When Brokenness Exposes Light
How God brought hope to families in Havana after a devastating storm
“I would like you to listen to a song.”
This is what Pablo Thompson, a missionary in many countries including the United States, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Spain, said to me at my home in Florida. We were talking about the achievements, frustrations, dreams and challenges missionaries experience during time on (and off) the mission field.
Well into our talk, Pablo asked me to listen to a song called “Anthem,” composed by Leonard Cohen. As we listened to it, one phrase, in particular, stood out: “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Pablo and I saw the metaphor in our own lives.
People in the mission field, in our churches, in our communities have suffered and/or are suffering from one thing or another. These are cracks. Although they show our brokenness, these cracks are also openings through which light enters. God, the Light, wants to enter our world, where there are walls of suffering and evil. Even those walls have cracks. There is a crack in everything.
In this world of darkness, there are many obstacles that seem too difficult to overcome. In spite of them, we look for and find that brokenness, and, because our Lord Jesus is there in the light that breaks through, we follow Him.
Cracks in Havana
On Sunday, January 27, 2019, a tornado ripped through eastern part of Havana, Cuba. The storm killed four people, injured more than 200 others and battered the country’s capital city with powerful winds and heavy rains, wreaking havoc in its path.
Havana is a major port and leading commercial center of Cuba. It’s the largest city by area, the most populous and the fourth largest metropolitan area in the Caribbean region. A beautiful city, it boasts of some of the most diverse styles of architecture in the world, from castles built in the late 16th century to modern high buildings. That Sunday, though, many people lost their homes and belongings, leaving them nowhere to go. The tornado lasted for a short time, but it’s devastating effects continue.
In February, my wife, Alina, and I spent a few days in Havana. We are part of the ReachGlobal Cuba Consortium, which consists of several EFCA churches and others around the U.S., and seeks to come alongside the church in Cuba to fulfill their vision of launching 10 church planting movements in 10 major cities in a holistic way. This trip, however, had a different purpose than church planting—to bring donations to the people, listen to them and pray with them. We brought 200 pounds of food, milk, flashlights, socks, medicines and blankets for them.
In distributing these resources and meeting these people, we saw the devastation from where the tornado had passed. We saw the destruction of the city and devastation of the people, many of whom lost their homes and belongings. We saw collapsed walls, houses without windows or doors, and dust everywhere.
Although Alina and I live in Florida, we want to be available to our brothers and sisters in Cuba whenever possible. That’s why, when a special need arises, we try to respond immediately. We know the importance of being present in the middle of difficult situations, like the recent tornado in Havana. As these people suffered, we needed to be there next to them—sharing Christ’s hope with them and demonstrating His love to them at every possible moment.
What we cannot lose
For perspective on the devastation in Havana, here are a few quotes, sent to EFCA ReachGlobal Crisis Response, from families affected by the storm:
“My house was a single room standing. My husband is sleeping outside because we all do not fit. We still do not have electricity, gas to cook, there is no water. Our houses are destroyed. We have to wait, have patience and, above all, have faith. Faith in the Lord is what we cannot lose.”
“My house was left without a roof. Everything got wet. We have had support from you. Let it be what God wants. I'll show you something—the New Testament. I read it every night. I'm learning from Jesus.”
“I wrote the phrase, ‘Lord, pray for us, Amen!’ because in the Lord is our hope. [After the tornado] That is the only wall of my house that remains standing. We know that only the Lord can help us. It is a message also for the whole community: our help comes from the Lord.”
In these quotes we find the beauty of our God. We have a Savior who will “never leave us nor forsake us” (Deut 31:6). We have a Creator who knows us deeply, intimately and specifically (Luke 12:7). We have a Comforter who, amid the worst of disasters and crises, shines through our brokenness and exposes us to His glorious light.
Because of our God, the devastation brought by this storm isn’t the end for the people of Havana. As seen in the quotes above, these crises have opened up opportunities for the gospel, for God, to break through into these people’s lives. That’s why my wife, Alina, and I—and why EFCA ReachGlobal Crisis Response—focus so intently on these situations.
As Omar Rodriguez, EFCA ReachGlobal international leader for Latin America and Caribbean, put it:
“Crises never strikes at convenient times or when we are ready for them. But, each crisis needs to be seen as an opportunity to minister even if believers feel paralyzed to do anything because of the magnitude of the situation.
I have found that people showing up and caring enough to hear the pain of those affected and being willing to pray for them makes a huge difference. It’s through hearing individual stories and praying for God to intervene that we can figure out how a local church might be able to best help individuals and communities during a crisis.”
Some of the people we visited in Havana were found in the "hidden places" of the storm wreckage. These were the people who had not yet received any attention or help, and who, because of that, needed it the most. As we gave packs of blankets, food and medicine to these people, they wept and said, "Thank you! You have not forgotten about us!" This opened the door for us to share the love and hope of the true and living God, who has never forgotten them.
We saw many gaping cracks in Havana, but those openings gave us many opportunities to pray and share the gospel with the Cuban people. When the people asked us why we did this, we pointed them toward God’s love for us—the love that moves us to love and help our neighbors. It was a meaningful experience to see how people gave thanks to God for being alive and openly displayed their hope in the Lord.
This living gospel allows us to follow God through these cracks of brokenness—sharing His love while attending to physical, material and spiritual needs. Although our tendency is to think we’re the ones bringing other people a blessing, throughout this process, it’s become clear how blessed we are.
Through meeting needs and ministering to these people, God has transformed our lives in such a way that our relationship with God has deepened and our hearts continue to overflow with the passion to serve in the Kingdom of God, wherever the Light may lead us.
Cracks are everywhere
Tornados aren’t the only type of disasters that uproot, destroy and cause devastation, nor are physical disasters the only type of crises. In Havana, the needs were primarily physical, but crises can be spiritual and/or emotional, as well. The damage these crises leave is usually long-term, but in those cracks—in that fear, uncertainty and vulnerability—the light and hope of Jesus can shine through.
Anywhere there is a crack is a place where the gospel can enter and transform lives, families and communities. The Church is called to impact society through the living gospel, and often, some of the best places to bring this message is amid these areas of brokenness. In every neighborhood, every community and every city, there is an imperative need for God’s love. As followers of Jesus, we must seek out these opportunities and meet people in their brokenness. We must follow God’s Light through that brokenness.
Like Alina and I, one way you and your church can bring Christ’s love and hope to those in crisis is by partnering with EFCA ReachGlobal Crisis Response. Across the country (Nebraska, Texas, the Carolinas) and around the world (Cuba, Mozambique, Brazil), Crisis Response needs local churches to partner with them—prayerfully, financially and physically—to restore hope, rebuild lives and transform communities in times of need.
Crises are rarely expected. Like Hurricanes Harvey and Florence, oftentimes, these disasters take communities completely by surprise, and, as a result, they don’t know how to respond. This is why Crisis Response created resources like their Crisis Preparation Checklist. Whether you partner with Crisis Response or not, by using these resources, you can prepare yourself and your church to respond to crises, find the cracks and bring the light of the gospel into that brokenness.
There is a crack, a crack in everything—not just in physical destruction, not just in crises, not just where it’s obviously seen. Where are the cracks in your church? Where are the areas of brokenness in your community? Where are the "hidden places" in your neighborhood—the people who have not yet received any attention or help?
These are places where light can shine and where Christ’s love can transform.