Sunday, June 2, 2013

Cuba.


How do I begin describing my experience in this beautiful country? I thought that one month wouldn't be enough time to become acquainted with a foreign culture and people. And of course I didn't instantly learn fluent Spanish, nor did I come to understand everything that makes Cubans tick. But yet my heart became filled with love and sympathy for the dear Cuban people. I found myself falling in love with these lovable people and associating with their needs and desires. I know I will go back again. . . hopefully soon!

So about the trip. . .

April 14 my brother Levi & I met with the rest of the evangelistic team in Miami, Florida. Our team was led by Henry & Arleen Stubbs who have been involved in evangelism in Cuba for 15 years. Others joined our team from Idaho, North Dakota, North Carolina, Virginia, and of course Levi & I from Kentucky. That evening went quickly, as we became acquainted with each other, spent some time in orientation meetings, and did last-minute packing.

April 15, at 4:00 AM we began the big day. We made it to the check-in line in the Miami airport without much mishap, aside from some confusion about what airlines we were traveling on! The ladies at the counter meticulously weighed our luggage, including our carry-ons, charging us each $1 per pound for everything above 44 lbs. That bill came to around $1,000, but we were thankful it wasn't more. What we were more concerned about however, was the reception we might get on the Cuban side. Would we be able to get all of our precious literature and Bibles through? Would we be subject to "taxes" and "custom fees" or have our books taken away? We had about 45 minutes in the air from Miami to Cuba to pray and prepare our hearts for any questioning or problems might lie ahead.

We were met at the Cuban terminal by immigration officers, eager to direct us to the private immigration cubicles. However, we soon learned that before we could go through immigration, we needed the original copies of our religious visas. (We had already received photocopies of our visas a couple weeks prior.) The originals had been deposited at the airport a few days before, but apparently not with the correct window of time for processing. We were thankful to soon find out that a dear airport official had labored during her off-hours to make sure that we could still enter the country when we arrived! This lady, Maria Rosa, stayed with us through most of our airport experience to make sure we didn't have problems. We were granted mercy through our whole experience in the airport, entering Cuba without sustaining any losses or fines. Praise God!

A bus from the Adventist Seminary met us at the airport and took us to the seminary for a couple hours to re-organize and prepare to go to our 3 separate evangelistic sites.

We organized and divided all the Bibles, craft supplies, and Bibles. This took time because we had wrapped up these supplies and "hidden" them all over our suitcases!
We ate a delicious lunch at the seminary. . .
After lunch we loaded back on the bus and took off for our respective evangelistic sites. Levi and I joined Judy and her son James Collar to work in a town about 1 hour outside Havana.
The meetings began that very evening, so we were busy preparing even during the bus ride! The Bible worker had done his part in spreading the word in the town and organizing church members to help with the meetings. We arrived in time to eat a quick supper and set up projectors, etc., for the meeting!
My part was the health presentations at the beginning of each evening meeting. I spoke about the benefits of water and exercise, the effects of alcohol and caffeine, and the ways to reverse diabetes and high blood pressure.
James not only was the main speaker for the evening meetings, but also served as a translator for my health talks.
Levi enjoyed working with the children. He spoke each evening using the Truth 4 Youth program, an evangelistic program designed for children.

Each night the children had a craft that helped reinforce the lesson learned.
Judy assisted Levi with the children and the crafts. Her experience with VBS was a valuable asset, making the children's programs run smoothly.
Our meetings were not always as full as we would have liked. . . but when the call for baptism was made, 4 precious people came forward! (The four on the front row of the picture below.)
A special highlight of our meetings was a wedding! A couple who made the decision to be baptized also chose to be married!
This girl actually didn't respond to the first call for baptism, but then she had a dream which impressed her that she shouldn't delay to follow Jesus all the way.
Another story that happened at one of the other evangelistic sites. . . a man became so angry at his wife for her decision to follow Jesus that he told her he wanted to either kill her or take her Bible. Sorrowfully she gave up her precious Bible. . .He chopped her Bible with his machete and then threw it on the doorstep of the Bible worker. Later God worked on his heart and he began to attend the meetings. At the end he decided he wanted to be baptized! Praise the Lord for changing his heart!
One special opportunity for ministry actually ended up being the very home in which we stayed! The family had experienced its struggles recently and our stay was exactly what they needed to point them to Jesus. In the end, the 2 children, Elsita & Lazarito decided they wanted to prepare for baptism!
2 weeks went by very quickly. . . It was so sad to say goodbye to our friends. . . but we enjoyed the time to meet back with our teammates and recount our blessings. We also enjoyed a day at the beach. It was Levi & I's first time snorkeling (and Levi's first time to the ocean!), so it was very special!
One girl from our group had an underwater camera. . . unfortunately it couldn't capture half the beauty!
The team finished the 2 weeks and then we saw them off to fly back to the USA. Meanwhile, Levi, James, Judy, and I stayed for 2 more weeks in Cuba! James has been studying at the Adventist seminary which has allowed him to live in Cuba for the past 4 years. He took us to visit other parts of Cuba, broadening our experience and allowing us to see more of the real conditions there.

Our first visit was to a pastor and his family. This family has been faithful and earnest in their work for their own people. Despite great poverty (pastors are not paid much there!), they faithfully labor together as a family for the Lord. They were very grateful to welcome us into their home. (As a special donation to their work, James gave this family his personal laptop computer.)
 Next we headed to a piece of property that James hopes to develop into a missionary outpost center, perhaps as a place to host medical missionary training programs, etc. There are a lot of fruit trees, coconut palms, and nice ground for planting here. An Adventist family is staying there now, working on the land and reaching out to the rural community there. We really enjoyed our stay there, though it was the most primitive place we stayed.
Levi in front of a bunch of banana plants
James, the Cuban farmer
Levi & I enjoying a pre-breakfast feast under the mango tree! (I ate 5 mangos that time. . . yum!)
Finally we traveled to Camaguey to help with a medical missionary training program. I shared a class on literature evangelism, another class on chair massage, and another on prenatal nutrition.
After our travels, we stayed a few days at the seminary before leaving for the states. . . We also had the privilege of worshiping one last time with the church family we had left after the evangelistic campaign. This was very meaningful but only made it harder to say goodbye! How I long for that day when all of God's family will be Home together in our heavenly home. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

3 comments:

Sabrina Oliver said...

Oh Esther, it indeed sounds like you had a wonderful time!! :D

Sarah Fuller said...

Thank you for sharing :)

The Shepherd's Girl? said...

Travel with a purpose...That's the best! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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