Foreign mission trips are not a new experience for me. I am familiar with airport procedures, security measures and the patience needed when you travel out of the United States. I have to admit, though, traveling to Cuba made me a little nervous. Going behind the curtain of communism, to a country dedicated to atheism, with the sole purpose of spreading the good news, was a little intimidating. But God made it very clear he wanted me to go, and because I’d rather be in Cuba in his will than in my own home out of his will, I went. I have learned the hard way that it’s better to just trust and obey than try to figure out every detail in advance so, other than my initial nervousness, I tried to leave expectations behind. What the Lord blessed me with was an experience I will never forget.
Stepping into Cuba is like stepping into a time capsule from the 1950s. In a lot of ways, when communism came to Cuba, time stood still. From the vehicles to architecture, Havana and surrounding areas have not progressed much since the pre-Castro era. Cuba is a beautiful country but it’s obvious from the crumbling infra-structure that all is not well. When you leave the urban areas and travel a short distance into the country side, the poverty of the people is glaring. My observation was that they are hardworking and industrious but are handicapped by their government system. One need only glance at a few faces to see the hopelessness and helplessness of the Cuban people. It is a human snapshot of life without hope, without God. When Castro took over, he thought God was expelled from Cuba.
But, I have some good news. When Cuba tried to put God in a banana boat out of town, God must have chosen not to go because he is alive and well and building his kingdom in Cuba. I know this is true because I had the privilege and humbling experience of meeting the Methodist Church of Guanabacoa, Cuba. Keeping in mind that communism is innately anti-God and recalling the extremely cruel persecution of Cuban believers, I thought we would be ministering at a small, unassuming, quiet little church. What I found was a church of the most joyous, vibrant, excited servants of Christ I had ever observed.
From the day we arrived till we completely cleared customs for the last time, the disciples of the Cuban church took my breath away. I’m not sure I have the space or the vocabulary to describe what I mean because so few of those reading this article have ever seen a church or believers quite like this one; I know I never have. They were joyful, excited and over-the-top faithful.
A large part of our purpose in being in Cuba was to supply them with tools and resources to minister after we were gone. They didn’t want us to minister for them; they just needed the tools to continue the Lord’s work after we left. Children’s Ministry, Family Ministry, Medical Ministry; if we would just provide the wherewithal, they said, they would take it from there. So, that’s what we did, and even while we were still in Cuba they began teaching and loving others with the supplies we gave them.
Perhaps you wonder, as I did, if the work we saw was done by just a small part of people, the core group, as it often is in American churches. I can report that is not the case. I have been told that in our U.S. Churches, about 10% of the members do 90% of the work. This is not the case in the Guanabacoa church. There were people everywhere wanting to learn, wanting to minister, and so very excited about it. They truly made me ashamed of the minimum amount of effort and joy I sometimes bring to my Christian service, even though I serve under circumstances which cannot even be compared to the difficulties they encounter.
On Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, we had the privilege of worshipping with the Guanabacoa church as well as a mission church, best described as out in the boondocks. Just go to the end of the road, where they pipe in sunshine, and then go a little further and you’ll find the mission church (the Alabama/West Florida Conference’s “Blue Lake Camp” is suburban compared to this mission church). There is so much I would like to write about these worship experiences but please don’t miss two words: mission church. Guanabacoa church is not only the recipient of mission support, they send out missionaries and support them financially and in ministry. What an example of a “Great Commission” church.
As with so many experiences in Cuba, I cannot adequately describe these worship services. May I just say, every time we gathered, true worship occurred. There was joy and gratitude and a sense of expectancy in their worship. The Holy Spirit was there and they made sure he felt welcome. In a week filled with blessings, worshipping with these believers who have plenty of reasons to whine and complain but choose praise instead, was an honor and a never-to-be-forgotten experience.
I could go on and on about the Cuba short-term mission experience. For you, the reader, I’m afraid if I continue it will start to feel like looking at Uncle Al and Aunt Sadie’s Grand Canyon vacation slides. I’ll take pity and put a period on my experiences. If I may, please let me do one commercial announcement before I wrap up. If you have never experienced a short-term mission trip, I would encourage you to take a leap of faith and commit to investing a week of your life in such a trip. Cuba would be a great choice! God will provide the means. I have discovered he can afford to provide for his ministry. If you don’t know that God is calling you to such a trip, I know for sure he takes volunteers.