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Emerging Voices | What Women Pastors Taught Me During My Visit to Cuba

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I want you to put yourself in my shoes for a moment.

You just turned 25 a month ago. You have blonde highlights that you like to say are “natural in the summer.”

You are in your third year at Central Seminary in the Women’s Leadership Initiative. You are the youngest of that group.

You don’t think your high school history class ever got past World War I, but honestly you were passing notes during most of those classes so they might have.

Oh … and you’re going to Cuba.

Recently, this was me. I was presented with the amazing opportunity to travel to Cuba for a cross-cultural seminary class to meet with Cuban female pastors (or “pastoras”) and leaders in the Fraternity of Baptist Churches in Cuba.

When I found out that I would be traveling to Cuba, I was nervous. Not because I was afraid of traveling out of the country, but because I knew nothing about Cuba.

Fidel Castro. The Bay of Pigs. Embargo. Island. 1959 Revolution. Or was it 1958?

Now, step back into my summer travel sandals once again. That’s pretty much all you know about Cuba before the trip.

Even with all the required and recommend preparation materials for the trip, you are still not sure you are ready for such a different country. Especially one you know so little about.

Regardless of those concerns, you hop on a plane with your classmates and fly to Havana. A short flight takes you to a completely different world.

The disorientation kicks in immediately. It is a disorientation for which no amount of reading or documentary watching could prepare you.

The first thing you notice in Cuba is the heat. No air conditioners and that island heat are a combination that will have you hoping you applied deodorant before your 6 a.m. flight.

The cars are the second thing you notice. Although this is one of the things many people know about Cuba, nothing can really capture the feeling of seeing your first 1960 Ford Angelia driving down a Havana Street.

After the cars, you notice the architecture and billboards. Beautiful stone buildings, next to art deco buildings, next to buildings worn down by the tropical sun, rain and years of neglect.

As you pass these buildings you see billboards – not advertising for Havana’s best soda, but reminding locals of the triumph of the Revolution.

It is unlike anything you have ever seen in North America.

The disorientation builds as you check into your hotel, desperately trying to recall high school Spanish as you hear your room number assignment.

You begin to wonder how you will ever get along in such a place. A place where you feel like you know nothing.

But then you meet the pastoras.

You are embraced with hugs, with gifts; you share in song and worship. You make connections and hear their stories. You are loved. You are welcomed. You learn from these strong women of God.

You learn that you are called North American, not American here. You receive comments on your blonde hair that you thought wasn’t that noticeable. You learn about perseverance, faith and hope in ways you never could have imagined.

You are asked about the poor, the hungry, the lost in America and why the people are doing nothing about it, especially when they have the freedom to.

Being disoriented can be good every once in a while. It is exciting to meet new people and to learn new customs.

It’s refreshing to break out of your comfort zone and trust yourself and your friends to get you where you need to go.

But it is more important, more disorienting and more stirring to hear about your country from another perspective.

We all know these are difficult times for America right now, but isn’t there something still deep within you that wants to believe it is the best country? There was in me.

But after my time as a disoriented North American in Cuba, I am beginning to see things from a different perspective.

We have the ability to love radically and to care for others in the ways my new pastora friends loved and cared for me, the ways they embrace and care for their faith communities.

As Christians with the calling to do the same, and as North Americans with the resources and freedom to do so, why aren’t we doing better than we are?

Cuba left me with a desire to love like the pastoras, to use my opportunities to create change and to share of my resources with those who need them most.

I hope in your short walk in my shoes through this Cuba journey, you might also feel challenged to do the same.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series focused on engaging emerging faith leaders. Learn more about EthicsDaily.com’s “Emerging Voices” and “U:21” series here.

Elizabeth-Anne Nordgren Lovell

Elizabeth-Anne Lovell is a third-year MDiv student at Central Seminary in the Women’s Leadership Initiative. She lives in Lebanon, Tennessee and serves as Associate Pastor of Generations of Grace Church.