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It was just a picture

Andy, our Vice President of Leadership Development, writes about a recent experience he had in Cuba...

It was just a picture.

I took the shot several years ago while spending a couple days training leaders and visiting homes near Thomas' house church in Havana, Cuba.  We'd slipped into a barbershop to beat the heat and chat with locals.  When I saw the way Thomas lit up holding his first grandchild, I just had to capture the moment.

For years, Thomas had been attending my seminars and pleading for me to visit his house church.  His warm smile and quick wit drew me to him.  On that day I'd seen how many others had felt the same.

Only a few months after we'd spent those days together, Thomas was struck by lightening while walking through a field in that same neighborhood.  An unimaginable tragedy.  

How do you respond to people grappling with death's randomness?  I'd tried to encourage his 17-year-old son, Emmanuel, nearly a year after the accident.  But I had no answers.  And clearly, those wounds still hadn't healed.

So, when I ran across Thomas' picture before my trip last week, I decided to print & frame an 8x10 copy.  Pictures are a luxury most Cubans can't afford, so I hoped it might bring some joy.

We decided to present it to Thomas' mother, whom I'd never met.  It took most of the morning and a collection of friends & neighbors to help us find her.  Each one gave a knowing smile when they saw what was in my hands.

When five strange North Americans showed up on her sister's porch and asked for her, she was naturally apprehensive.  Through an interpreter, I explained who I was and how much I loved, respected and missed her son too.  "Every time I see this picture it makes me smile," I told her, "so I thought you might enjoy it too."

There were no words for the longest time.  Just tears as she embraced the picture.  A few hugs.  Repeated glances at the photo.  Then more tears.  Finally, she looked deep into my eyes to say, "This is my treasure!"

Over the past 5 years with Lifeline, I've taken epic journeys to exotic places in order to develop leaders.  Despite all that effort and expense, nothing has meant more or felt better than that simple gesture.

It was just a picture.