Dear Juan

Juan
Dear Juan,

I find myself praying for you in the mornings before the sun rises.  I whisper your name and pray for blessing, encouragement and provision.  Mostly, though, I pray for God to put a new song in your heart.  I remember those early mornings when your face was the first thing we saw at our door….. face beaming in the already hot, tropical sunlight.  You were aglow, knowing you were loved because God had given you a new song in the early morning hours.  And so I pray for new songs, whispered by the breath of God, come alive with your gift of music.

You played for me, entertained us for hours with your gift.  I loved making beautiful harmonies with the melodies you sang out.  You filled our house away from home with music, life and laughter.

You became my teacher.  I couldn’t ever quite grasp the Cuban rhythms or phraseology of some of your songs… but you taught me of simplistic faith.  Stripped of luxuries, comforts, conveniences and companionship, you were a shining beacon of simple faith.  You showed me what it means to follow Jesus without baggage and with total abandon.

You became my friend.  You took such care of our family, always putting us first.  You asked for nothing in return.  I crave the meals you made for us….. your meals taste like Cuba to me.  Mostly, though, I miss the hours spent around the table, talking and praying, playing and laughing.  Those were holy moments.

You became my brother.  You were the form of the body of Christ at her best…. laying aside all self-interest and loving me, your sister in Christ, as yourself and more.  I never doubted you would lay down your life for me, not even in the beginning.  I don’t know the exact moment we became family.  Maybe it was my life-altering moment on the roof?   But I feel that you are my brother with every fiber of my being.  My brother.  My brother.  My brother.  What more fitting a label than that?

I miss you.  We all do.  Our family talks of you often.  We wonder what you’re doing, who you’re with, whether you have food and money for transportation.  But I know down to my core that wherever you are…. whatever miles you are walking on long dusty roads to serve…… I know that you are not alone.  I know your Savior walks with you, and I know he is giving you songs.

I only wish I were there to hear you sing them.

Your sister in Christ,

Rachael

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Missed any posts? Here are the most recent:

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Using the Lord’s Prayer as a Pattern

Dear Dad, Letter 2

Dear Dad, Letter 2

Dear Dad,

I have seen the photos so many times…  you as a little boy, living in a foreign land I couldn’t even fathom.  The stories of your childhood delighted and enchanted me, although you were never the source of the magnificent stories.  They usually came from Grandma or Mom, glimpses into a life that seemed impossibly far from the life I shared with you. You were quiet about your undeniably challenging childhood.  But those stories I heard made you superhuman to me…. special, special, special.  I wanted to be like you.  I wanted people to tell stories about my life in a faraway land, full of challenges and adventure.

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It was a typical day for us in Cuba…. October 29th, 2012.  You had been gone for 15 years and we had been traveling to Cuba for the past five.  Our little family was bouncing along the Cuban roads in a church van filled with various Cuban pastors and friends.  One of them?  Your friend, Armando Roca.  He has become a friend to us, Dad.  He has been our guide, translator, cultural adviser and endless source of entertainment.  I had asked Bro. Roca several times to take us to the house where you lived in Cuba.  He always assured me it was so close, yet he always postponed it for another day.

This day was different.

Sometimes I wish I had a little warning for the big moments of my life, just so I could prepare myself emotionally and mentally.  I had no time to prepare for turning the corner and seeing this house.

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The funny thing, Dad, is that this house was within walking distance of the house where we always stay in Havana.  I had probably walked and driven by it multiple times.  But this was the moment that God chose to introduce me to my past.

Do you recognize it?  In spite of the weathered exterior, the unsightly fence, damaged roof and the overall neglect…. surely you recognize your childhood home.

I can’t describe the depth of my desire to sit down and talk with you about your life here… the very same town where we do much of our work in Cuba.  I know bits and pieces… how you went to an English school, played on the grounds of the famous Tropicana, the way you could hear the music late into the night.  I know about the humidity and the hard work of planting a church, the language that was as natural to you as English.

But Dad, I long to know what it was like for you.  Did you love Cuba the way I love Cuba?  Did it feel like home the way it feels like home to me?  Did you realize you were right in the middle of history and a brewing revolution?  Did you leave behind people you love the way I have left behind those I love?  Did you walk along the Malecon, breath taken away by the magnificent beauty of the ocean beating against the sea wall?

