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.
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.
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!