by Kay Etheredge
(Note: BBM will be hosting Cuban pastor, Heber Romero, and his wife, Lydia, this week as they speak at the Wednesday evening chapel service.)
There are many highlights from our trip to Cuba four years ago. We were so very blessed to be chosen as parent chaperones to travel with Ballet Exaltation from Briarwood Ballet. Our daughter, Jane, was a senior and in the group. None of us knew what to expect and we went with great excitement but also some trepidation. There were many unknowns. We bathed the trip in prayer and God truly went before us and prepared the way, opening doors that caused us to be even more in awe of Him.
Many of the girls came from very privileged homes. I write this not as an indictment or criticism, but as a confession that I had struggled with insecurities over the differences that became glaringly obvious over time. Our daughter didn’t have a cell phone until she was a senior and her brother gave her his old one because, right out of college, his brand new employer provided one for him. Jane was never really one to complain but she had commented to me that she was the only girl in the Briarwood Ballet to not have a cell phone. I chided her and said that was impossible. Once I joked with a ballet staff member who told me with all seriousness, “I think she could be right”.
We were told there would be no cell phone service in Cuba. No internet access. It sounds like no big deal unless you’re taking a bunch of teenaged girls who constantly had phones in their hands. We feared there would be grumbling and complaining from the girls regarding their lack of communication. One night as we sat around for a meeting in Cuba, one of the girls made this statement, “In America, when we need something, our parents get it for us. Here, we have had to rely on God”. Another girl commented, “I thought I would miss my cell phone and internet but I really have enjoyed it and don’t look forward to going back to that”. It was very sobering.
Jim and I stayed in the first city in the home of a dentist and his wife. He confided to us that his salary was roughly $40 a month. Each morning that we were there I watched his wife wash diapers for their brand new grandbaby outside with a scrub board. She then hung them out on a clothesline to dry in the Cuban sun, then take them down, lay them out on the table where we ate, and iron the wrinkles from them. Her iron looked just like the one my mom had when I was a little girl.
I had struggled through the years with feeling that where we lived and how we lived was not enough. Our 1950s ranch style home is the one Jim grew up in. Many of Jane’s ballet friends lived in very nice homes and some of them were given cars at 16 that were nicer than our own cars. There were obvious socio-economic differences that I allowed myself to be weighed down by and even though Jane wasn’t necessarily aware, I certainly was. I struggled with contentment as I looked around at our dated furniture and small rooms and when I drove Jane to sleep- overs at her friends’ homes I allowed myself to compare, and we always came up short.
One night in Cuba as we traveled on one of our two vans our driver, a delightful man named Junior, pulled off the paved road onto a bumpy gravel road. He drove for just a bit, then pulled over in front of a small home. It was two story, but not by American standards. I can’t even think of a place that it would compare to here. The front yard was dirt and the home was tiny. Very, very tiny. Junior stopped our van and began with great excitement to honk the horn. Soon a small girl appeared at the door of this home and she began to wave as he waved back. Junior turned proudly to his van full of Americans and gestured proudly with his arm saying, “Mi Casa!” This was his home and he wanted us all to know, to see where he lived. And as I looked out the window at the grinning little girl and saw Junior’s great pride in showing us his home, I knew in my spirit that this very moment was why God brought me to Cuba. My loving Father had a picture of contentment He wanted to show me and He took me to Santa Clara, Cuba to unveil it. I learned much on the trip, and we saw God work in so many mighty ways. But for a comparing and discontented mama of a very amazing daughter, I knew that this tiny house with a dirt front yard right off a gravel road in Cuba, was exactly what I was meant to see.
The Cuban people we had the pleasure to come to know weren’t living in a state of grumbling or even acquiescence. They were living with gratefulness. God gave me a living picture of what the word home should mean, and He used a sweet man named Junior and his small daughter to show me. It wasn’t about finding someone with less, as much as seeing how beautiful a grateful heart looks. Twelve days later a very exhausted family flung open the door of our 1950’s ranch style home—the same one where my husband grew up. The furniture was still dated and the rooms still small. Nothing was different. And I looked around me and said to my husband and daughter, “Just look at this beautiful place”.