Fellow Passengers, it’s been a month since my last post, and I’m glad to be back after a month in Cuba. This week’s Primary Passage (Mark 14:66-15:15) transports me to the streets of Matanzas, where every third or fourth car is vintage 1950s, abandoned by the droves of people who fled the island in the wake of the ’59 revolution. A few of the cars have been restored to mint condition, but most are rusted, bondoed, or painted purple or pink. The people who abandoned ship in ’59 were predominantly the upper class, the folks who had the most to lose in the Triumph of the Revolution. Their large homes were transformed into multi-family apartment dwellings. Since ’59, many balseros have left Cuba, navigating the waters on homemade rafts, abandoning the utopian ideals and hopes for the fantasies of capitalist Miami.
It all makes me wonder just what it would take to cause a person to abandon family and friends. What would cause a person to deny the dreams of home and launch out in search of some better dream. Maybe it’s the depth of disappointment. Maybe it’s fear. Maybe it’s anger. I thought about that when reading this week’s primary passage, about the denials of Peter and the abandonment of all of Jesus’ followers. Peter had three chances to demonstrate his fidelity and friendship with Jesus. He abandoned ship with a flurry of curses, swearing profusely that he was no part of the Jesus revolution. The masses of people who had just days earlier shouted Hosannas as they ushered Jesus into town in triumph, now jumped on their homemade rafts and left for better shores, shouting “Crucify him” in the wake of their abandonment.
On this visit to Cuba, I heard more despair than I’ve ever heard before. “No es facil” was on everyone’s lips. The unemployment crisis is devastating, and is driving many into the sex tourism trade. The people are tired, tired of 50 years of blockade and 50 years of empty promises. The patriotic propaganda signs piss people off more than they engender pride in country. One person raised a question about one of the signs you see everywhere: Venceremos! Which means, “we will overcome.” He said, “we’ve been saying we will overcome for 50 years. When is the sign going to change to “vencemos” – we overcome. When is the future hope going to be a present reality? The signs don’t look promising.
But, in the midst of the despair, in the midst of the anger, in the midst of the disappointment, you find people who refuse to abandon their faith, who refuse to deny the love of Jesus, who refuse to believe they should be anywhere other than their homeplace. The faith and the love of the people in La Vallita is amazing, as is the faith and love of the people in Piedrecitas and in Matanzas and Bauta and San Jose and Guanabacoa and Camaguey. The churches are vibrant, the spirit is strong, and their day to day ministry among hurting people is a constant. For me, the question is not so much about Cuban people abandoning family and friends for a better life in Miami, the question for me is how I can now maintain my connection to these folks, my family and friends there, how can I live in our consumptive and over-the-top material-driven culture and keep from abandoning my relationships with Wanda and Orestes and Paco and Lila and Sila and Jose and Rut Vivian and Nailen and Asdeni and the many others I have fallen in love with there?