A group of little children sits on the floor at the foot of their teacher. It is the 1960’s, in Castro’s Cuba. Winning hearts and minds is most effective when the heart belongs to a child, as these young ones are going to discover.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have milk and cookies?” the teacher says to the thin faces peering up. They look excitedly at one another, nodding, smiling.
“Well, let us all bow our heads, close our eyes, and pray to God that He brings us some.” All heads bow and the teacher leads in prayer.
They look around. Nothing. Their faces fall.
“You must not have prayed hard enough. We will pray again.”
“Children! Look now!”
Disappointment again. They are told to try a third time: God must not have heard them.
Then………well, God did not hear them or He didn’t care, she says. They are told to pray one last time. Deflated, they do. Slumped shoulders, tightly clasped hands. As expected, nothing happens.
“This time we are going to pray to our leader, Fidel Castro,” says the teacher to the group with a determined voice. They wearily bow their heads.
“Children! Look! Castro has heard your prayers!” Trays of cookies and glasses of milk are brought in to squeals of delight and smiles all around.
Maybe a group of communists was born that day. At least one child wasn’t, however, and that was my future Spanish professor in college, who related the story to my class. I recently thought of it again. I have been thinking about hope: what I hope for, who I put my hope in, how fragile it can be, how another person can crush your spirit. As an adult I can use my experiences to refix my eyes on my goals. When my hope gets derailed, I can eventually find my way back. My heart grieves for those children back in Cuba whose hope was purposefully taken. We should all be so careful of the words that we speak to ourselves and especially to our children.