People make assumptions based on information and/or observations. From a young age we are encouraged to check our assumptions with more information and more observations. This is one reason the scientific method is taught in elementary school.
I had assumptions about Cuba before I went there in April. While actually in Cuba, I discovered most of my assumptions were partially or completely incorrect. For instance, I assumed people in Cuba were not permitted to travel to the United States: incorrect. I assumed people in Cuba were not free to talk about their faith: incorrect. I assumed no goods from the United States are available in Cuba: incorrect. Did you know that all the chicken that Cubans eat comes from the United States thanks to Koch industries and Tyson?
Since returning home, I have noticed that the assumptions people in the US hold about Cuba are also mostly incorrect. What is both interesting and disturbing to me is that even when I report my experience, the assumptions stay securely in place. Judgment takes precedent over curiosity.
There was so much I learned not only about Cuba, but about people and the capacity of people of faith to persevere and serve. It was during an afternoon conversation with Pastor Joel of the Varadero Presbyterian Church that I received some of the most valuable learning. He sat down with Jenna Lindsay and me to talk about the worship service the next day. Jenna was going to translate for me as I preached. I was more interested in knowing about the congregation. I put aside my assumptions and allowed myself to be curious; I began asking questions.
Pastor Joel told us the story of the congregation and its witness. He told the story of Rita Rodrieguez who kept the church open by being the only member of the congregation for a number of years. He told us about Dora Valentin, the pastor’s wife for whom the congregation is named. No church in Cuba has ever been named for a woman and Jenna and I learned about this woman’s witness not only in the church, but in Cuban society. She was a leader in women’s rights in the country and a leader in the national women’s organization. Her husband, the former pastor, is 95 and was in church the Sunday our delegation was there: the same pastor who preached to the church of one.
Before we got to our first work site, our leader David Roger admonished us about assumptions. He told us of one of our hosts, Bienvenidos who makes a living by fixing small electronics in a small breezeway between his house and the neighbor’s house. He is a veterinarian, but since the poultry industry was closed by the government, he no longer has work as a veterinarian. Bienvenidos and his wife Lourdes, opened their home to us. Lourdes cooked for us. Bienvenidos worked along side us at their church. In case you don’t already know, Bienvenidos means welcome.
I thought how I might have viewed these people if I didn’t know ahead of time that they were highly educated. My assumptions would have been based upon the poor town in which they lived, the dirt streets, the tired looking building of a house that was clean and well cared for on the inside. There were many signals that would have led me to make assumptions based on observation, but observations made through my own sense of culture and society. Without the information David Roger provided, most of my assumptions would have been erroneous.
Jesus invites us to love first. Our human tendency is to make assumptions first partly because that’s just how our brains work; we sort things in the world around us, including people. Jesus invites us to sort like God’s sorts which means there is only one category of people: people to be loved. When we learn to begin in the way Jesus invites us to begin, we are more likely to bring a sense of curiosity. When we allow curiosity to lead us, we discover and we uncover the real stories of people’s lived reality.