A Letter from David Cortes and Josey Saez, serving in Cuba
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“Be sure to welcome strangers into your home. By doing this, some people have welcomed angels as guests, without even knowing it.” Hebrews 13:1
Our summer began with the June 13 graduation at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas, Cuba (Seminario Evangélico de Teología). It was a day filled with much excitement and emotions for us and, of course, for the students. As with many other graduations at the seminary, the Resurrection Chapel was filled to capacity, making it even more hot and sticky. Nevertheless, none of that mattered, because we were all there to celebrate the accomplishments of each and every one of this graduating class. We celebrated especially the accomplishments of a handful of students we walked with during their seminary career in our three years here. What a blessing to have seen these hard-working, faithful and faith-filled students come to this day!
Recalling time spent in the classroom, at their gatherings, at their homes, and at their ministry sites, and time spent sharing meals in the seminary cafeteria and around campus, what most comes to mind is hospitality. These students were once also strangers leaving behind their professions, families and homes as we did. We have shared this common ground of being strangers. Yet, as Scripture exhorts us to do in Hebrews 13:1, we extended hospitality to each other. Most certainly, we have welcomed angels into our home and lives. Throughout these three years at the seminary, we have given and received countless moments of hospitality. These moments of sharing holidays or just impromptu gatherings at our home or even at their tiny living quarters have been acts of hospitality always filled with joy. Moments of hospitality that have carried us through joyous and, in some instances, not so joyous times. Hospitality extended in spite of our differences. For sure we have received angels in our midst during our time at the seminary in Cuba.
As these graduates came to the completion of their theological studies, it was time to re-enter the “real world.” We have been thinking much about what it means to venture out into the unknown and become “strangers” once again. Stepping into being “strangers” and waiting for hospitality to be extended is daunting. Many of us have read Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. In this book, Dr. Seuss introduces a character illustrating the life journey and its challenges, especially how to overcome the challenge of “the waiting place,” where everyone is always waiting for something to happen. The book gives a sense of optimism and reassurance that life will go your way if you just give it your all. Going out into the unknown is scary, and it is not for the faint of heart. Yes, this book has been given to many a graduate through the years to offer assurance that their entry into a new life will be met with only a few hiccups that they most certainly will overcome because they are strong within themselves.
Another book by Dr. Seuss, I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew, tells the tale of an odyssey, a quest that is more real and closer to what we all face. The character in this book experiences many troubles in his life. The character sets out for the city of Solla Sollew, a place “where they never have troubles, at least very few.” The story shows that we must face our problems instead of running away from them. Equipped with his “big bat” with which he meets his difficulties head-on, the character determines that “now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!” This book embraces struggle. As one of the early stanzas warns: “I learned there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind.” Troubles are inescapable. Our response to these struggles shape the people we will become. At the end, Dr. Seuss inspires courage by saying: “You’ve just got to get to Solla Sollew, by the beautiful banks of the river Wah-Hoo, where they never have troubles — at least, very few.…” As “people on the way,” we have never been promised a utopic Christian life. As the early Christian communities struggled, together at the table they were reminded over and over again that extending hospitality was a sign of being united with each other in Christ.
More than a romantic notion, we have experienced the Cuban church as a people of faith who walk in hope and have embraced the daily struggle “to keep on keeping on” because of God’s grace. This grace is modeled by the steadfastness of partnerships and hospitality that have lasted, in some cases, for decades, and others that are yet in their infancy. These partnerships create connections that lead to welcoming hospitality. Although it has been and continues to be difficult for our brothers and sisters in the US to reciprocate by welcoming many Cuban brothers and sisters, because of the US embargo and other policies that make it difficult to obtain US visas, there are always gestures of welcoming hospitality from US partners. This hospitality is one of friendship, prayer, understanding, and standing alongside Cubans in their struggle, as well as in their resilient hope that one day in the near future our Cuban brothers and sisters will be able to experience their US partners’ hospitality in its fullest expression.
A word of gratitude to our US Presbyterian brothers and sisters who made our mission interpretation itineration during the summer so welcoming and hospitable, each of you angels who openly welcomed us into your congregations and homes. Not wanting to fail to mention any of our hosts, we will give a shout-out of thanksgiving to the saints from Florida, North Carolina, New Mexico and Southern California. Gracias for the good eats, soft beds, and interesting conversations, and for sharing what God is doing among you and among us in our little corner of God’s world.
Upon our return to Matanzas, Cuba, our home away from home, we were received by Marie and Gilbert Caballero, our closest friends at the seminary, with our apartment cleaned and air conditioners running. In addition, we were treated to a warm bite to eat by Sahily Núñez (a Pentecostal pastor and seminary student) and her family. As we conclude our summer and commence this new semester, we know that we will have many other opportunities to offer and receive hospitality as we walk alongside our brothers and sisters. We know that these angels of good news will continue to be welcomed in the churches, communities, the seminary, and in the lives of countless Christians in Cuba. As we offer our gift of teaching students, we learn along with them about hospitality, resiliency, and the hope that we will all, together, celebrate the joyful welcoming of the kingdom of God in our lives.
As we accompany our brothers and sisters in Cuba, we are thankful for the many who pray for us, welcome us into their homes and churches, and support our ministry with their generosity. Our presence in Cuba, at the seminary and with the Reformed-Presbyterian Church in Cuba is an expression of solidarity with their faith, their struggle and their hope. The ministries of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas, and the Reformed-Presbyterian Church in Cuba seek to work together in a partnership of mutual recognition of the variety of gifts, the presence of Christ in and with the Church in Cuba, and the continual sharing of the Good News with all. We thank you all for your prayers and support. And we look forward to opportunities to continue witnessing and serving with the faithful Christians in Cuba.
Josey and David
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