It was 3:05am on the guest room clock when I last looked. I don’t know why I am not asleep, my body is in the same time-zone as Cuba. But nothing is in the same time, NOR zone as Cuba, really.
I know this. I’ve been coming here for 24 years now, but this time it is different. I’m here for the first time as me. Every other time I arrived as my father’s son. Not anymore. It’s obvious the people who knew my father, hundreds of Cubans, know that he’s in heaven now. They grieved like I did, they grieved as his children. Because they are.
Earlier today, I looked down, just happened to look, and saw the time on my wristwatch. 3:05. It’s ironic and mundane, really, that the two times today I looked at a clock read the same hour. Irony is a kind of magic, this slight of hand that feels divine, mysterious. Maybe that’s why the Cuban church here has thrived. Maybe that’s what my father knew like the back of his hand. God is nothing, if not mysterious. The same can be said of this remarkable country.
The church my parents planted looks a very little like the church today. So much has changed. Like a clock reading 3:05 at two hours of the day. One is buzzing with insects and frogs, traffic sounds and the smells of the midday ‘comida’ that’s just been consumed. The other is almost silent, cloaked in darkness with the occasional hum of tires and the broken manifold on a diesel engine that fades down the street outside the pastor’s house where the frogs have slowed to their night calls and waves of a thousand chirps. Two times that read the same numbers, but vastly different because of their surroundings.
The man who picked me up at the airport was baptized by the pastor that my father baptized.
Jorge’s hug is a brother’s hug. He and I share that in common as he reminds me that my father wanted Christ’s church to flourish and that’s why there are believers today. I know he’s right, my parents were never confused about who was doing the soul work here. Now there are thousands of believers in the churches and ministries that started in that small town gathering in 1953. Now there are missionaries to all but the two extremities of the island because the same God my father and mother worshipped is whispering His word to the Cubans today. The same words, “Go. Go into all the land. Tell them about Me!” Like a clock reading 3:05 in the middle of the night. Same message, but everything’s different if you stop and look around you.
That’s really why I’m still awake. Jorge. My mother and my father. You who have shared in the ministries of them all. You’ve found a way to connect your work and life there in the country where you live with the leaders and worshippers who will touch the lives of Cubans who press their way daily through the afternoon sun and humidity and difficulties of daily life here in Cuba. I’m awake because when I think of what it takes, and it takes a lot, to keep reaching people for Christ, I’m in awe. Who would have ever guessed that Cuba, of all places, would be such an active place for the Word of God?
Tomorrow is a huge day for the little church in the Las Villas district. It’s where there will be new professions of faith. New baptisms very much like Jorge’s, that reached beyond the drops of water that streamed off his face when he was 22 years old. Now Jorge’s entire family has been baptized and are doing their best to cling to their faith through good times and bad. Your donation, perhaps you didn’t know this… was in part what made it possible for Jorge to embrace his daughter as the river water mingled with her tears of joy not only as a child, but this year as she, like the Prodigal before her, returned home.
Irony, magic or whatever you want to call it, Jorge mused that we both turn 50 this year. There it is again, same time, but different hours. I’m supposed to speak tomorrow in the very church where my parents began their work together. I copied a page out of one of my father’s journals. His sermon notes for a baptism he’d done while here in Cuba. I can’t help but wonder if it was the day Jorge’s pastor was baptized, but it doesn’t really matter. Back then, there were people supporting Gospel Relief Missions just as there are today. Back then an American said a few words, just as it will happen tomorrow. But one thing never changes, God is here and just as the time will become 3:06 eventually, He can’t be stopped. We, all of us, can count on it.
Graciously distilled for John Northrup by Lou Douros
Lou Douros said:
John, thank you again for your kindness. It means a lot to me that anything I wrote would help you guys. I love this birth of a new kind of ministry through Gospel Relief Missions. I think the whole presence feels fresh and your personality really comes through. The picture of you in the pulpit is John at his best. I was just sitting here thinking of the way you speak Spanish all casual and easy and kindly. I’ve seen you do it a few times and it always makes me go, “why didn’t I study harder in Spanish class?” Like that would make it possible to speak all casual and easy and kindly.
John, this feels like a new direction for you! It feels really good. Missions and films/media. I like it.