Over her last Spring Break, Claire was able to travel back to Cuba to attend the “Bellas Retreat”. As they spent time getting to know one another in small groups and worshiping together, they had time to evaluate their own relationships with the Lord, growing closer to Him and closer to each other. At the end of the week, they voted 2 girls the “Princesses” of the week, seeing that they had exhibited the characteristics of a kind, inclusive, and spirit driven “bella”.
When Magbis and I met five summers ago, little did I know that the girl I was talking to would end up becoming one of my best friends. Thinking back on that first day of vacation bible school, I was nervous to be in a place where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know the culture. With everything that you hear about Cuba, the poverty and the rigid status of the government, I was definitely picturing the worst. However, after getting through the scary task of customs that first time, I knew I was ready to face what was ahead. Looking up at the stairs to the top of the church, everything around me was new; New plants, new smells, and a lot of new faces. Being hugged and kissed on every step of the stairs, I climbed to the top and saw a group of girls sitting together. By the way they were joking and laughing, I knew that this was a group of friends. I made eye contact with the girl who seemed to be the leader of this little group; I assumed this because she was the one cracking the jokes and was definitely the loudest out of the bunch, this was Magbis. She motioned for me to come sit with them. Following orders, I made my way over to their table and from the time I sat down was immediately brought into the group.
Following orders, I made my way over to their table and from the time I sat down was immediately brought into the group. Asking questions in a broken mixture of English, Spanish, and hand-signs, we had countless conversations for what seemed like hours, but was in reality about 30 minutes. After assuring them, as best I could without knowing their language, that I would be back later to talk to them, I went back to my family. Sure enough, as the week forged on we had more of these time suspending conversations, but as I tried to tell my family about my new friends they couldn’t understand. “How?”, they asked, “How can you have these long talks, about virtually everything, with these girls who you can’t even communicate with through speech?”. At the time, my answer was, “I don’t know, for some reason it just works”. But looking back on it, I know that we were connected on a level that transcended the barriers of a language.
We didn’t care that half of our words were being mistaken for another word that sounded very similar but had a completely different meaning. We didn’t care how goofy we looked with our made-up language of motions and hand-signs, we cared about each other. As time ran out, and that first week in Cuba came to a close, the hardest goodbye was Magbis. Not knowing if we would ever see one another, we clung tight to our last moments together, exchanged Facebooks, and said goodbye. After getting home, I saw that I had a message from her saying that she missed me. Fighting back tears, I typed a message into google translate, copied the Spanish translation, and sent it back. This began our relationship that still goes on today. She is one of my “people” and in life, you don’t get to choose who those “people” are, but you do get to choose how to spend your time. That is why, when I was given the opportunity to return to Cuba earlier this March for the Bellas retreat, I was ecstatic.
Being back in the company of my forever friends, my “bellas”, was the best feeling in the world. Seeing how much we all have grown in our love for the Lord and for each other, we had time to just be in each other’s company. Worshiping on the last night next to Magbis, I knew that my physical time in Cuba would be nearing an end, but my heart would stay 1,380 miles from home, in Cespedes. Now preparing for my sixth summer trip to Cuba, I cannot wait to return to my friends and have more conversations that suspend distance, language and time!