I had mere minutes at your house.  Some day I will go back, introduce myself to the owners and stay to soak it all in.  On October 29th, 2012, I had brief, hurried moments.  You can tell by the photos how rushed we were, what a whirlwind it all was.  But our photo, taken just steps away from your photo, is a prized possession.

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House 3511.  In a city we both call home.

Love,

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Read Dear Dad, Letter 1 HERE!

A Gathering of Books: June 2013

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If you have known me long, you know how passionate I am about reading.  I go through reading spurts, but without fail, summer is my reading peak.  This summer is no exception.  We don’t have cable and rarely turn on the television.  I love to read late into the night, at the pool or during any free moments that open up.  I thought I would share with you what I have been reading this month and offer my take!
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The first book I finished up in June was Follow Me by David Platt. I have read Radical by David Platt and his follow-up, Radical Together. Both challenged me immensely. Follow Me flows in the same vein of the Radical books. The emphasis is on our mission as followers of Christ. As we see when Jesus first calls his first disciples, becoming fishers of men is the emphasis. David Platt opens our eyes and challenges us to step into our mission to share the gospel wherever we are.

For a reason I can’t exactly pinpoint, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the Radical books. Perhaps it was because of the commonalities to his previous books. If you haven’t read David Platt before, I would recommend starting with Radical or Radical Together (my favorite), then if you like those, move onto Follow Me. Radical is also a fantastic book to do as a small group series, perhaps the most life-impacting study I have done as a small group.  His video teaching sessions are a must if you decide to do this study.

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The next book I finished in June was Telex from Cuba.  With the extensive time I have spent in Cuba, I am fascinated with Cuban history and Cuban life.  This is historical fiction.  It is a fictional account based on life in eastern Cuba and in Havana during the revolution of the 1950’s.  I enjoyed this so much.  I can’t quite tell you what it is like reading about events that were happening at exactly the time my father was living in Havana as a teenager.  I feel connected to him in ways I never appreciated before.  But even if you aren’t a lover of Cuban history, I think you will find this novel enjoyable.

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I recently discovered Jonathan Martin on Rachel Held Evan’s blog post, Ask a Pentecostal.  I started listening to his sermons (which you can find here) and have been transformed by his storytelling and down-to-Earth approach to the Kingdom.  So, when I saw that he had a new book coming out, I ordered  Prototype immediately.  The book reminds me of his preaching.  He is a fantastic story-teller, and the book made me feel like I was sitting down having a conversation with a friend.  It got me thinking about how God perceives me in a way I have honestly never considered in my entire church-going life.  I gobbled the book up quickly and have been digesting it ever since.  (My boy on a bike moment?  Girl on a school bus…. looking out at God’s creation, sensing His love for me in a way I can never adequately describe.  Read the book and you will understand what those last sentences were about.)  Do yourself a favor and READ THIS!

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This book has quite a story behind it.  I have been a fan of Ken Follett since I read one of my favorite novels of all time, Pillars of the Earth.  I loved the follow-up, World Without End, almost as much.  A few years ago, he came out with part one of a three-part historical fiction series.  It was called Fall of Giants.  I am normally not at all captivated by world history (I’m a bit shamed to admit) and was skeptical about Fall of Giants taking place during World War I.  I read it anyway, and loved it almost as much as Pillars of the Earth.  I patiently waited for part two to come out (years later) and for over six months have waited for it to come out in paperback.  To my delight, I saw the book at my local library.  However, it was a 14 day rental and the book is over 900 pages.  I set a goal and started reading…..

I finished it in less than a week.  Basically, I read late into the night every night and spent a couple of days curled up in my bedroom with the book.  It did not disappoint.  Ken Follett writes epic, sweeping novels with believable, lovable characters.  I found myself intensely interested in World War II history, which is a miracle in of itself.  I highly recommend Ken Follett.  But I would start with Pillars of the Earth.

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I haven’t actually finished Havana Nocturne.  I started it a few nights ago, and decided to include it in my June reading list.  I don’t typically read non-fiction unless it is a Christian author.  This book has been in my bookcase for a couple of years now, though, and with my piqued interest in Cuban history, I thought it was a perfect choice for my next read.

