Artists Shape Culture as Cuba Awakens VULTURES & ROCKING ... · PDF file ROCKING CHAIRS...

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Transcript of Artists Shape Culture as Cuba Awakens VULTURES & ROCKING ... · PDF file ROCKING CHAIRS...






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    Artists Shape Culture as Cuba Awakens



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    There are numerous ways to immerse in a new culture. Some say it is best to enter through your belly and when you think of Cuba, this seems obvious perhaps … think of Hemingway marinating in the green freshness of bruised mint leaves getting all friendly-like with the drowsy sweetness of rum in a lanky iced glass while birthing The Old Man and the Sea on a cranky typewriter. And who wouldn’t be more than willing to venture forth with forkfuls of slow roasted pork, crunchy crackling still spitting from a spritzing of limón? Or to explore with a spoon the soft hills of ruby, amethyst, and anthracite beans and fields of rice and sticky swamps of mango and papaya?

    But for fellow artist Becky Young and me, it is the patterns and rhythms of a culture that draw us in. We need to wrap our hands around its pulsing heart and be bloodied and loved. We need to be vulnerable participants. But even if you are not an artist, thinking of Cuba will conjure repetitive images and thrums. There are the predictable recurrences such as plump, party-coloured 1959 Ford Fairlanes, with loud swearing gears, proudly rumbling down streets and swinging widely around corners. In room-size humidors there are rows and rows of fat Latin cigars and stacks of candy boxes with pasted pictures of pretty, red-lipped women on the lids. And there are velvety clubs and lurid dives with neon signs and peeling paint serving sweaty rumbas and spicy jazz.

    Ariadna and Frank are established artists and budding theologians in Holguín, Cuba, a city in the eastern part of the island nation. As members of Iglesia La Colina de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross Church), they are at the epicenter of a church-planting explosion in Cuba; as leaders of a “Gospel and the Arts” movement in Holguín, they are passionate about making new disciples within their creative community. Thanks to a summer visit from two MTW missionaries, they are more excited than ever about the connection between art and the gospel.

    The PCA’s roots in Cuba go back to 1928 with the establishment of a Reformed theological seminary and denomination called Los Pinos Nuevos (The New Pines). In 2010, Allen Thompson, who had led the seminary decades earlier, returned to begin a strategic, church-focused discipleship program.

    Among the first participants was Alfredo Forhans from Holguín, now the pastor at Iglesia La Colina de la Cruz. Through Forhans, parishioners like Ariadna and Frank, both now in their third year at Los Pinos Nuevos’ seminary, began to learn more about Reformed theology. Materials from thinkers like Francis Schaeffer and Tim Keller helped them see beyond the false “sacred vs. secular” divide, thrilling them with the idea that their love of the arts could be intrinsically honoring to God, not to mention useful for the kingdom.

    A DIVINE PARTNERSHIP Ariadna, a professor of contemporary art at Holguín’s School of Visual Arts, and Frank, also a visual artist, had already been evangelizing among their group of local artists. Armed with a broader perspective, they now began to envision a network of believing artists throughout Cuba, a land full of people starving for both the beauty and truth of the gospel. “We, the artists, can do a lot with beauty and truth!” they reasoned. Sensing a match, Gary Watanabe, MTW missionary in partnership with Redeemer NYC’s City to City church-planting organization, put them in touch with Berenice Rarig, an MTW missionary in Perth, Australia.

    Berenice is the founder of The Make Collective, an initiative among MTW creatives that helps them become part of international church-planting

    Frank, with an unfinished commissioned piece.

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    Founder of The MAKE Collective*

    Artists Shape Culture as Cuba Awakens

    Eduardo, trusty chauffeur.

