Thursday, May 10, 2012


Papi and Mami enjoying a beautiful day in Cuba.

I'm no missionary.  I'm more of a cussing, drinking and smoking kind of guy who loves Jesus desperately... sometimes.  

And Cuba is one of the most spectacular places on earth.  There. I said it.

As a boy I heard stories of mountains I imagined climbing, caves with ancient Ciboney (Caribbean indigenous peoples) carvings waiting to be explored by adventurous boys, beautiful lakes, rivers and springs for fishing and swimming, the majestic city of Havana with an unrivaled rich colonial history, the expansive blue beaches of Varadero. When Columbus landed on the island of Cuba, it is said he declared it was the most beautiful land human eyes had ever set eyes upon.

Almost 500 years following the Columbus landing, I was born in Miami, at sea level, next to a swamp... and we have a lighthouse built in the 1800's.  So yeah, I've carried some bitterness over that. Sue me.  I can understand why my father and mother never imagined a life outside of their island paradise.  Cuba is just that amazing.

Among the many memories my parents passed down to me surrounded their life growing up in an Evangelical Christian community.  Their experiences attending Wesley Methodist School and Church in Santiago de las Vegas, Havana Province, made up some of the richest stories about life in their little town.  When they arrived in the United States, grateful to their God for bringing them to a country where they could live in freedom and worship Him without fear of persecution, they also made sure to pass on their faith to their children (I have posted previously about this legacy in this blog).

So I grew up attending church in Miami.  My parents left the Methodist tradition and embraced the Presbyterian church.  Not just any church though; this was a Cuban church, make no mistake (pa' que lo sepan). While most of my Cuban-American friends attended Catholic mass with pretty much every other Cuban in Miami, I attended a Presbyterian church with Cuban grandmothers dispensing enough hugs, kisses, and candy from their purses to make any kid feel at home.  Being part of this church meant I received a weekly dose of Calvinist reformed theology, with a shot of Cuban coffee after each service.  Everything happened in Spanish.  Potlucks included rice and beans and lechon.  Traditional hymns were accompanied (on occasion) with bongos, clave, guitar and guiro.

Over the years, my identity has become cemented in these two truths.  First, I am a Christian.  Second, I have a passion for the homeland of my parents.  As a Christian, I am at a place in my life where it's not about attending church, being pro-life and voting Republican.  I identify more closely to my faith in Jesus Christ than with anything else. My faith is the lens through which I see everything; my wife, my children, my world.  There is no distinction; a church life and regular life. My faith defines my life.  I believe that calling yourself a Christian means something, and that it dramatically changes how you see, hear, and interact with everything around you. But if we don't allow the message of the Gospel to penetrate our hearts daily, it will always seem like just a nice idea for people and cultures to ascribe to.  We will reduce what Schaeffer called "...the greatest intellectual system the mind of man has ever touched" into a nice idea to pass along to the kids.  

Those are big words, and they create a problem; or better said, a tension. God is a ferocious pursuer of men; He does not relent. Among other things, he would not relent with me about Cuba.  I needed to go.  There is work for me to do there.  It's difficult to identify what that work is exactly.  It's one of those things that you can't easily define or put your head around because there are too many variables.  So in 2011, I would go again.  I had to; there was no choice in the matter.  I would go despite all the fear and trepidation that goes with being a first generation Cuban-American going to Cuba, whose parents had fled the island in fear some 50 years prior.  Therein lies the tension.

While everyone around me is speculating and guessing as to why I have gone and wish to continue to go to Cuba, I can honestly say that I haven't figured it out yet.  What do I know about being a missionary?  Nothing.

My father, Roberto Perez and I discussing my trip to Cuba over lunch.

What I do know is my parents started their faith journey in a tiny church in Santiago de las Vegas. This little church would be the next step -- a baby step -- in my journey with Cuba.  To help me connect with the old church, my father put me in touch with a family friend, Pastor Roberto Perez.  I met with Roberto and he asked me, "Why do you want to visit the old church?"  I responded enthusiastically, "I want to share with the people there the story of the impact that church made on my life, and how my parents passed that legacy on to me."  Roberto looked at me and said  "Okay.  I can get you in touch with someone.  She still lives there and she knew your parents.  I have to send an email to someone else in that town who has access to the internet, in order to get a message to her though, so it may take a while. I'll see what I can do."

So the second trip to Cuba began with plans to visit, pilgrimage style, the church where my parents were married and started their life together.

At the time, this seemed like a good idea.