Dreams really do come true! This is how I felt, stepping off the Eastern Airlines charter plane at San José Marti airport in Havana, Cuba. I never imagined that my first visit to Cuba would be by way of service. Cuba had been on a bucket list that I derived for myself of places to travel in 2016. When the opportunity came in a correspondence from World Day of Prayer to travel on a delegation with Pastors for Peace, I quickly jumped at the chance.
The events around our travel all seemed divinely orchestrated. Though President Barack Obama signed the executive order that would lift the fifty year embargo on December 17, 2015, direct flights from the United States were not yet occurring. The delegation’s adventure began with twelve persons from various mainline denominations across the United States. Our two-week stay began on March 28th, with our departure meeting point being Miami, Florida. As we made our way from Miami International airport to Havana, Cuba, anticipation filled each of us as many did not know what to expect. The atmosphere was everything that I imagined and more. The air was crisp, clean and warm and the people beautiful and friendly.
There was so much excitement in the atmosphere. Only days earlier President Obama visited Cuba with his family on what was dubbed a historic trip. He was the first sitting president since Eisenhower to visit Cuba. Now, here we were, a group of ministers from the United States to explore the political, social, and religious landscape only days after. The knowledge we would gain would be invaluable.
My attraction to the Cuban culture began with the knowledge of their history as a revolutionary people. From learning of the class and race distinctions inculcated into society as a result of the Spanish American War, to the revolution that would catapult Fidel Castro into power overthrowing the Batista regime the experience can prove overwhelming. Having the opportunity to visit and delve into the culture as we were, much of the myths about Cuba, the people and its leaders had been debunked. The Cuban people are a resilient people. I’ve always felt this kindred connection. Maybe it is because my kinfolk derive from only thirty miles away from the island of Jamaica.
I was in awe from the number of patrons who visited the San Lazaro church where sunflower offerings and prayers and petitions for healing were normal. Immediately, I attempted to draw the parallels of the Protestant church experience in the United States with that of our brothers and sisters. Between the robust colors of the women who express themselves through the ancient African Yoruba religious tradition, to learning the rich history of slave heroine Carlota, was awe inspiring.
One cannot help but to feel the deeply rooted sense of spirituality that is imbibed in the every aspect of Cuban culture. In this way, it is clear why the people have this sense of pride. As a young, clergy activist, I received just as much inspiration from the Spirit of Wisdom conference held at Mantanzas Seminary where the world renowned Mujeurista Theologian Ofelia Ortega was celebrated and reminded each of us of our divine responsibility of service to God and God’s people through love and social justice. The same inspiration was evoked in Veradaro Beach as I was able to take in the picturesque view of God’s creation and ponder on the necessity to God self and others. I couldn’t help but reflect on how I would be of greater service to the contexts I currently serve such as World Day of Prayer, and the United Methodist Church, my family, and my Cuban brothers and sisters.
I will forever be grateful to the divine calling of God to serve on the board of World Day of Prayer. It is no coincidence that this year’s theme and materials would be spearheaded by the World Day of Prayer Cuban women. The successful and powerful compilation of materials that would prophetically pronounce, “Receive Children, Receive Me” would be a testament of where we are all children of God across continents. A wonderful opportunity was offered through this life-changing trip to learn, grow, and connect with others and life in a way that would only inspire a greater faith movement.
Shivonne McKay, WDP USA Board Member