    This past Sunday morning my face, all fidgety, was glued to my iPad in Perth, Australia, as I waited for Frank and Ariadna (who are 12 hours behind me) to call in. Then finally a ring sounded and there they were, sharing head phones, on a borrowed tablet, in the center square of town, under a flickering street lamp together with 200+ other people struggling to connect to an irascible Internet …

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    Close to the center of the city of Holguín, Cuba, is a small church plant. The church meets in an unobtrusive, faded stucco building hidden behind a large metal graffitied gate and across the street from the cement block bones of a hotel, too late to accommo- date the Pope as intended. But there is something exceptional, precious, and rare about this church and it was enough to get

    me on seven planes (one way) and more than sufficient to convince Becky to leave her work in Texas and Mexico to come with me.

    Within this church there are two handfuls of artists who, to- gether with their pastor, Alfredo, have responded to a heart call from God to bless their country with the gospel through their grace-crafted art practices. But presently, their country resides in a crumbling red cardboard box where even short supply is in short supply. And overhead, black vultures swoop and circle ad nauseam. They herald death or rain, we are told. Torn shrouds or rains clouds? Meanwhile, sealed words on important paper are exchanging palaces and rusty locks are being removed from

    slumbering embassies. And Cuba watches the sky. Torn shrouds or rain clouds?

    The rhythms of our experiences with the Cuban artists were not reckoned by things as prosaic as clocks or suns and moons but by the frequency of kisses and the pressing of cheeks and the regularity of fine Cuban coffee, aromatic obsidian served in a jewelry-box- sized tacita (tiny porcelain coffee cup). And as we crawled into each other’s hearts and art: the sounds of rolling and unrolling charcoaled paper, the scraping of closer moving chairs, the air conditioning continually catching its breath, the indulgent clicks of selfies, strings of accented words ending in question marks, bubbles of generous laughter, and the salted hum of trembling prayers filled the space. As did the smell of shy paint, an acrid overheating projector bulb, and the sulfur of other unrepentant computer technology, hamburgers not fit for tourists, the orange zing of the only local brand of soft drink, and the magnificent ozone of love with its hope and ideas and a way forward.

    Cuban balconies are stitched with rebar and wrought iron to each and every building and hang like bulging pockets on a threadbare overcoat. They are reached by implausible

    tornado-shaped iron staircases. (Imagine here a combination of birdcage and shark cage but add nice furniture, potted plants, and incandescent lizards.) The balcony on the second floor of Rosabel’s Villa, our government-sanctioned boarding house, allowed Becky and me to both swing on high and swim in the ebb and flow of our street while we watched for Frank, our artist host, to arrive on his mostly pink, mostly duct-taped, mostly coat-hangered-together bicycle. From here we saw the regular arrival of yellow-bellied drinking water tanks hauled by anorexic

    movements through cultural engagement, creative thinking, and artistic excellence. When she heard about Ariadna, Frank, and the arts movement at Iglesia La Colina de la Cruz, she made the journey halfway around the world to meet them.

    Joined by Rebecca Young, now serving with MTW in Monterrey, Mexico, Berenice helped Ariadna and Frank shape a plan for and give language to their overall vision. The group,

    which also included five other Cuban believers active in the arts movement, discussed a long-term arts ministry strategy, with Berenice and Becky sharing from their experience about pitfalls to avoid.

    A SHARED VISION But as valuable as this planning was, far greater was the benefit of encouragement. For Ariadna and Frank, The Make Collective represented everything they hope to do in their own country. They were overjoyed to encounter someone who had already been where they wanted to go, and they are grateful that God made a way for them to experience it directly. Even months later, they continue to communicate with Berenice almost daily, despite the planetary distance between them.

    “We started with a dream,” wrote Ariadna to MTW in thanks for sponsoring the trip, “and now we see how our Father is materializing it.” From the glory of the gospel that regenerates everything, to their introduction to Gary Watanabe, and the visit from Berenice and Becky, they see His providence at work. They are blessed to feel connected to it.

    Ariadna and Frank have some specific short-term goals for their Gospel and the Arts movement. In August, the group put on an arts festival, an opportunity for several Christian artists to exhibit redeemed beauty and truth to their local contemporaries. Beyond the festival, they hope to inspire

    believing artists in their community to create works with broader cultural scope, focusing on subjects beyond what they experience within the chur