediately laid hands on me and began to pray. The next day while I was at work my wife texted me. Guillermo and Adria had been in their bedroom all morning praying for me, she said. They had been in prayer at that point for about four hours.
Four hours of prayer! What’s more, I get the sense that this kind of prayer vigil is not at all unusual for them. Sometimes they pray all night and work the next day without sleep. How many of us in the U.S. pray regularly for thirty minutes each day? Not very many, I would guess.
Sometimes people ask me why we hear so many stories about miracles from places like Africa, Brazil, and Cuba, while in the United States these stories are much less common. I don’t really know the answer to this, but I think at least part of it is that many of us, particularly in the mainline Protestant churches, are simply too comfortable. We don’t perceive our own deep and abiding need for the work of God, at least not until there is some kind of crisis in our lives. My Cuban friends seek after God in a way that I have rarely encountered in the United States. They recognize the universal need for the power and presence of God in human life in a way that many people here do not.
I don’t want to romanticize the life of the poor. Adria slept on the floor of their church for all nine months of her pregnancy because at the time they had nowhere else to live. Many children in Cuba have little or nothing to eat during the day. A pastor in Cuba makes about $15 per month. The bishop makes $30 per month, and that isn’t a bad salary in Cuba. Yes, some things are less expensive there, but not so much that it offsets the vast difference in average income between Cubans and people in the United States. Life is hard in Cuba. No one should have to live with so little.
And yet there are great liabilities to our oft-taken-for-granted wealth in the United States. One of those liabilities is that we delude ourselves into believing that self-reliance is a virtue. It is not. Reliance upon God is a virtue, and for us who have so much this virtue can be very difficult to cultivate. It requires prayer, self-discipline, and self-sacrifice.
Many people of means in the United States, when confronted with the realities of the lives of people who live in poverty, feel a deep sense of guilt. After all, we think, the comfort in which so many of us live is largely attributable to the circumstances in which we have been born. The socio-economic system in which we live allows the possibility of financial security. Guilt, however, is not particularly helpful when confronting the realities of economic privilege. The proper response is to recognize our great responsibility and opportunity. As Christ teaches us in Luke 12:48, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
If you would like to learn how you can help support the work of ministry with the good folks at Havana Central, you can friend them on Facebook: HabanaCentral Iglesia Metodista (and remember that “Habana” is spelled with a “b” here). You can also just contact me and I can fill you in on some of the details. Who knows… maybe you’ll find yourself in Havana one day, working and praying alongside people who are so very different from you in so many ways, but with whom you are united in Christ. You can also contribute funding at a GoFundMe page I’ve set up for them.
People like those who attend my church, my neighbors, my friends, my coworkers, can make a real difference in the quality of life for others around the world. What a privilege it is to give, to serve God, and to serve others…. May God save us from complacency and renew our minds for the work of the kingdom.