March 13

Surprised in Cuba

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I have to admit that I was surprised in Cuba. Not everything was as expected. I expected a greater sense of desperation. Instead, in spite of Cuba’s challenges, there was a sense of growing well being.

A Cuban Home - Photo Credit: Milton Friesen
A Cuban Home – Photo Credit: Milton Friesen

That is not to minimize the challenges Cuba faces. Or for that matter, the uncertainty. Our bus tour guide from the airport to the hotel said it like this: “today the president of Cuba is Raul Castro. Tomorrow we don’t know who will be the president.”

Under Raul Castro, some things seem to be progressing. But as soon as the announcement from President Obama came out about repairing relations with Cuba, our good old friend Fidel Castro was also stirred to make an announcement. He did say that he backs the diplomatic bargaining happening now but added he doesn’t trust the Americans. With him having been the dictator for so long, who knows what would happen if he woke up tomorrow, and decided he felt quite fine and up to living for a few more years. Would that set Cuba back again?

Surprised in Cuba by its sense of well being

Like I said though, I was surprised in Cuba by its growing sense of well being. Communism wasn’t all bad in Cuba. Every home in Cuba gets a free TV from the government. Not necessarily a good thing since you can only get a few government censored propaganda channels on it. But as a result, practically every home in Cuba I saw had electricity at government subsidized rates. What good is a propaganda channel if you can’t power on your TV, right? At any rate, one of the good things was the improved infrastructure. And the highways were decent. Granted, we weren’t in the worst part of Cuba.

But healthcare too, was free and readily available to its people. Although the challenge was that sometimes the doctor would prescribe something but the prescribed medicine was nowhere to be found. But healthcare was effective enough to rank life expectancy in Cuba higher than the life expectancy in the USA. Surprising, right? (And USA is supposed to be so good.) That in spite of a case I heard about where a man just recently died of asthma due to not being able to get access to the prescriptions his doctor prescribed. So maybe access to prescription drugs isn’t always what it is cracked up to be.

Education is free in Cuba, including university

This one makes me want to move to Cuba. A free university education? Wow! Now, I would probably change my mind if they railroaded me into a career I hadn’t chosen, but still. For the most part people seemed to be able to choose their career path unless the government testing and profiling you determined that you were a bad fit for that program, or Cuba really had far too many people wanting that program.

Though when it comes to doctors, Cuba seems to have far more than they need. They just can’t seem to get them the supplies they need to do their jobs. But I wonder, would a truly investigative spirit be considered a misfit for journalism school? Maybe I won’t move to Cuba just yet.

Baseball pitchers and government propaganda

The son of one of the pastors we know in Cuba is a pitcher on Cuba’s baseball teams. Great ball player. Cuba loves soccer and baseball. One day we drove by the big baseball stadium in Holguin and our interpreter said that one of Cuba’s most famous baseball players went on to play baseball in Japan. That prompted a team member to tell her we have many great Cuban ball players on our North American Baseball Teams.

He told her that the Cuban players would travel to play ball in foreign countries and defect from the teams they were playing on and make their way to the USA where they got signed with rich American leagues. That surprised her. I guess Cuba doesn’t celebrate Cubans that achieve success without the blessing of the communist government. Apparently that channel got blocked on Cuban TV. Go figure.

God using communism for good

Like life expectancy, Cuba’s gross domestic product per person is higher than most any other country in the region. Puerto Rico being the exception, but then again, they are a United States Territory. But of course, they have a lower life expectancy too. Costa Rica is a bit higher too, and they even beat Cuba’s life expectancy by a few points. And honestly, from what I saw, Cuba’s GDP advantage may be the effect of governmental organisation under the communist regime.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am no supporter of communism, so don’t hang me just yet. There are plenty of negatives to go with it. I am just saying that not everything came out totally bad. For example, the GDP doesn’t always filter down to the citizens of the country. Much of it is consumed by the government’s self-aggrandizing ego stroking.

Where evil got turned on its head

But sometimes God uses what was intended for evil, for good. Pastor David said that one of the blessings of communism was that since most people feared the same government, sometimes it united the people. And that happened amongst the Christians. He figured it didn’t matter too much in Cuba whether you were Nazarene, Baptist, Pentecostal or Seventh Day Adventist. They were united in their push for religious freedom.

I noticed another blessing they reaped from communism. The Cubans own the Cuban Church. In Belize especially, the church was run by foreign missionaries. There was very little sense of ownership for the church amongst the local people. That is different in Cuba. Just like it was in China. Their separation from the rest of the world caused them to take ownership of their own issues and responsibilities. And that, my friend, is probably one of the reasons the Cuban Church is exploding.

I am all for supporting the Cuban church, and they are definitely closer to my heart now. They are an easy to love people. But I pray that we will find a way of supporting them and standing with them without taking ownership away from them. They have things to offer to the rest of the world as much as we have things to offer them.

May God preserve His Spirit in the Cuban Church and may He continue to bless them.

This post turned a bit more “technical” than what I normally write on this blog, but I hope you enjoyed it. I thought I would wrap up my focus on Cuba today, but I find myself roaring to go with another article on Cuba, so this is…

…to be continued.

A world class challenge. Since we realize controlling others is witchcraft, how do we become the kind of people who support other Christians at home or abroad by being there for them without taking control or ownership of them or their decisions?

Tags

Christian Living, cuba, discipleship, faith, journey of faith, mission trip, missions, short term missions


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