trisha-story1.jpg“The Church has always been the bridge that can go over any wall that governments try to build.”
–Reinerio Arce-Valentín

Even to this day I cannot tell you the reason why I went to Cuba, other than for the travel experience. I remember talking to my advisor about the opportunity and then saying yes. I went to the meetings and when January came around, I still had a fuzzy idea of what to expect. This trip was nothing that I expected, but everything that I needed.

Our time in Cuba was split between lectures and time exploring and learning about the history of Cuba. It was INCREDIBLE—the people, the food, and the scenery. Part of the seminar was spent in churches and other religious centers, and these are the experiences that stood out for me. We had the opportunity to sit with people and hear their story, and to hear what they wanted for the future of the Church. 

trisha-story4.jpgSince I have come to Candler, my ideas about the church and about our mission have been challenged as well as expanded. Listening to the stories that were being shared showed a side of the church’s mission that I have been reflecting on at Neighborhood Church, my Con Ed II site. Issues that are pervasive in the institution of the larger church, such as racism and gentrification, church politics, and how to interact well with our surrounding community. 

One of these stories was from Raúl Suárez, a retired president of the Cuban World Council of Churches. When he shared what he wanted to see for reconciliation, he gave us the advice, “We must be close to people; that is what changes people.” This is the way to be a bridge: to not just talk about history or issues at a distance, but to get close up and listen.

trisha-story3.jpgThe history of Cuba is complicated. The United States’ history is complicated. Histories are complex, and the people who carry them have a hard job. We all have them. However, through this journey I was able to get close and to listen, even though I could not fully understand. Cuba extended a hand of friendship to me even through political tension. I began to see the bridge that can transcend. We are all human and all full of the image of the divine with a story to tell.

Coming back from Cuba and being back at Neighborhood Church, I have been working to engage hard issues about human dignity and privilege up close with my congregation while learning to be a bridge. Even as I finish up this year at Candler and look to head to the University of Göttingen in Germany next year, I am learning to listen, leaving my preconceived ideas behind, and seeing the value in all people fully as they are.

Being in Cuba was a once in a lifetime experience that I will not forget. I am thankful for the people, new friends, stories, and memories it brought into my life. I am glad I said yes!

Photos by Trisha Cousino and third-year MDiv student Billy DuBose