It is the Friday before Holy Week. I am traveling with my good friend Rigoberto Reyes, to the eastern end of Cuba this day.
We were on the road at 4:00am, bouncing along in a rickety automobile, to arrive for a full day of teaching and encouraging pastors. It seemed unreasonably early to me, especially since we had been preaching until midnight the night before. When I learned, however, that some of the pastors had been traveling for two days to meet with us – I quickly understood that my inconvenience was terribly small.
We wind our way through an enormous neighborhood of tiny houses, along narrow streets of dirt to get to the church. There are no automobiles in sight, and only the wealthiest ride by on bicycles. We had looked all along the way for somewhere to have breakfast, but without success. It’s not just that there are no restaurants – it’s that the people in this region are not accustomed to eating in the morning. There is not enough food to make it through the rest of the day as it is.
We arrive to an open structure squeezed by houses on both sides. This is where Christo Rompe las Cadenas gathers and worships – a rough floor with six pillars holding up a roof of tarpaper and wood. Plain wooden benches line both sides, and a small pulpit stands in the front. Proudly hanging over the platform is their vision statement: “To Reach Three Million in Cuba and the Nations.”
Some have already been patiently waiting on these benches already for some time, but they will have to wait a while longer. We are quickly ushered back to the living quarters for the pastor and his family of seven. It is a tiny box with sheets hanging down the middle to keep the two beds separated from the kitchen table and stove. To me it feels more like a shed, with gaps in the uneven board to the outside, but I know these precious saints call it home.
I feel a sense of embarrassment to have intruded into this private space, but their faces make it clear that they are immeasurably proud to have us there. They are all smartly dressed and groomed. “We have pastored in this city for years, but this is the first time that anyone has ever traveled to visit us.”
Someone whispers that we have been looking for breakfast. Two of the women slip out undetected to a nearby house where they barter for a handful of eggs. Before we realize what has happened, plates are on the table with small portions scrambled along with two pieces of bread and tiny cups of coffee. I feel ashamed to be eating this food as they stand close by. I understand that this extravagance will cost them two meals of their own, but I also know that to refuse would be a tremendous dishonor. With a grateful smile, and tears in my eyes, I eat this feast.
As we return to the growing crowd, I notice the festive decorations. A faded Cuban flag has been hung along with bright-colored sheets. All along the fence, the pillars, and beams Palm Branches have been tied and are now rippling in the wind. I point these out to the Pastor, and remark that they are all ready for Palm Sunday in just two more days. He looks back confused. “These decorations are not for Sunday. These are for today.” To decorate with freshly cut Palm Branches is a sign of great honor, reserved only to welcome in their most honored guests on the most special occasions.
This is the first time that they have ever been honored with visitors, you see, and they have lined our entrance with Palm Branches.
We do not deserve any such honor, of course. If honor is due, it is quite the reverse! These humble pastors serve tirelessly in the work of the Gospel, under persecution, in severe poverty, and with a passion that makes me feel incredibly insignificant. I look down the long, dirt road and I can see more men and women still walking to join us. I wish that I could somehow celebrate their arrival with Palm Branches. On this day, however, it is my place to receive and not to give this amazing honor.
But my day will come…
In fact, this precise thing is a part of my eternal destiny…
To blend in with that great multitude that no one can number, gathered around the throne from every tribe, people and tongue – Cubans, Nicaraguans, Cambodians, Kenyans, and North Americans included – “Clothed with white robes, and PALM BRANCHES in their hands, crying out with a loud voice saying: Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10)
Our God has VISITED the nations with salvation – and when we finally see Him face to face, we will express the unspeakable honor with Palm Branches.
Vice President of Personnel