Our trip originally flew us into Havana directly from Atlanta, GA. Immigration as well as customs was simple and hassle free. It was the same way leaving Havana, returning home to the US.
In order to reach Pastor Enrique on The Island of Youth, we had to take another full day of travel. Kindly, Brian O’Neil had this all pre-arranged for us and in his words, “you’ll take a bus, and then a ferry to meet Pastor Enrique!”
I’m a believer in all things bright and beautiful. I imagined a quick little tour bus picking us up, followed by a quaint ferry ride across a bay, as if we were headed to Statin Island.
This is not what happened.
What did happen was this: a three hour wait at a bus station, a 2 hour bus ride to the water’s edge, a 2 hour wait at the docks, a three hour “ferry” ride (actually a ship) and then we met jolly Pastor Enrique.
Our day trip was nothing like I expected, it was better. It was complex, it was random, it was questionable, there were moments of “what is happening?”, but God was there none the less.
He was in the bus station, and I listened to Him tell His story at the ferry docks.
I felt His presence on me and my husband while closed tight in a ship.
I laughed at His comedy of people we met along the way.
And I will never forget the joy and hospitality God showed us after we followed our faith.
The bus ride was complete entertainment, and we got a front row ticket. We were to choose our own seats, my husband was mindful of this and so he grabbed us the two in front, just behind the driver. The ride was fantastic; folks getting on and off at designated stops, palm trees and dirt roads, and a few close encounters with a car accident. Drivers with their own set of road rules met with passers-by on foot, bicycle and pony.
Cuban music from the drivers’ radio set the stage for good vibes. One lady boarded the bus and sat right next to us with her little chihuahua dog. It wore a pink banded collar with diamond studs. “Only in Cuba,” I thought. No other passenger on the bus was slightly moved by this. This was their normal, and for us, the joy of seeing new culture.
When we arrived at the docks, we thought it would be a quick transfer from bus to boat. It was not. We were hungry but were told not to eat the food they sell at the docks, so we didn’t. You had to pay $1 to use the potty, and even then, you needed your own toilet paper.
We were fortunate enough to have met a couple at the bus station who spoke a little English. They were also part of the Methodist church, making it a relief to have a sort of friend along to show us the way. They helped us with our ticket exchange at the docks and helped us board.
Upon baggage check to get on the ship, my husband fell behind speaking to security. I went on through, being calm and patient as I am. The secret Methodist gentlemen was with him, so I knew he was being taken care of. But after 30 minutes of not seeing them, I became concerned.
My husband always carries a pocketknife, always. He’s an old country boy, it’s just his way of life. He knows in the US to always put it in his checked baggage, no big deal.
Big deal in Cuba, especially when boarding a ship. They took his knife, and he had to wrap it up, check it with security, get a special tag then pick it up upon leaving the boat. Praise Jesus for the Methodist angel. He was smiley and helpful and literally saved our day.
When Isaac finally returned from security, I could sense the angst of his situation.
“Now where is this boat taking us?” he asked.
He was speechless for the next 3 hours. No words.
We got our temperature checked by a nurse upon boarding, and when we entered it was like an airplane on water. Hundreds of seats. I’m certain well over 300. Guards did not smile but were serious. Even the ladies assisting with seats did not crack a grin.
I have to make clear that I never felt threatened or in harms way, but I had no idea what was to come, God was all I had to hold onto.
We were the only two Americans among 400 or so Cubans piled into a ship headed into the ocean for three hours. Isaac referred to us as “packed in here like cattle.” My first comparison was a slave ship, but that was very mistaken for we were nothing close.
What we shared was the feeling of not knowing and not being able to help ourselves. We had zero control over anything. We were putting 100% trust into the Cuban people and also in our God.
“For the Lord has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
I repeated this verse in my head while holding my husband’s hand for the next three hours. I was not really scared or even fearful, but I did have a feeling of being lost. I also could sense my husbands’ discomfort and was honestly praying for him.
What I learned through all this was that our feelings cannot be trusted to dictate our truth. Feelings are like liars. Were we safe and taken care of? Yes, we were. Did we feel safe? Not so much. The feeling lied to us. It was our own discomfort and absence of control that teased us.
I reached for truth. I reached for Gods words, not my own. I reached for the mission of Third Lens to serve others through hands on work. I was not there for me, I was there for others.
When we docked, my husband retrieved his knife, and with gladness received a smile form the weapons keeper. They both grinned and shared a moment of delight. A moment of calm and “everything is going to be ok.”
We were soon greeted by Pastor Enrique, and the rest of the day was Cuban fun all over again.
The Lord calls us out of our comforts. We like safety as well as safety nets, but I don’t feel that’s true discipleship. How can you grow in faith if you are not willing to hand something over to God?
And how do you learn trust, if you don’t leap first?
Faith grows in action, by setting one foot forward and saying, “I will go where you go…”
“Follow me” Jesus said, and he meant it.