“My thoughts of Hmmmm…suddenly transform to hum…humb…humbled! What must the thought process be of this generous mom when posed with the question, ‘Is there room?’ She is faced with children obviously neglected and chooses to take them in. She is face-to-face with an anxious friend who has made serious mistakes and heading to jail, and agrees to care for her babies.
“Admittedly, I am filled with shame over my first thoughts that she might be padding her list and taking advantage of our donors’ generosity. I know how all-consuming it was for us to raise four children. It boggles my mind to contemplate a woman who chooses to open her home and arms to care for ten! I am humbled and honored to include her, as I’m sure our supporters are. ‘Is there room in the Gift of Giving this year? You Bet!!”
Charity is no longer the opium of the privileged when we humbly allow ourselves to be transformed by those to whom we offer assistance. My friend’s story immediately turned my thoughts to Cuba because it was in Cuba that I first learned about the relationship between charity and privilege. In 1996 the congregation I was serving formed a sister church relationship with the Herradura Methodist Church in Cuba. We had already made a long-term commitment to a school in our city (the same school referenced above), so we decided it was important to form a similar partnership with a church outside the country.
At that time both governments made it almost impossible for Americans to travel to Cuba. By God’s grace and a few miracles, however, we were able to secure the necessary license and visas year after year. Our goal was to take children, youth and adults on every trip, especially because our visas would not allow us to do “work.” In addition to stuffing as many duffel bags as we could with clothing, shoes and medical supplies, our time was spent building relationships, worshiping, visiting the congregation’s many mission outposts and playing together.
My two school-age daughters and I traveled with the first Cuba team in 1997, and my life was forever changed. The poverty was mind-boggling, but the Christian faith, depth of spirit and resilience of our Methodist brothers and sisters in the midst of adversity and oppression was both inspiring and humbling.
While our Cuba mission team could offer small tokens of generosity through clothing and supplies, the good works of our charity did not become as necessary as relationships deepened over the years. What the people of the Herradura Methodist Church yearned for the most was our simple presence among them. The fact that we traveled all the way from America every year just to hang out with other Methodists in Cuba was a sign of hope for their future. At the same time, the joy we felt praising God with our brothers and sisters in Christ was the greatest gift our mission team could have ever received.
Seventeen years later, President Obama instructed Secretary of State John Kerry last week to immediately begin discussions with Cuba with the intent of reestablishing diplomatic relations, including re-opening an embassy in Havana. Divided by just ninety miles of water, Cuba and the United States have been estranged for fifty-four years because of a trade embargo which has perpetuated poverty among the common people.
While the Cuban and United States governments have engaged in political rhetoric for a half century, resulting in great suffering among the Cuban people, a quiet movement among Christians in both countries has sustained hope and provided joy in the midst of despair. I pray that President Obama’s proposal will eventually lead to the reforms that must take place so that charity in Cuba will one day become unnecessary.
On the Friday night before we left Cuba in 1997, we stayed at the Methodist Center in Havana, a former school converted into a dormitory and conference center for Methodists in Cuba. As I lay on a top bunk trying to keep cool, an open window just inches away, I suddenly felt a gentle breeze blow over me.
At that moment, I knew it was the wind of the Holy Spirit. For along with the breeze came an inexpressible feeling of joy, gratitude and humility. From the first night, when we hesitantly gave our Spanish testimonies in church, to the last night, when the pastor in Herradura gave us a moving send-off and the people sang “Michigan for Christ,” rather than the traditional “Cuba for Christ,” we felt utterly loved and accepted as brothers and sisters in Christ. At that moment, charity became no longer necessary.
P.S. The next Leading from the Heart will be posted on Monday, January 5, 2015. Have a blessed Christmas!