A little bit of family, a little bit of history, and my own, personal experience of how – as Bob Dylan once observed – the times they are a’changin’ … I am recently returned from a trip to the nation of Cuba … just 90 miles away from the United States … but worlds away in other respects. The relationship between our two nations has seen a lot of changes over the past 150 years-or-so … and there may be more changes ahead. I am not the first member of my family to visit this island. I have known all along of one family member who was once here … but in the weeks leading up to my mission trip, I learned of others who have visited Cuba. With my visit, there have now been four of us … and a fifth who was enroute, but never made landfall, turning around in mid-transit to return to the United States. This post focuses upon “3 Guys, 3 Generations, 3 Missions” … The first was one of great-grandfathers, Robert Weilenbeck. The son of German immigrants, Robert lied about his age in order to enlist in the United States Army in the 1890s, and travel to Cuba to fight in the Spanish American War. His mission was to fight. Robert had a fighting spirit, I guess … almost 20 years after that, he would re-enlist, and serve in France during World War I … and more than 20 years after THAT, he would lie about his age again, and re-enlist to serve during World War II, making it through the preliminaries, before the family found him at a training depot, and the Army sent him home with their thanks for his service. Back home, in the civilian world, Robert had a good record as an amateur and semi-pro boxer. Like I said, he had a fighting spirit. His vocation, though, was as an artist, creating stained and painted glass for churches, courthouse and so on … IMHO, one of the more interesting branches on my family tree.
The next guy, the next generation, was one of my uncles, Julius Fecht. Also descended from German immigrants, Julius traveled to Cuba more than once in the 1930s. But HIS mission was commerce, purchasing tobacco for his cigar factory back in the United States. Such factories were common back then, whether in Scranton, Pennsylvania or El Paso, Texas or anywhere in between. Most of those are gone now – cigar production i n the U.S. is different than it was back then. But the industry of cultivating tobacco, and producing hand-rolled cigars, is still thriving in Cuba … and are a popular souvenir for visitors to Cuba … Uncle Julius would be pleased.
The last guy? Me. The last generation? Now. The last mission? Faith. Over most of two weeks in September, I was part of a Christian mission team serving in Cuba. The team included members from multiple states, including pastors and elders of various Presbyterian churches, and representative of the Outreach Foundation – a Presbyterian global agency – which organized this trip. This was a short-term ‘vision team,’ with a focus upon introduction, education and connection, and a goal of discerning God’s call to global engagement, and partnership development.
Over the course of those two weeks, I learned a thing-or-three … but I also had to UN-learn some things, as well. I benefited from both … and I’ll share some of that with you in the weeks ahead.
Jeff McDonald 
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