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April 2019 Visit to Puerto Padre
Felice Lopez and Chris Miller (Framingham, MA, Friends Meeting) and Carolyn Stone, Luci Arico-Muendel, and Marybeth Toomey (Wellesley, MA, Friends Meeting, traveled together to Puerto Padre, Cuba, in April for the purpose of sharing community, worshiping, and working together. The focus of our work was to assist in the rebuilding of the old Wilmington School building, which was returned by government officials to Puerto Padre Friends Meeting. Because of aging and lack of upkeep and maintenance, and helped along by a severe hurricane, it was in crumbling condition and threatened the integrity of the adjacent Friends Church.
Our intergenerational group with lots of support from our two meetings, sponsored a fundraiser and collected construction and other materials to be carried to Cuba in our suitcases. We began by meeting together to plan, pray, and become more familiar with one another. In my experience, there is nothing quite as bonding for a group as traveling and working together to a place and culture like ours in some ways, but very different in many more ways. Of the countless experiences the five of us had that felt deeply enriching, transformative, and sacred, the creating and forming of us as a group was foundational. To be intensely in community with four others for a short 7 days and emerge as lifelong, connected (F)friends felt like a gift of the Spirit. Probably most important was our group’s daily time together in worship and reflection, grounding our work in spirit.
Likewise, we all bonded in different ways with our Cuban Friends. The Cubans have a boundless gift of hospitality and took great care of all our everyday needs. They made sure that we participated in all of their worship services, some in the church, at a private home, at mealtimes, at a wedding blessing. Some of us participated in the First Day School, bringing a much-loved tie-dye project to the children (and some adults, too!). Two of us were asked to facilitate the Sunday adult worship service, a challenging but miraculous assignment, especially in an unfamiliar language! Luci, our only young adult Friend on the trip, spent quality time building positive relationships with the children and other young adults. They prepared us well for the work we would do each day, painting and repairing some of the school rooms. We were especially blessed by the presence of Chris Miller, who brought a lifetime of construction experience (along with many tools) to support the project.
We worked hard each day, but the Cuban Friends made sure we also had rest time, and guided us around the townm stopping at a Cuban sweet shop, learning town history, visiting the Malecon; and took us with members of the church community on a trip to the beach. Our experiences were many and varied but we also engaged with them in discussions of our Quaker beliefs and the ways that we benefit from our relationship despite the distances, the social and financial differences, and the political imperatives we all live with.
It was clear that the relationship between Cuban Friends and our Yearly Meeting is a precious and life-affirming but also crucial and time-sensitive. The Cuban Friends are very smart, skilled in building and strategic planning. They have ideas, dreams, and concrete plans for the community use of this building. Our physical and spiritual presence is nurturing in both ways, but we have material resources to offer that are indispensable and vital to the Cuban Friends community.