By Matthew Golic
Tell a fellow American you just returned from a week in Havana, Cuba and you will field some variation of the inevitable question about the cars. The beautiful, and by American estimation, priceless symbol of everything pre 1959. And you will answer, yes, the cars are real and they are amazing. They are in abundance and they are on parade, every day, proudly serving out their life terms as taxis. Although they represent decades of some of the most functionally brilliant industrial art to ever roll off an American assembly line, the pride of Detroit in its bygone glory, they have become synonymous with Cuba.
These Chevys, Fords, Mercuries, and Pontiacs are now as Cuban as the men who drive them. They are valued as national treasures and the thought, voiced by every non Cuban to visit the island, is to see them, touch them, ride in them, before this era has passed and they are gone. For as talented, and resourceful as the legendary Cuban mechanics are, they cannot keep this steel and chrome rolling forever.
There is of course so much more to Cuba, and Havana, than the cars, or the architecture, a living fresco of centuries of external influence from countless cultures, each holding sway over the island and its people in respective turn. The buildings themselves are a colorful if faded patchwork of pastel Lego blocks, paneled across the green hills of Havana. The streets are alive with the sounds of the American masterpieces, ingeniously retrofitted to be driven by Soviet era diesel technology, sharing the roads with Russian Ladas and homemade rickshaws. This could be Saigon, Paris, Rome or even Miami of a different time. This is Havana.
The people of Cuba are a beautiful, strong, and dignified medley of centuries of cultural and racial blending. From the light skinned Spanish Europeans to the children of the African slaves and everything in between. All are now the roughly twelve million souls who comprise the citizenry of this island nation. Cubans possess a resilience of spirit, grace, and joy reflected in their easy, genuine smiles and their easier manner, which not only rivals but surpasses their beloved cars.
It is into this Caribbean world that Hope for Orphans (HFO) has launched its latest campaign. To encourage, assist, and equip the local Body of Christ in their effort to further the Kingdom of Heaven by seeking out and caring for orphans. In this, their third trip to Cuba, HFO has moved closer in assisting the local network of churches to develop their own orphan ministries in Cuba. As seemingly priceless as the cars may be, the real treasure in Cuba, are the children. They are the next generation which carries the burden of a future as yet unwritten. Counted among these children are those held most lovely in the eyes of the Lord, the fatherless, who have a Father in Heaven and He has set before them a different path.
In its global ministry, HFO teams have encountered thousands of orphans around the world, in vastly different living conditions. In Havana, HFO was pleased to visit and spend time with some wonderful children being cared for by loving and diligent staff who were receptive to HFO, warmly opening their home like facilities to share a few hours with the Americans from Texas.
With each facility we visited, the initial steps were the same. Led inside by our local pastoral contacts, guides, and brothers in Christ, we piled into small living rooms. Huddled into a circle, twenty faces locked on the administrator in expectant synchronicity. Hola, followed by a chorus of parroted greeting. Then the eager prod to the translator, our faithful and tireless brother, the aptly named Abel. What followed was our turn to ask the inevitable question. The only question. “Where are the kids?” Yes, the kids. Then by ones and twos, the braver children would peek around a corner, once spotted, and beckoned, to step forward. To be followed by the rush of a dozen or more of Cuba’s future. Nothing breaks the ice or the language barrier like a duffel bag or two of toys, shoes, games, finger nail polish, Yankees baseball caps, and a camera.
What ensued was a few hours of fun and games and general horsing around while a group of middle age men, one woman, and a handful of teenagers forgot every temporal care in their lives back home in favor of these previously unknown children. Such children are only unknown to outsiders but not to their Father in Heaven or to those providentially appointed to safeguard their welfare. It is the intent and prayer of HFO, that these children will now be known to the body of Christ in Cuba. While the children and their American counterparts, momentarily young at heart, played and ministered to one another, HFO leadership was quietly and unobtrusively working to lay the foundation for a relationship. Not just between HFO and the administrators and care givers, but between these Cuban workers and the Cuban church.
Matthew Golic has been a part of Hope for Orphans from its beginning. He recently traveled to Havana with HFO. He also happens to be the father of 7 of Paul & Robin Pennington’s grandchildren.