News and Facts about Cuba

Mission possible, Nicholas White volunteers in Cuba

Mission possible, Nicholas White volunteers in Cuba
By Marci Singer News-Review Staff Writer
Monday, June 22, 2009 9:38 AM EDT

Petoskey architect Nicholas White has collected a lot of art, primarily
prints and paintings, as a result of his mission trips to Cuba. He is
donating one of his favorite prints (on left) for the 2009 D'art for
Art. (Marci Singer/News-Review)

Nicholas White is leaving his mark in Cuba.

The 61-year-old Petoskey architect has been traveling to Cuba since 1996
with the Methodist Church to restore churches from the turn of the
century to just prior to the revolution that have been abandoned as a
result of Communism. In eight trips, he's worked on four churches, three
parsonages and a seminary.

"It's hands on work," White said. "I do whatever they need me to do
whether it's leading the team, directing the work or offering advice."

On his first trip, White was in a very small town 14 hours outside of
Havana. What surprised him most was that everyone was standing in line
for the necessities of life as well as other rations.

"I had not been in the Third World and Cuba is absolutely Third World. I
came home from that trip somewhat in a culture shock," he said. "There
was a big line out on Lake Street in 1996. Someone said Beanie Babies
had just arrived at Shorter's. Because of being in Cuba, I had strong
feelings about standing in line for something that you absolutely did
not need."

"Cuba is a country where absolutely everything is owned and controlled
by the government and what little territory they have they protect with
a vengeance, whether it be architecture or local government," he said.

White said when people are dependent upon government for absolutely
everything, it takes away initiative.

"It's basically you support the government or else. In Cuba, there's a
lot of 'or else," he said. "They have multiple ways of affecting your
life. I've seen people refused rations or lose jobs because of their
faith. I know people who have spoken out in opposition to a governmental
policy and been denied . That's the dark side of Cuba. The
bright side is that Cubans cherish their children."

The greatest thing he's learned as a result of his travels?

"These folks are absolutely no different than us. They have the same
love for their children and the same desire to get ahead financially,
socially and educationally. It gives me a perspective on what's really
important," White said. "I try to give my kids a sense of perspective
that there are people who are working just as hard and who are just as
educated, but because of the country they live in, cannot do the types
of things we can here."

For White, mission trips provide an opportunity to give back.

"I want to be able to really give," he said. "This is the greatest
country in the world — the greatest country the world has ever known. We
take for granted everything we have. Trips like these are a small way to
give back everything that's been given to us. We are blessed with the
opportunities we have here, particularly in relation to other parts of
the world. They all live much less lavish a lifestyle than we do."

White said volunteering equates to both culturally and emotionally
stepping off a cliff into the unknown, whether it's volunteering for
Habitat for Humanity or going on a foreign mission.

"I go with a sense of giving always, but there's a great sense of guilt
because I get so much more out of these missions. You get 10 times what
you give and it humbles you."

Marci Singer 439-9348 –

Petoskey News-Review – News – Mission possible, Nicholas White
volunteers in Cuba (22 June 2009)

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