Sharon McKenzie has been on a number of missionary trips to Cuba but her last one was special. Her 14-year-old daughter, Alex McKenzie accompanied her.
Here are some thoughts and impressions the mother-daughter tandem brought home with them.
From Alex McKenzie
Mother-daughter team Sharon and Alex McKenzie
QUESTION: Did the trip meet your expectations?
ANSWER: Yes, for the most part the trip had met my expectations because my mom has been to Cuba many times before so I had a little bit of an upper hand on what to expect there.
But at the same time, actually going there and experiencing what my mother had told me about for so many years still surprised me. For example, she warned me many times how cold the showers were there, but I didn't really think much about it until I actually stepped into one.
Sharon and Alex McKenzie
Mother-daughter team Sharon and Alex McKenzie give multigenerational insights from their missionary trip to Cuba for the Boca Grande United Methodist Church in this week's dual Look Who's Talking.
Q: What is your top takeaway from the trip?
A: The thing that stuck most with me about Cuba was how materialistic we can be in America. It was really eye-opening how little they have over there, yet how resourceful they are with what they have.
Q: What surprised you most?
A: I would probably have to say what surprised me the most was the amount of poverty there and despite that, how passionate and friendly the people are. Going there I expected to see poverty, but actually experiencing it was completely different. What caught me completely off-guard was how nice they were to us there and how passionate they were during worship.
Q: Would you return?
A: Yes, I would love to return. I am so grateful that the Boca Grande United Methodist Women chose to send me.
Q: How well did you fulfill your church mission in your mind?
A: I believe we fulfilled our mission to create relationships with Cuban youth, reinforce relationships with our sister churches, and to bring in much-needed medical supplies. I feel we did that as we visited our sister churches and gave them medicine, and conversed (as best we could) with the youth at Camp Canaan and the other churches.
From Sharon McKenzie
Q: Why did you and your daughter go on this Boca Grande United Methodist Church-sponsored mission?
A: We went on this trip for a couple of reasons. One is there were youth camps being set up, which is a great opportunity for relationship building for the youth to share worship and get to know each other. The second reason is going to four sister churches bringing supplies, medical equipment and to find out how we could support them.
Q: Why did you want Alex to go on what could have been hazardous mission in case something went sideways?
A: For me personally, wanting my daughter to go, I think it is important for youth in the United States to go to a Third World country, to not just appreciate what they have here, but to understand that we're all flesh and blood with feelings and families. We share struggles but we don't have it on as large a scale in this country.
Q: As a veteran traveler to Cuba, did you see anything new on this trip that surprised you?
A: They've added a lot of buildings. The roads are worse. Rations are worse. They're receiving fewer rations.
Q: How do the Cuban people bear up to such shortages?
A: The people though are still the same. They still are very spiritual. God is very much a priority in their lives. They're happy-go-lucky, always smiling and joking around. They don't let the oppression and the struggles in their daily life get them down. They just don't. That's maybe a lesson for us all to learn.
Q: The government has always been uneasy with devout Cuban religious faith. How is the government competing for the faithful?
A: On Sundays, the government has come up with this grand new program that is really colorful and geared toward kids to try to get them away from the church on Sunday. The people of Cuba are religious. The government is not. There's always this constant power struggle between the government and the Cuban churches.
Q: How is church leadership dealing with this challenge?
A: Here's what they think: We just have to make our programs more attractive. They do. They use clowns a lot and dramas and things to make kids active in the church.
Q: What's the difference between a tourist area and a non-tourist area in Havana, the seat of Cuba's government?
A: The tourist area is restored and beautiful and the non-tourist areas are crumbling horribly. Yet it looks as if there is a lot of restoration going on. There are a lot of signs and bars up not allowing you to go into buildings so it looks as if they are trying to restore things.
Q: Are you a bit skeptical of the apparent construction boom?
A: The only reason I question whether the construction is really just propaganda from the government is I didn't see any workers there. There was only one site where I actually saw workers. You never know. There is a lot of propaganda over there.
Q: Why should somebody go on one of these missions?
A: It's really important for people to become immersed in Third World countries to understand their struggles and understand they are human beings just like we are and they are just trying to take care of their families and survive. We should open our hearts and minds to find ways to help people - even in our own country.
Q: How can people help support the BGUMC Cuba mission?
A: To support the Boca Grande United Methodist Church Cuba mission send a check to the Boca Grande United Methodist Church and mark on the memo line: Cuba Mission.