I wondered if Yordan Manduley would really show up at the park this morning, but he did! We chatted about his career and I translated to simpler Spanish for my students. He is 31 and has been playing baseball since he was 12. He attended special middle and high schools for athletes and then a university that allowed him to play on the provincial team during the baseball season. He has played on the Cuban national team for half a dozen years as short stop. Yordan is definitely the most famous athlete on this side of Cuba.
Spanish II and III students made books about a childhood experience to give to Cuban children. One student made a beautiful hardbound book about his trip to the Grand Canyon which I planned to save as a special gift. I added it to a stack of gifts for Yordan, including a Spanish Bible, an audio New Testament and a couple really cool interactive gospel tracts. When we found out that Yordan has a nine-year-old son, we also gave him the book Josué and I made for VBS. We spent about an hour with him and invited him to come to the evangelistic meetings. He said he was busy tonight, but would come to the sports arena tomorrow night if he could.
In the afternoon we went to a home for abandoned and abused children. The dozen children who live there were excited to see my clown act. My students and I led them in some silly songs and I did my magic storytelling. I had asked David if I could tell evangelistic stories and he said to use whatever I had with me: “they are not going to throw us out.” After the show, we gave them some gifts, including the books written by my Spanish students. The kids began excitedly reading their books right away. I made a video of one boy reading his book; although he is in 5th grade, he read haltingly and it reaffirmed the value of this project as literacy support. As we left, children shouted “venga pronto”—come back soon. I wish we could.
Then it was time to get ready for the last day of VBS. We thought we were at capacity yesterday, but tonight we squeezed 98 children into the room. As usual, my student and I got things started with songs and the magic trick pulled from Josué’s backpack. We returned to VBS after our skits, because we wanted to see the conclusion. Our craft for tonight was a “luminaria,” a traditional Columbian decoration of a light inside a paper bag with punched out decorations. We thought it would be cool for the parable of the wise and foolish girls with their lights. Well, it was too cool.
We had been told we could have up to 100 kids and we brought 100 electric tea lights to put in the bags. Yes, we ought to have brought an extra box of 25 lights, but with 98 kids, we should have had plenty. However, some lights were taken before we could give them to all of the kids and we ended up a couple short. With so many children in a small space, handing out the gift bags we had made and the snack boxes the VBS ladies had prepared for them was also a bit chaotic, so we never did get to see the line of luminarias in the night that we had envisioned.
Mariela and I reflected on this experience. It is very easy for us to say, “How selfish to take something that was for the kids!” and of course, we were disappointed in the behavior we saw. However, perhaps there are some temptations that we, with our ability to find most anything we want at a store or online, cannot fully appreciate. We brought something that they had never seen nor had any hope of finding anywhere else. It highlighted for me the discomfort I feel about interactions between rich and poor Christians. We want to share our material goods, but it can be difficult to do it in a healthy way. Carlos gave me a set of hotpads and a kitchen towel and said, “These are homemade and I know they aren´t as good as what you can get there.” Of course I assured him they were wonderful, but it broke my heart a little bit that he felt a gift made with love was somehow inferior to one made by a machine.
As I write this, I realize how appropriate tonight´s skit “The story of two brides” is to the problem of materialism. One bride is focused only on external benefits, while the other is in love with the groom and gets it right: it is all about the relationship we have with Jesus and seeing and emulating the beauty of His character. I am glad that most of our interactions this week have not revolved around material things, but on mutual sharing of our relationship with God. On that scale, my Cuban brothers and sisters are rich indeed.