Day 5: Souvenirs from the Journey…Cuba 2018 <3

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Good morning! 

Wow…last week we were checking out of our hotel in Havana and this week we are sitting in the lobby of another hotel. This time in Austin.

Typical of us we manage to pack a lot of events into short spaces and are enjoying getting to attend a wedding with John down here in Texas. 

When people ask about the focus of our ministry in Cuba: basically we helped the local church by bringing in materials and supplying man-power to help with needed maintenance and provide a mini-Bible school. 

But I would also say the real mission was much like we read of the early Church in the New Testament. 

It was fellowshipping and worshipping with the Body of Christ in another country.

And as with all mission trips I have ever been on, I got way more than I gave. 

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While the Christians in this country are certainly the minority and the framework of government and culture are even more restrictive for the people of the Cross there than here…they unabashedly gathered in their homes and like Daniel, with windows and doors wide open…they sang and prayed and proclaimed the Good News. 

On the last night we had a closing service on the rooftop of their church. 

Youth from the local church mingled with our group as we settled onto the rings of concrete blocks under the night sky.

We were encouraged to alternate Cubans and Americans so we were truly coming together as one body.  

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We sang and shared and then the pastor gave a message on the inevitable discouragement we will face as followers of Christ. He used three pillars of faith in Scripture: Elijah, Asaph and Jeremiah.

These great men of God all experienced times of doubt. The kind where life and circumstances beat them down to the point they wondered if God really even cared or was this whole faith thing just another fairy tale. 

Each faced a place of feeling abandoned and ready to quit. 

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He then encouraged us with God’s care for each of these men and how they moved from doubt to faith. 

He closed this time by offering to pray for anyone who was weary from a long season of trial. 

As vocal and out there as I can appear to be with this calling God has placed on my life to write and to share my heart, I am not the first person to hop to her feet and step forward in a crowd of even familiar faces. 

And so the immediacy with which I rose to my feet in the middle of so many attests to the truth that when God’s Spirit is invited into a setting, God will work in amazing ways.

Because even as I found my stiff body rising from that concrete block, I saw several others doing the same. We were compelled to rise, and to receive that night the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

In the circle of prayer, the pastor laid hands on each one of us. He prayed in the Spirit and in Spanish as our translator spoke God’s word for each of us, over us. 

The only way I can describe what was spoken over me would be to echo the words of the woman at the well…I met a man who told me everything I had done.

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The word of encouragement that spilled out over the hand of the pastor holding my head was as if he knew every doubt and discouraging word I have spoken to myself for the last six years. 

And then to confirm every hope or dream that has propelled me forward each letter typed for a post or blog, each word prepared to teach or exhort. 

There is no way on this earth that pastor knows what has been carried in my heart to the point of breaking me. He could not know the private conversations I have held in what I hoped was prayer and listening and obeying the One I have give my life to follow.

But God knows. 

God spoke to me through a brother and sister who used their gifting under the authority of the Holy Spirit to renew this fainting heart. 

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To hear someone who doesn’t even know me or my story tell me almost word for word my own deepest fears and the core of my mission statement…was an incredible experience. 

And then so sweet of God, to make sure I didn’t forget…on our return as I sat at our familiar kitchen table…starting another day back in the routines that make up my every day life…my morning passage included the passage of Scripture used in the prophecy spoken over me two days earlier.

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.     Isaiah 48:10

The trials I have walked through have not been because the Lord does not love me or as punishment. They were handpicked and forged by God for my good and the good of those I am called to serve.

The trials of my days are for the refining of my soul and to enable me to effectively complete the calling He has placed on my life. 

Or as the final word spoken over me confirmed what God has whispered to me so many times as I weep over these keys…How can you encourage others to come through the fire if you have not been in the furnace yourself? 

And if your mind is bent toward skepticism and you think a generic, one-word-fits-all prophecy gimmick happened…

let me assure you…

each person in that circle received a personal word that spoke intimate knowledge of the details of each story…

because God KNOWS us and God KNOWS not only the particulars of each trial…

He knows the purpose and the outcome and you can be assured today…

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HE LOVES YOU and HE IS FOR YOU <3

Day 4: Souvenirs from the Journey….Cuba 2018 <3

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Yesterday I ran errands, stopping at the grocery and Target to pick up a prescription and purchase some ingredients for a special birthday snack for Sweet Caroline’s party on Sunday. 

If you think that is all I walked out of the stores with, you would be sadly mistaken. 

I also picked up a patriotic romper set for little Miss Thing…in two sizes just to make sure.

Plus I got some Dove dark chocolate, several options for the snack, colorful plastic spoons for the guests to use, a new color of nail polish, some sunscreen and a little something for John’s birthday bag. 

And even as I did this pretty normal running of errands, I had another image of our time in Cuba superimposed on my life.

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Because daily life for our new friends…just like for the Maasai…and the people we met years ago outside Monterey, Mexico…is so very different from the paths I walk every day. 

