As we walked into the tiny Cuban café that had opened recently, I noticed two men, one younger than the other, sitting at one of the tables. The older one with the slim face and graying buzz cut asked if we had eaten Cuban food before. I smiled and responded not since our last trip to Cuba several years earlier. My husband ordered the Cuban: beef and French fries on a long French roll, weighted and grilled like a Panini. I chose the ham and cheese Panini with mustard, lettuce, tomato and pickles. We each ordered a Mexican fruit soda.
When our order came, I looked down at the generous sandwich, and tears welled as I remembered the hungry people we had met in Cuba. Not long after, the older man came and stood tentatively near our table. He asked if we had been allowed to take pictures during our Cuba trips and whether he could talk with us about our experiences after we were done eating. My husband promptly said, “Have a seat!” As we reminisced about the two church mission-study trips to Cuba, the memories flooded back. We told him about our travels to Sancti Spiritus in the center of the island on the first trip and to La Habana on the second trip, with one night away at the seminary in Matanzas on the northern coast.
Sarge said he had been born in Matanzas, and had left Cuba as a seven-year-old. He had been back only once as a seventeen-year-old to visit relatives. He said he belonged to Little River-Academy Methodist Church, and his pastor had been urging him to go along as the translator on a mission trip to Cuba. He admitted he was tempted, but at the moment he wanted to know more about how the Cuban people were doing.
I said they were poor, and that I felt guilty eating the sandwich remembering how bread was rationed there. We told him we had spent our time in Cuba visiting Christian brothers and sisters and hearing about their ministries: laundry services for the elderly in a place where soap is a luxury, and gardens to provide fresh vegetables for the hungry. We also told him that in spite of the difficulties of their daily lives, the Cubans we met enjoyed life and were devoted to their families. There are many artists there: singers, dancers, sculptors, painters and poets. Perhaps because their earnings were much the same regardless of their jobs many pursued their artistic gifts to create beauty in a place where beauty is as scarce as soap.
Sarge asked if he could see our pictures some time, and then hastened to add, “No hurry, just when it’s convenient.” I said, “Of course!” and promised to stop by soon. My husband said, “I need to get back to work.” He stood and shook hands with Sarge. When Sarge reached out to shake my hand as well, I saw the sad look in his eyes, and impulsively gave him a hug.
I know what it is like to have no early home to return to, as my parents are both deceased. I don’t know what it is like to have left my home country behind and have only childhood memories to cling to. Our hearts long for home, for a place where we belong. In this Holy Week as I walk once again with Jesus towards the cross, I’m reminded that God has promised us a permanent home in a new heaven and a new earth, a place where death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more—a place where God himself will make his home with us. Maybe that’s the real home we all hunger for here in this world. Easter is our yearly reminder that the world as it now exists is not the end of the story. Thank God for that!
Grace and Peace,