JOLIET – There’s so much food.
Granted, this isn’t a typical reaction to stepping inside a convenience store in Mexico.
But for seminary student Marcus Lohrmann – a member of Faith Lutheran Church in Joliet who had just spent two weeks in Guatemala and then eight weeks in Cuba and was simply passing through Mexico, the abundance was overpowering after witnessing tremendous poverty.
“I don’t know what sort of projects or future ministries will come out of this,” Lohrmann said, “but I do find it troubling to live in a world where we have such affluence in this country, and that there are places in this world that have so little and that are living in situations that are pretty terrible.”
Lohrmann – who is married to the church’s pastor, the Rev. Rebekkah Lohrmann, and who will speak about his experiences Nov. 19 at the church – said he had three goals in mind when he applied for a $6,000 International Ministry Grant through the University of Chicago, where he is working on a Master of Divinity degree.
He wanted to immerse himself in a Spanish-speaking and vulnerable community, see the effects of the United States’ changed relationship to Cuba and observe the practice of religion in a secularized country. Lohrmann did all three.
“I am of the opinion at this point of history in the United States that it’s valuable to have some experience speaking Spanish, and that’s something I regret not having before,” Lohrmann said. “I think one aspect of ministry is knowing where people come from, so I wanted to immerse myself in their language and culture.”
At the same time, Lohrmann has heard discussions about increased secularization of the American culture – which he feels is neither good nor bad – and he wanted a firsthand look at a culture where secularization is present.
“What are the expressions of faith in a society who expressions have – at one time – been limited or even stifled?” Lohrmann. “These are the main things I went into the country with.”
Through a friend, Lohrmann heard of The Mountain School in Guatemala that taught fundamental Spanish to non-Spanish speakers. It’s located in the mountains on a former coffee plantation in a rural, impoverished area that is “trying its best to move up the socioeconomic ladder,” Lohrmann said, while offering resources for women’s empowerment.
“When you’re at The Mountain School, you’re asked to speak only Spanish,” Lohrmann said, “even to your classmates, who also don’t speak Spanish.”
Lohrmann resided with a family in that community while attending school.
In Cuba, which Lohrmann visited from July 27 through Sept. 22, he rented a room from a family participating in a licensed program by the Cuban government that allowed families to earn extra income in this manner.
While in Cuba, Lohrmann traveled by bus to Havana, Valle de Vinales, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Camagüey, Baracoa and Santiago de Cuba. He enjoyed plenty of good jazz and learned what it’s like to travel through Cuba at 2:30 a.m. on a bus with no lights or air conditioning.
Lohrmann was present when the U.S. flag was raised in Cuba for the first time since it was lowered in 1961, and he saw Pope Francis up-close Sept. 20 during the pope’s three-day visit to Cuba.
What Lohrmann did not see, as he thought he might, was a “smashing down” on religiosity and people hiding their faith.
“You do have religious expression in Cuba, although it might not look like what we have in the United States,” Lohrmann said. “For instance, there was this evangelical church down the road from me that had services every day of the week – not just on Sundays – filled to the gills with people and loud music. I did not see any sort of government presence quelling that at all.”
In addition to Christians, Lohrmann also saw followers – both men and women – of the non-Christian religion Santeria walking around with shaved heads and white clothing as part of their spiritual journey, he said.
Of course, the main media focus was Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba. Footage of his visit was on TV from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Lohrmann said.
“It totally defied my expectations,” Lohrmann said. “You can’t say faith isn’t important when you see something like that.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Marcus Lohrmann’s talk on his visit to Cuba
WHEN: 7 p.m. Nov. 19
WHERE: Faith Lutheran Church, 353 N. Midland Ave., Joliet
CONTACT: Call the church at 815-725-4213