“THE TRUTH, ONCE AWAKEN, NEVER FALLS BACK TO SLEEP” -José Martí

Where do I start!? How do I some up these powerful, amazing, inexplicable experiences into a blog post? It has taken a lot of self-discipline for me to get myself to even sit down and write this update because I feel like just putting it down into words cheapens the whole experience. There is no way to adequately portray the incredible blessings and challenges I have experienced recently. I’m sorry. You are not going to rightfully understand what I am trying to explain without having experienced it for yourselves. It’s just not going to happen. But all the same, I want to give you a little taste of how God has been pressing in, molding, and shaping my heart through unique opportunities that I have had in the past couple of weeks.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Psalm 51:10-13

For those of you who don’t know, I was unexpectedly blessed with the incredible opportunity of traveling to Cuba again! Because of the unique political relations between the US and Cuba (or lack thereof), I never imagined being able to travel to Cuba, let alone twice! My grandmother new how much I was impacted by my first trip toCuba, so she got me hooked up through the League of Women Voters to travel in the April Sisters Across the Straights delegation. We traveled to Cuba on an educational license granted to us by the US Treasury Department. I was very excited to get the chance to explore and learn more about this complex, charming, and commonly misunderstood country. I have never been more inspired than by the life and passion of the Cuban people. I have had the most interesting conversations with Cubans I’ve met. They are so intelligent, full of hope, energy, and zeal. I really appreciate their excitement to share with me and to learn from one another as we discuss political, social, and economic ideals. Many people may be alarmed or repelled by what they have learned about Cuban socialist principles, but I am intrigued! In my opinion, our differences from Cuba give us all the more reason to engage in mutually edifying discussions in order to better understand one another. I am so thankful for the people I have met, in both of my trips to Cuba, who have shared openly and honestly with me about their reality and perspective inCuba.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Romans 14:19

I was listening to a sermon online recently and I just wanted to share a little bit with you as it reminded me so much of my experience in Cuba. The pastor says: “When sharing the gospel, we should not be jerks with the Truth. If you want the person to be receptive to the gospel, you should not debate, but listen and have conversation with those you are talking with. Ask them questions. Ask them about their family. Ask them about their life. Ask them what their struggles are. Ask them what they need in their life, in their world. Ask them what their fears are. Now we’re having conversation that can lead to Jesus Christ easily.” This is exactly what I experienced in Cuba! I get so excited to share God’s love in this way, not only inCuba, but wherever I am. With the simple act of inquiring about someone’s life, we give value to them as a person and show that they are important. From the socialist Cuban citizens, to the demoralized indigenous poor, to the average person in your very own community, everyone has their own story to share in which God values their life and is seeking relationship with them.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14

As I am nearly completing one year of life and ministry with Students International in Guatemala, I am reflecting on how my time here has so far impacted my life. SI’s vision statement is the following: “To see students and the poor transformed into the likeness of Christ and discover their true calling.” Without delving into the profound ways that I have been experiencing the first half of this vision- learning about who God is in my life and how I am to participate in His ministry of reconciliation, and how I have met so many people who have impacted my life and who have literally changed who I am to the core of my being… WITHOUT delving into those things… I want to share with you a little about how God has been working in me as far as the second half of our vision. I have been going through a process of discovering my own true calling. I love interacting with our short term volunteers who come down to work in our occupational ministry sites with us and helping them to engage in seeking Truth and seeing God in a new perspective. I love it when students leave their comfort zone for the first time and wrestle with tough issues such as justice, poverty, and the Christian response. I love bringing to light unsettling issues so that students learn to see the world from a more Godly perspective. It is very humbling when your comfortable, limited perspective is disrupted and you realize that you have been living blind to issues in this world from which you may have not even been that far removed. I am fully sold out to the goal of expanding our worldview and learning a more global perspective so as to serve God with our whole lives in a radical way. To this end, I will be beginning an online masters program through the University of Illinois (here from Guatemala) in Educational Policy Organization and Leadership with an emphasis on Global Studies in Education this fall. I am very excited about further exploring how to shake people up, out of their comfortable perspective, so as to see the world as God sees it. And in this process I am further exploring my beliefs and perspective on my relationship with God as I seek to learn from other perspectives. We should never sit comfortably in our faith, but always be in the process of growing and working out our salvation in fear and trembling.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble. 2 Peter 1:10

I was so happy to have the opportunity to visit with my Cuban host family with whom I lived when I was there two years ago! These people mean so much to me and I am thankful for all that they have taught me!

Just like two years ago, I struck up an hour long conversation with one of the book sellers in the Plaza de Armas. I am so grateful for how these people want to share with us and teach us about Cuba. Juan Carlos was a former high school chemistry teacher, so he had some interesting things to say about educational policy in Cuba!

I loved hanging out on the Malecon. This is a road and sidewalk all along the shore of the city. It serves kind of as the “front porch” ofHavana. I love it! I also enjoyed some fun conversations with people out on the Malecon.

Our tour guide and bus driver, Rafael and Fernando. The last evening of the trip I ate dinner with them instead of the league women because I wanted to chat with them and hear their perspective on issues. They taught me sooooooo much and I am so indebted to their openness and honesty with me.

A couple verses (translated) of José Martí’s “Versos Sencillos.” José Martí was active in the Cuban liberation movement around 1870 and his philosophies greatly characterized the revolution in the 1950s.

– I am a simple man from the land of palm trees
And before I die, I want to pour out these verses that flow from my soul
– My verses are brilliant green and also fiery crimson
My poems are like a wounded fawn seeking refuge in the forested mountains
– I cultivate a white rose in June and January
for my true friend who lends me his steady hand
– And for the cruel one who would pluck out my living heart
I cultivate neither thistles nor nettles, I cultivate a white rose
– With the poor people of this earth, I cast my lot
for the brooks of the mountains please me more than the sea

If you are interested in hearing more about what specifically I did while I was in Cuba:

-Tour with historian/architect of Old Havana. Exploring the large renovation projects!

– Discussion at the Center for Studies on theUnited States. This is a graduate program, supplying information on the US to the students at the University of Havana. It was fun to hear what the Cuban researchers were learning about our perspective on Cuba and other US political issues.

– Visited a farmer’s market and discussed the complexities of the private sector inCuba

– Disscusion at an NGO for Natural History and Environment on environmental education, geo-historic research, local sustainable development, heritage conservation, water management, and administration of protected areas.

– Meeting with the Federation of Cuban Women at one of the small stores where they train women to produce clothing. Learning about women’s roles in Cuba. Did you know that women make up 43% of the Cuban congress?

– Meeting at the Union of Jurors to discuss law and policy in Cuba with a judge and a law professor.

– Meeting with the CBS correspondent in Cuba, Portia Siegelbaum, to discuss a more North American perspective from someone living in Cuba.

– Trip to Cojimar to see a small town, poorer setting inCuba

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