The year was 1960. It was a time of great optimism and hope across North America. In Canada, new Christian Reformed churches were springing up like May tulips. In the United States, the CRC was growing exponentially.
The economies of both countries were accelerating at breakneck speeds. As the fins of Detroit’s behemoths grew upward and outward, so also grew the hopes, dreams, and excitement for the future. The race to explore the new frontier of outer space was well underway, and a young, energetic, charismatic president proclaimed the U.S. would have a man on the moon within the decade.
But just 90 miles off the coast of southern Florida, change of a more menacing kind was taking shape. Communism had arrived on the southern edge of North America, and the threat of nuclear attack was a new reality. The small island nation of Cuba was being transformed by a bearded rebel, and people were fleeing by the thousands.
While most of the refugees settled in metropolitan Miami, many moved north into places with cold winters and springtime blossoms. Sponsored and supported by Christian Reformed churches, many Cubans moved into unfamiliar communities where culture, climate, and language were strange and daunting.
As they arrived they were welcomed by people who themselves had been transported from “the old country” and knew all too well the challenges and opportunities of a new life in a new land. Immigrants, strangers in the land, embraced other immigrants. And while not everyone in North America received refugees with open arms, thousands stepped forward to make a real difference in their lives.
I know because I was there. As a wide-eyed 10-year-old I encountered, for the first time in my young life, a new world. Into my very white, very suburban, very Dutch world came these “strangers.” They spoke a language I didn’t understand, they did things in unfamiliar ways, and they didn’t look “like us.” Yet I soon discovered that they, too, were children of God. They worshiped “my” God, believed in “my” Jesus, and were filled with the same Holy Spirit who lived in my heart.
It was my first real encounter with a new world. It was not, thankfully, my last. Today I find myself engaging brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world. I have discovered that, while the power of Babel still separates us and political ideologies cause us to salute different flags, one reality remains: we all have been adopted by God and, in unity, we call Jesus our brother.
It is good for me to reflect back to 1960. It is good to remember that God used a difficult political reality in a place I had never visited to shape and mold a young boy into a man called to engage people across the world as well as across the street.
It is also good to recognize that God is faithful and present in all circumstances. In the midst of a communist revolution, God continued to build his church. God’s Spirit continued to transform lives. In spite of efforts to purge Cuba of God and the church, God worked in the lives of faithful followers and today the Christian Reformed Church is alive and well in Cuba. While it has struggled under circumstances that few of us can imagine, the CRC in Cuba has remained faithful to God’s call to be his witness in the world.
Join me in celebrating God’s goodness and grace in the lives of these brothers and sisters.