Bible Study:

I try to never read anything at the expense of Bible study.  In my Bible in One Year app, I have been working my way through I and II Samuel, John and Acts, and continue to read through Psalms and Proverbs.  I was a little sad to finish the gospels, which are always life-altering, but Acts is a good reward.  I love reading about the early church.

Our small groups in Gathering are also doing a Bible study based entirely on the book of Malachi.

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What a study.  Our previous church offered Blemished as a small group study several times, and I always heard rave reviews of it.  For whatever reason, I was never able to go through the study, so I jumped at the opportunity to do it now.  I am facilitating the study at our weekly small group, which pushes me to dig a little deeper than perhaps I would otherwise.  This study forces me to look at what I offer God, my priorities and most of all, my motives.  It is eye-opening and tough and making an impact on my spiritual life.

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There you have it!  That’s what I have been reading in June.  Even though I have an iPad, I can’t seem to let go of holding an actual book.  Anyone else feel the same way?  What are you reading these days?  I would love any recommendations. Hopefully you will get another set of book reviews at the end of July!

sig Missed any posts? Here are the most recent:
A Gathering Under the Trees
A Gathering of Links XIV

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What I Gather About…. the View

Five Minute Friday

It’s that time again… time for Five Minute Friday. I am joining with lots of other bloggers who will write for five minutes about one word. Today’s word… VIEW. For more information, to participate, or to read lots of great writing, check out Lisa-Jo Baker’s site.

START

The view from the roof was always my favorite.  I loved sitting up there on our plastic chairs, seeing the Cuban countryside and the rooftops of my temporary neighbors.  I loved the sun shining down on my as I hung the clothes on the line to dry in the bright, hot sun.

That view meant the world to me.

Especially the day I spoke a new language.  Oh yes, I had been learning and practicing Spanish for years… but on that day, with a rooftop view, I had the conversation that would change my life.

I spoke with my Cuban brother, Pastor Juan.  I can’t remember what we spoke about.  All I remember is that after 15 minutes or so of conversation in Spanish, I realized not one English word had passed through my head.

It was the first conversation in Spanish that flowed… no interruptions to translate from English to Spanish.

I remember being astounded.

Looking out, over this land… this country that I loved, I lifted my face to the sky and praised God.  For I had all I desired in that moment.  I was in Cuba.  I was with my Cuban friend in our Cuban home.  And finally, after so many years of books and teachers and studying and class, I spoke the language of my heart freely and without hesitation.

In that moment, I was home.  And the view was spectacular.

STOP

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What I Gather About…. Here

 

Five Minute Friday

Today’s 5 Minute Friday prompt is HERE.  To participate, check out Lisa-Jo Baker’s page here.  How we do it?  Set a timer for 5 minutes and write… no over-thinking or editing.  This is what I gather about here.

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When I think about our here, I think about the there that got us here.  Those months spent in the tropical sun, fighting with mosquitoes and fire ants.  Figuring out how to stay cool and keep our girl safe.

I think about meetings making decisions that were way too big for us to make and the threat of being followed.  That there, in Cuba, is what I think about.

I think about the late nights with no TV or entertainment, when we were forced to talk well into the night, find our joy in simply being in each other’s company.  I think about how we were forced to grow spiritually together, in order to be able to help those we were sent to help.  I think about the heat, the challenges of living without conveniences, the long walks on dusty roads, the table games for entertainment.  I think of meeting person after person who didn’t speak our language, either verbally or culturally.

That there is what got us here.  That was the preparation for this rocky road we have walked, hand in hand.  The there, getting to know you and lean on you and learn you is what got me here.  And here we are, with wide spaces in front of us.  We are here because of the there and for that I will always be grateful.

Maybe one day our here will be in the tropical sun again.  For now, my heart is at rest, here with you by my side.  I have learned, because of the there, that my here is wherever you are.

(STOP)

A Gathering of Cuba Photos

The months I spent living in Cuba were some of the best of my life.  Someday I hope to share more about our life in Cuba.  Today, though, I want to share some photos of the time I spent in Cuba in November of 2012.  In all of my trips to Cuba, I had never stayed with our close friends.  Pastor Lorenzo, his wife Zulema and their four children are like family to me and I really wanted the opportunity to spend some time with them, experiencing their everyday lives.  So, our family stayed in Havana for a week for the national convention and various business.  Jimmie left with the girls, and I stayed four extra days just to be able to spend time in their home.  These are the photos from the time I spent there.  I hope you enjoy these insights into Cuban life and take time to read the captions!

