As I sat there under a palm tree at the Bay of Pigs, I could not help but notice the pristine beauty of this place. The sand was an untainted white and the water was a perfectly clear blue. In this splendor, however, was great irony. Though the scene was tranquil now, in 1961, the sand was covered with lifeless bodies and the water ran red. I felt a warm tropical breeze and the brilliance of the sun but years ago the beach was cold with the harsh winds of war and the ignorance of intolerance. This beach was stunning yet it was the site of countless deaths. It was as flawless as if God had just created it and still it marked the place of the height of human failure to carry out God’s plan. There, I realized my great responsibility and understood why God had sent me.
Last winter, I traveled to Cuba on the 2008 Mission of Peace, with twenty-five other Americans, twenty-one youth and four adults. Mission of Peace is an annual “Journey to Shalom” for youth sponsored by the Northeast Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church to nations that have poor relations with the United States. The goal was not to convert but to learn what it means to be a Christian in another country. We sought to tear down walls of hatred and stereotypes while building bridges of peace and understanding.
From Varadero, to the Bay of Pigs, to Havana, we learned that God loves all and that love has no boundaries, no limits. From the rising of the sun to its setting on the beach right across the street, we witnessed God’s love for us through their gracious hospitality and sensed God working in us as He showed us the full and complete glory of God’s kingdom. The night after we went to Bay of Pigs I shared what I had experienced at the beach. We discussed that every human being is like that beach. We are entirely beautiful when God creates us, but then the world gets to us, people get to us and we become almost a battle site as well. This journey was showing us that it is our duty to stop the hatred. Alone, we cannot stop nations from warring but within our own personal sphere of influence, we have the power to stop the destruction and to share the amazing, saving love and grace that God shows us. We can view every person as beautiful as God views them and show them that we love as God loves. Together we can bring about shalom.
As our time was drawing to a close, I sensed more and more that this amazing trip had been a training session. God had brought all of us together to show us what needed to be done and to teach us how to love and act justly. Our closing worship service became a commissioning service as God was sending us back into the world to work for peace in every heart and around the world. This was when the real Mission of Peace began.
For each Mission of Peace, a commemorative song is written. The closing verse for this Cuban sojourn embodies my hope for the future of this world. They are words of change and peace and they move me to pray that every person will realize their immense responsibility to work for justice and peace for all.
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