For nearly 56 years the borders of Cuba have been closed to Americans due to relationships severed in 1961 during the Cold War. Though the prevailing religion of Cuba is sighted as Christianity (primarily Catholicism), the basic truths of God’s word have been heavily influenced and profoundly modified by syncretism or the distorting and blurring of doctrinal truths. Yoruba and Santeria are the most common syncretic religions of the country, and it is estimated by some sources that as much as 80% of the Cuban people actively practice some form of these false religions.
For these reasons, we were very excited when Donald was presented an opportunity to travel on mission to Cuba in October in order to share the gospel, get a feel for the need, and give us a better idea how Vida Impact Missions might support the gospel movement in Cuba and serve those who share God’s truth there.
Though the trip was temporarily postponed due to Hurricane Matthew, God’s plans are greater than ours. Due to the generosity and dedicated prayer of Vida supporters, Donald was able to board a plane from the Circle of Silence for Cuba on October 20th. Here are the observations from his trip!
A Letter From Donald:
I traveled to Cuba for the first time on October 20, 2016. During my flight to Cuba I sat next to Dustin, a friendly dentist from the U.S. who was visiting Cuba for the second time. He was hoping to visit some orphanages and drop off supplies for the Cuban children. It was an encouragement to speak with him, and I was anticipating what God would do through my own trip.
At 11:30 [Cuban time] I landed safely in Havana. However, when arriving at the airport, the person who was supposed to bring my Visa was nowhere to be seen! It was requested by the Cuban immigration that I stay back until the person arrived. I had no way to contact him as his identity and all contact information had been withheld for reasons of safety and confidentiality. All I could do was wait and trust God!
Thankfully after two very, very long hours the man finally arrived. Praise be to Jesus! Better late than never. Due to time constraints, however, he rushed me straight to the bus station so I could travel to Guantanamo. No time to stop for food! The ensuing 16-hour journey seemed endless, but it was also a good start for getting a feel for the Cuban culture. Our only stop along the way was to go to the bathroom, as even their long-journey buses cannot afford the luxury of having a loo onboard.
Finally we arrived in Santiago de Cuba, the final destination to which the bus would travel. Awaiting me there was Eliobin, who had come to pick me up from Guantanamo. We embarked upon another 2-hour journey before finally arriving in Guantanamo where Eliobin’s wife, Caridad, was awaiting us with some good food. I was starving after spending over 18 hours on the road without eating and was very grateful!
Eliobin and his wife oversee the leadership training and church planting movement of the entire region of Eastern Cuba. Under his leadership, there are an astounding 80 missionaries/church planters who are all committed to make the Gospel known. What captivated me most is their whole-hearted dedication in serving the Lord. Every individual I met with Eliobin knew their purpose, knew exactly what they had to do, and were wholeheartedly soldout to fulfilling God’s calling in their lives. Their passion was nothing less than contagious! These men and women had abandoned everything—willingly sacrificing their own needs and even necessities—in order to serve the Lord in a country where a church pastor only receives a $25-per-month salary. I was amazed.
I was keen to dig deep into this environment to understand how they train their leaders and plant house churches. How does one instill that kind of passion into the hearts of Christ’s followers? How can we help further the mission of the Gospel in Cuba? I didn’t know, but I wanted to find out!
Eliobin explained that in the Cuban culture, building or renting any sort of meeting space was extremely expensive; therefore house churches have flourished in their region because it is a stronger and more affordable strategy. In Guantanamo alone, they had 6,000 people already consented to their ministry network in an entire population of half a million people. That’s about 1%.
In the morning, I woke to a beautiful Cuban sunrise. It was sweet spending some quality time with the Lord before Eliobin came to pick me up for the morning service where I would be speaking. As I reviewed my prepared message, I was wholly unaware of what was about to meet me. I had taken every possible opportunity the night before to understand my surroundings and the congregation I was about to share with, but in retrospect nothing could have prepared me for the reality.