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This was taken a couple of days before Jimmie took the girls home.  Jimmie is with Dani, our pastor friend who also serves as a translator when we need one.  He has a machete and a coconut in his hand.  He had just cut it down from the tree behind them and used the machete to chop off the shell.  IMG_1288

I can’t remember the name of this man.  He is a neighbor of Lorenzo and Zulema and attends their church.  He uses their property to house his goats.  One of the goats belongs to Zulema as well.  Every morning he showed up at about 7 a.m. to take care of the goats and help Lorenzo with his work around the house.  At some point during the day, he left with four goats in hand to take them on a walk through the busy streets of their barrio.  It was quite a sight!

I love this photo for so many reasons.  He looks so Cuban to me.  Goats are hilarious creatures to me in general.  There are underwear hanging from the clothesline for all to see.  My towel that I used all week is hanging to dry on the right.  They also have YHVH = Jesus painted on their rusty pen for the animals.  As we always say, “Estámos en Cuba!”

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Meet Zulema.  I love this photo of her.  She has her broom made from dried-out, fallen limbs.  Each morning after the kids left for school, she brushed the leaves and debris off of her “patio.”  Her patio is the dirt you see behind her. IMG_1291

These are two beautiful and special children, Abdias and Sarai.  A generous pastor from North Carolina gave a laptop to Pastor Lorenzo.  The kids love playing games on it and spend a lot of their free time doing just that.   IMG_1292

Zulema is at work in her kitchen here.  The water is frequently shut off, so you never really know if water will come out of that faucet when you turn it on.  The bucket behind her stores water for such occasions.  Here she is rinsing rice before cooking it. IMG_1295

One of the reasons I love Cuba is because it is so GREEN!  The tropical climate makes for beautiful foliage and gorgeous flowers.  Here you see some plants Zulema planted to beautify their patio.  The bench on the left is very sad.  They utilize everything, though, and won’t throw it away.  Also notice the rocker in the background.   Over half of the plastic is gone on the seat of the chair.  Let me just tell you, it is not a comfortable seat! IMG_1300

Lorenzo has quite a bit of land.  He has had some help getting the tools and seed necessary to farm a little.  When I was there, they were just getting started.  He had some help from two men from his church.  I love this photo.  Cuban farmers work.  I don’t know of a more exhausting job than farming in the tropical sun.  I admire them so much.  They hope to grow enough food to share with hungry church members and some to sell, as well. IMG_1309

Here Lorenzo is showing me how he cuts off the bottom portion under the banana bunch so that all of the water and nutrients go to the developing bunch.  I had never really seen a banana tree and found this fascinating. IMG_1312

Lorenzo is explaining his plans for their land. IMG_1313

The goat-herder helps on the farm.  Here he is spraying pesticides of some sort.  I’m going to pretend they are organic.  One day he invited me to his apartment.  We arrived and he had some kind of drink for me.  It tasted like a dreamscicle.  It basically was, made with goat’s milk.   IMG_1316

Beautiful!  There are so many varieties of bananas in Cuba, I absolutely cannot keep track.  One thing I do know?  You cook the green ones, you eat the small yellow ones.  You haven’t truly tasted a banana until you’ve tasted one of those yellow beauties in the back. IMG_1321

This is a portion of the inside of their house.  I took this photo mainly to show the electrical situation going on in their home.  Yikes!  Thankfully Lorenzo knows what he is doing with electricity.  I did purchase some electrical boxes and light switches for them during my stay.  IMG_1329

Tomatoes with vinegar, oil and salt.  Enough said. IMG_1340

I’m not sure I could love these people any more.  Even though they have so little, they bless me so tremendously.  They offer their love freely and without expectation.  They welcome me as one of their own family members.  My only sadness is that they are so far away. IMG_1343

Zulema, the beauty that she is, standing outside of their home. IMG_1344

Lorenzo, locking up the house. IMG_1345

If you’d like to read more about what I learned from my time in Cuba, please check out my post Cuba Gathers.  I hope these photos give you a glimpse into the everyday life of some of Cuba’s finest people.  What do you think after looking at these photos?  Would you want to stay somewhere like this?  Have you ever visited a place drastically different from your home?  I would love to hear your feedback!