And often in my every day, their shadows are cast across the places my well cared for feet take me.

With all that we vocally rant about that is wrong with this country we call home, we really have no idea how much freedom we have grown accustomed to. 

Freedom that fosters a sense of entitlement. 

Because you can pretty much believe if I couldn’t have found the miniature Swedish fish and blue raspberry jello I need to make my creations, I would have been extremely vexed. 

And I may as well confess, I was kind of bummed they didn’t have the large size boxes of jello and I had to buy four small. 

Because I am spoiled. 

I am privileged and I am rarely even aware of it.

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I take for granted that if I can’t find what I want in a store, I can order it online and have it here in a matter of days.

Without getting all political and showing my ignorance, I am going to make an observation of what I saw on our trip.

I saw that under the governing bodies of Cuba, no one goes without food…but choices are limited and sometimes unavailable or off limits. 

For instance, we were told that all cattle is government owned and the meat cannot be purchased or taken by citizens except when made available and served in the restaurants. 

Which are also government owned.

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And so I had a tactful conversation with one of our translators one day about acquiring food and such and he gave me an example of eggs. 

He said his three sons love eggs, but sometimes it is weeks before his wife is able to find a place that has them for sale. 

Yes, they have other things to eat. 

But imagine going to the store day after day to purchase something as basic as eggs and being told there are none. 

As God would have it to drive the point home for me, the morning we were scheduled for an early bus pickup to head to the beach…the kitchen at our bed and breakfast was running a little behind on getting the food out. 

She asked if we had time for them to scramble our eggs…which we had eaten every morning…and it was decided we would skip the eggs. 

Because we can eat eggs anytime, right?

My internal flesh nature may have died a slow and agonizing death as I thought of how much we have and of a family of boys who would have been in poultry heaven if they could have partaken of what we took a pass on that day. 

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And of course, us eating those eggs wouldn’t have helped them at all.

It is this helpless watching that pierces the heart.

With privilege comes responsibility. 

To use the spheres of influence and resources we have been given to be the hands and feet of Christ. 

It is our burden to remain unaffected by our plenty and to echo Paul…I have learned to be content … with much or little…whether hungry or well-fed.

It is only with Christ that we can know true contentment. 

It is only with Christ we can remain unspoiled by the excess we have available to us.

In plenty, in want.

Under whatever government system …

in persecution or in freedom…

under the thumb of a government or the stranglehold of a culture…

to know…

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That He alone is our all in all. 

Day 3: Souvenirs from the Journey… Cuba 2018

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Good morning! 

I am so glad you came back <3

Today I am hoping to use my words to share about the dinner we got to eat in the home of royalty in Cuba.

Two of the nights, our people from First Christian were divided into smaller groups of four or five and assigned a home for dinner and fellowship. 

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Our hostess the first night couldn’t have been more than eighteen or nineteen.

And yes…she was of the royal line of King David…assuredly a daughter of the King. 

Dressed in a t-shirt and gathered skirt, her sandaled feet led us down the narrow streets and sidewalks for the long trek to her home.

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She was constantly checking on us to make sure we were aware of puddles or muck since it had just rained. 

At one of the zillion look-a-like doors in this city, she motioned us in to the home she shares with her grandparents and parents. 

After introductions and the inevitable cheek kissing from her abuela, Melissa led us through a labyrinth of halls and courtyards until finally we entered a kitchen about the size of one found in a small apartment.

Tables had been squeezed into the small space and yet as her own youth group began showing up, it became evident we would need more place settings. 

Her fiancee and one of the young men from the church went in search of another table and soon we were all pressing against the walls as they attempted to absorb more furniture into this already packed area. 

Imagine one of those large corner banquet tables in a restaurant except you are eating in an elevator and you might get the picture. 

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As more plates were gathered, our hostess stood at the head of the table and asked a question I am quite certain I have never been asked at any dinner party.

Ever.

She wanted to know if we wanted to share our testimonies before we ate or after.

What?

Considering the language barrier with only three bi-lingual attendees to help us with this task, let alone I am not even sure I have shared my testimony with some of my closest friends, I looked around the table to see if anyone else was in shock…only to see the eager faces of five teenaged Cubans nodding their heads in excitement to share testimonies. 

And so we began. 

One by one…alternating Americans and Cubans…and we shared our testimonies. 

The deepest and most sacred story for each of us…shared openly around this table. 

After dinner, it was suggested we sing one of our praise songs. 

Note to self…learn some praise songs by heart, Laura.

You would have thought I had learned my lesson several years ago in Kenya when we were asked to sing one of our favorite songs and the only one we could come with was “Jesus Loves Me’ …. and not the cool new version, by the way.

Our lack of musical ability proved no deterrent to our princess tho, as she and her fiancee had prepared a couple of songs for us. 

