Ever since my Nana passed away and my Papa began losing his memory, I look back and grieve all the wasted opportunities I had to learn more about their lives. They had been missionaries in Cuba until Fidel Castro came to power—just three months after my mother was born. Growing up, there were so many moments during our family reunions when the adults stayed seated around the table after dinner, drinking their cafe con leche, and if I could go back in time, I would sit down and ask them a thousand questions:
What was it like to work in a Cuban orphanage? What obstacles did you face? Was it difficult to leave behind your friends, your family, your home and everything you knew? If I could go back, I would think like a reporter, an investigator—or an author writing a biography of their lives. But I was just a child then, unconcerned with the greater meaning behind these two figures.
As an adult, however, I began to explore the impact Cuban culture had on our family—and soon felt a deep longing to visit. Last year, I fairly wept with excitement when I found out I would be traveling to Cuba with a team from In Touch. I craved to personally encounter the nation that began weaving the multi-cultural fabric and missional direction of our entire extended family.
When I got back home, I googled where to buy authentic Cuban bread in my city. I rummaged for my stove-top espresso pot to make Cuban-style cafe con leche. I asked my aunt (who returned to Havana as a missionary) to bring me back a genuine tostonera, the wooden tool used to smash the plantains before frying them. And this Christmas Eve, I plan to stand side-by-side with my mom and my aunts, watching and learning every single step and ingredient of the traditional Cuban Noche Buena meal.
Below is an excerpt from an article I wrote as a sort of tribute to my grandparents, whose faith in God and desire to serve His Kingdom left a missional legacy which has carried down through two generations in my close-knit family.
The Biggest Family Reunion
“When I was a child, the earth always felt smaller because my family seemed to occupy so much of it. During one reunion, I remember my aunt Judy giving me a postcard from Ecuador with a little, wide-eyed Quechuan girl staring out at me through the photo. “She’s just about your age,” my aunt said. I kept staring at the girl’s round tan face, wondering where she might be and what she might be doing right now. To this day, whenever I watch international news reports, the people look strangely familiar. Just like that wool-wrapped, pink-cheeked figure on my postcard, they feel more like potential friends than faraway foreigners.
Growing up in a missionary family has shown me that allegiance to a particular nation is not nearly so important as belonging to God. Like most of us, Jesus grew up in a family bound by blood and location. But when He began His ministry, Jesus formed a new kind of family—one that would be on mission together unto the ends of the earth. And then He commissioned His new brothers and sisters to risk everything, including the approval of their earthly kin, to invite neighbors and nations into a spiritual kinship with Him. “Whoever does the will of My Father who is in Heaven,” He proclaimed, “He is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:50).
I always imagine heaven to be somewhat like our family reunions: When people first walk in, they might not be able to guess where they are—except that it feels like home and the sea of faces are those of family. But instead of a few different countries represented, there will be a multitude of cultures and colors. It will be a family reunion of unimaginable proportions as we meet brothers and sisters from around the world for the very first time. Together we will sit down at the Lord’s Table and feast in joyful celebration, along with every tribe and tongue. And I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to the food.” (excerpt from the article linked below)