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Cuba Gathers

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I learned the hard way just how much Cuba gathers.  During our time in Cuba, I didn’t experience the traditional culture shock.  I embraced the new and different food with open heart and mouth.  I adored the simplistic lifestyle.  Lack of technology was the breath of fresh air I desperately needed after years of technology overload.  The absence of my native language was exhilarating.  It fueled my desire to perfect Spanish and was a beautiful cadence in my ears.

The gathering of Cubans was the biggest culture shock for me.  Cuban life revolves around gathering, but their idea of gathering is above and beyond anything I had ever witnessed.  Need some examples?  I have plenty.

Hundreds of people gathering in groups on any given street, chatting and laughing.

Neighbors gathering on the front porch of someone’s house, sipping cafe.

Church members gathering nearly every night for some type of activity.

Kids gathering on the streets or in an open field, playing futbol.

The friendly gathering at the bus stops.

The routine gathering of people just stopping by for a visit.

On our first three-month stay as appointed missionaries to Cuba, I was on gathering overload.  Did they really want me to be in 90 degree conference center ALL DAY for a conference?  Was it REALLY okay for pastors and leaders to stop by our home WHENEVER THEY WANTED?  Was it necessary to sit around and chat for an hour after Bible study on a weeknight and not get home until 11?  I’m sad to say that my heart was closed up to this type of gathering.  I wanted gathering to take place on my terms, in a way I understood, in a way I could maintain my comfort level.

Of course, this is major missionary fail.  My grandfather, a career missionary, gave me one piece of advice.

Don’t try to change them, Rachael.

I thought he was talking about the way they did church.  Turns out, I was resisting the way Cubans gather…. selflessly, whole-heartedly, without hesitation, lovingly, joyfully…

I can’t pinpoint when I started to open myself up to this Cuban lifestyle of gathering.  Perhaps it was watching our pastor friend Juan come by to check on us EVERY DAY.  He cooked for us.  He showed us where to buy our food at the best prices.  He was our bodyguard, even when we didn’t need one.  He sat in our home, filling it with the sound of guitar and voice, singing for us the songs God had given him in the middle of the night.

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Perhaps it was the literal interpretation of greeting each other with a holy kiss, those moments when young and old, male and female kissed my cheek simply wanting to display their love for their sister in Christ.

Perhaps it was the day I went into a home where no-one should live, let alone two beautiful children, obviously hungry.  Perhaps it was the moment that little girl brought me bread.  Perhaps it was the way she gobbled it up after I had taken an obligatory bite and then passed it on to her.

Perhaps it was the four days I spent in the home of my sister in Christ with her husband and four children.  Perhaps it was seeing how they open their home EVERY DAY to anyone and everyone who needs prayer, support, food…. in spite of their obvious need for food for themselves.  Perhaps it was the way they gathered together for a church service inside their ever-so-mosest home… and yet I felt the presence of God sweep over us in a way I had never quite experienced.

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I still struggle to carry this practice of gathering into my life here in Indiana.  It is hard when neighbors pull into their garages, not to be seen again until morning.  It is hard when my schedule and my needs seem to always become the priority.  It is hard when I close my heart, not wanting to be exposed and raw, especially after the rejection I have felt from doing just that.  It is hard when our culture tells us “church” happens on Sunday or Bible study night.  Lots of circumstances, ideals and selfish desires make this lifestyle of gathering hard.  Yet I have determined after my time in Cuba that it is worth fighting for.  The beauty of this lifestyle of community pulls at my heart and I can’t help but remember that Jesus gathered.  He gathered with thousands, with 12, with one at times.  He opened himself up to ridicule and judgement, even death, in order to show forth his extravagant love and gather us to Him.  Cuba gathers.  Jesus gathered and still gathers.  Therefore, Rachael gathers… or at least is learning to gather.

What gatherings are the most meaningful to you?  Where in your life do you experience community?  Do you struggle opening your home to others?  Do you long for this lifestyle of community or resist it?  I would love to get a conversation started!