And so we sat, humbled beyond words, in the stifling small kitchen that had turned into a holy sanctuary as he strummed a Fender and she worshipped the Lord on our behalf. 

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The next day she found me at the church and wanted me to know she had left gifts for us at one of the houses. 

A handmade bracelet of white thread…carefully wrapped with a loving personal note. 

Russ..me…all those in our group…received one. 

She who gave so much…gave one more gift of love….thanking US for coming to her home <3

This is one of those times I feel my words have failed me.

Like my ineptness to offer a song that night, I find it difficult to capture the simple gift of hospitality we received on our trip. 

I love to have friends in our home, but I fuss over the menu…the place settings…everything matching…fretting over the mismatched chairs around the table. 

I hang my head as I type and I ask God to give me the kind of heart that was given so freely and lovingly to us that night. 

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Day 2: Souvenirs from the Journey….Cuba 2018

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A common question on our return has been about what we did in Cuba. What our “ministry” focus was. 

I typically answer this with more of a deer in the headlight look than normal. 

The question catches me off guard. It probably has to do with my own expectations about mission trips. In my mind, missions and missionaries are going out into unchurched areas and spreading the Gospel…the Good News. 

And that would be an unmerited narrow view of missions. 

Paul went on missionary journeys that sometimes were just to visit churches and encourage them. 

And that is what we did. 

Oh yes, we took all manner of equipment. 

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Our bubbly director of children’s ministry at First Christian loaded a couple of suitcases full of all that was needed to resource a full-fledged American VBS.

The men took a micro version of Lowe’s in their luggage.

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By day we checked off some needed repairs and maintenance around the church and by night we ran a couple of programs for the children. 

But overall we sat alongside our brothers and sisters and worshipped Jesus. 

We got fed full of the Gospel ourselves.

We got loved on and prayed over…renewed…refreshed. 

And we love and prayed and gave back. 

Like Paul and his beloved Thessalonians, we came from a country where it isn’t cool to be a Christ-follower to a place where it is dangerous to be so to visit our family. 

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We gathered together in the church and in homes and we experienced that beautiful truth that the Church is governed by One God…who died for us. 

Who took our place. 

Who bore our sins. 

Who will come again one day and make all things right. 

“But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.”   1 Thessalonians 3: 6-8

We got to be a Timothy and we are forever grateful. 

Dear friends, the Church of Jesus Christ is alive and well in Cuba and our joy overflows. 

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So where are you feeling discouraged today in your faith? 

Stand firm. 

Hold fast.

YOU remaining faithful under hardship and trial is an encouragement to others. 

My prayer today is…

Heavenly Father,

 Your word assures us that we are not going through any furnace of trial without your loving Presence near us.

No matter the circumstances surrounding us, we have Immanuel…God WITH us.

Oh Father, would you make Your Presence known in tangible ways to Your dear children today in the signs and  language they each understand.

Thank you Jesus for being our constant companion and for going before us and making the way for us through Your own suffering in our place.

Padre te adoramos.

Jesus te adoramos

Espíritu Santo te adoramos

Amen <3

Day 1: Souvenirs from the Journey …. Cuba 2018

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So we traveled to Cuba and brought back a few trinkets in our suitcases…and a zillion memories and moments that are crowding around in my heart and mind.

They spill out in bursts when a friend asks how the trip went.

They swirl as phantom shadows as I process the life I live and the settings in which that life plays out on the back drop of a very different world and culture.

I drive down the wide streets of our neighborhood, each house strategically placed in a well manicured law…

and it is like a double exposed photograph now…

my world…

their world…

forever blended…

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It is like that when you go outside the borders of all you have ever known.

To soak in and absorb and discover that language and culture and the way we do the everydays may vary vastly, but under it all we are just the same people.

We function in the contexts of our wiring and our families and the things we have to do to put food on the table and we are all seeking something that is greater than the governing officials that appear to run the show.

We all wonder what’s the point of this life…and is there more…

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So I am sorting through the emotions of returning from a week that leaves me different, changed, transformed.

A week that has added a whole new group of names and faces to love and pray for…

new friends-who-feel-like-family…

some remain in Cuba and some were right under our noses in our own community…

we just had never had the chance to know them.

Oh my heart is full, my friends…so much to share.

And I am reminded of the story of the man who traveled far from a village high in the mountains and saw the ocean.

He was so amazed he wanted to share the vast beauty with those back home…so he gathered some of the water in a jar and took it back to show them…

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Of course the villagers could not grasp what the man had seen.

How can one bring an entire ocean of experience back to the village?

Yet how can I stop myself from trying to bring Cuba 2018 to you, who walk this journey with me?

I will attempt this week to bring you some of the things God poured into my heart.

I took you with me, you know.

You were in my thoughts as I would scribble in my journal.

I felt your prayers.

And I am so thankful for each of you <3

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I look forward to sharing some of the post cards from this journey with you.

So grab your favorite beverage, a wide open heart and an active imagination and meet me back here mañana <3