As I made my way toward the pulpit, I literally had to push my way through a solid wall of bodies that were crushed into the available space. I suddenly felt ambushed by the throng of people. It seemed that every possible space had been filled up with people hungry for the Gospel. Men, women, and children, old and young alike, all gazed up at me with thirsty eyes and eagerly waited to drink in what I had to say. Every aisle and every row were so packed that many people stood outside and peered through the windows just to hear the message because there was no more room for them to come inside. It was an overwhelming experience.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. John 4:14
At the end of the service, I was swamped with a multitude of people expressing how my message on life transformation through Christ had touched them—some with tears in their eyes. We connected even further as I had also shared with them how people in Mexico often ask if I am a “Cubano” since I am the only black person in a population of 130,000 people in San Luis de la Paz. We had some good fellowship with a number or families from the Church. One conversation that sticks out in particular was with a guy who is a medical doctor who had once gone to serve in Angola for two years. As a reminder of Africa, he had brought back a bicycle that he and his sons have ridden for the last nearly 10 years…and it is still going!
Overall, it was an eye-opening experience that changed me for life. I am excited to instill some of their passion into our own leaders as well as connect with the Cuban leaders in ways that can further the Gospel in an area hungry for Christ. The harvest is plentiful.
“He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Luke 10:2
On Monday we traveled back to Santiago de Cuba where Eliobin also teaches in a seminary school. I was able to meet many church planters and hear their inspiring stories and what the Lord is doing through them. It was such a privilege learning from them, and I took away a new perspective as well as many new ideas.
That evening I was asked to speak to both seminary and University students. Just like the day before, I was completely captivated by their passionate dedication and the way each person served the other. The students themselves determine their own affairs, discipleship, and meetings while Eliobin oversee their progress and the leadership training.
I also met two young Men, Alejandor and Leo, who are running two soccer teams with university students as well as another one with children as a strategy of sharing Jesus and discipling them. Leo also works with children and does clowning! It was a joy to leave behind the juggling balls that I once used to for the same ministry and told him he can also have my old unicycle… if I can only find a way to “smuggle” in a suitcase next time I visit!
Meeting with the leaders was another fantastic opportunity to learn from the locals. We were able to visit with different leaders and hear how they are serving the Lord while living in abject poverty. Many of the situations and houses we visited were simply heartbreaking, but at the same time I was encouraged to see how the church and followers of Christ were eager to help each other in their distress.
John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same. Luke 3:11
Unfortunately, time did not allow me to visit the areas that had been affected by Hurricane Mathew, but I met with a number of leaders and church planters from the affected region. I am excited to share that through your generous offerings to Vida, we were able to use a portion of the excess funds for the Cuban trip to buy 75 kgs of rice and beans for the stricken families that had lost so much. Muchas Gracias, amigso! Your generosity is touching lives and making a difference all over the globe!
On Wednesday, it was time to leave Guantanamo—another 18-hour journey—to catch my flight back home. I surely felt that my trip had been too short. In Havana, the man who had originally picked me up come for me again and warmly welcomed me into their one-room house where they were also looking after a 91-year-old elderly lady names Mercele. She was so passionate about sharing Jesus even at her age. She told me, “Hasta que el senor venga por mi. Quiero compartir su bondand con los demas. Ya es el unico propostoo porque estoy viva!” Which translates into, “Until the Lord comes for me, I want to share his goodness with others. It’s now the only purpose for which I am alive.”
Ya es el unico propostoo porque estoy viva!
Before I left Havana, my gracious host took me to visit a neighborhood. As we walked past each house, he explained that 8 out of 10 people in the area practice witchcraft. It is a shanty area of Havana, and this is the way they earn a living. It was in that moment, as I looked at those doors and thought about the precious, lost people behind them, that I realized that, though there is definitely a movement happening in Cuba for the kingdom, there is still a lot of work to be done, dear friends. Will you join me?
Take away from the trip
Generosity does not depend on what you have, but how big your heart is. Anyone can make an impact with what they have been given, no matter how much or how little.
Greater faithfulness, character, and loyalty can only be produced through times of trials and limited choice.
The radiant love of Jesus shines through the servant hearts of those who love the Lord.
As a servant of Jesus working to raise up leaders here in the Circle of Silence, this trip deeply impacted me. We have learned much, but there is still much to learn. The love of Christ is a universal language that surpasses all borders, barriers, and differences. We have much to teach one another, and I can’t wait for my next trip to Cuba. But this time, won’t you come with me?