It’s been a while since I’ve wrote on this blog since the new year, It’s been a busy, chaotic new year for me. From juggling with school and church responsibilities, starting a new job, and prepping for a trip with would change my life forever has kept super busy.
There has been so many stories I want to tell you so I decided that I would journal each day of my current feelings that the certain time and day and other experiences.
Today was a total culture shock from flying into the airport and dealing with having to deal with chaos. I find it to be a major culture shock when all I can hear is strictly Spanish. I Never felt so humbled because I barely know Spanish, everything is so different. The vehicles look like they were straight from the 70s.
Because of the water being different from how it is in the US, we have to drink bottled waters and used different forms of water supply to wash our hands and brush our teeth. It’s one thing when you are staying at a person’s house and you don’t know them, however, it’s another thing if they don’t speak the same language as you do. I have a feeling that many ladies (and gents) have felt like since you don’t talk like them its difficult. I felt like I’m relearning all over again. I now officially know who many non-Americans, especially those from foreign countries normally feel. It’s hard to communicate especially if you are not fluent in their language. What has been done is “sign language ” talk about humility at its finest. I felt kind of “dumb” but I know it is not their fault neither was it mine. It’s also hard being in the same room because you don’t know what to say or how to say it. But it’s a part of life, sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone and make the most of it. The other issue is the the lack of cellphone. There is basically no service for Americans in Cuba. Even when I got out the airport, my iPhone 6 make it crystal clear indicating that I have no service. It’s hard because I am unable to communicate with my other team members or my professors. I don’t know what’s going on or of any other changes occurring.
I ended up asking God to help me to be able to communicate with my hostess. I ended up talking to her after doing my cat nap since I didn’t want to fill like I was staying in my room and notice far she was reading this book that seems interesting. Eventually I realized that she was one of the members of the church I was assigned along with my group. We were able to talk about somethings and about the children at the Fomento church. We were able to connect about various things by reading our schedule for the study tour. She talked to me about the beach and about the big catholic cathedral we drove past enroute to her home. I’m beginning to learn about being content with the little things I have in my life. They are definitely hospitable and for that I am grateful. She seems pretty opened to women pastors. She was excited to know that my fellow group member Suh Young and I were preaching. We even talked about Dr. Ortiz and how great of a minister he is. I am praying that this is the start of a new relationship that will flourish in the next few days. She is definitely rubbing off on me.
We welcomed the Sabbath day in a special way by reciting the 23rd Psalm in Spanish and then our hostesses prayed for us and the work we will be doing. Heraclio preached tonight about the Word of God, I wasn’t able to understand most of what others were saying but I felt the Spirit of God moving, and it was only the first night.
Day 2 in Cuba
Woke up to a delicious breakfast. Attended my Cuban church this morning . Humility 101 pt 3 attending an ALL Spanish speaking church. Never thought that the SDA hymnal in Spanish is different from the English version. Despite my lack of Spanish, the church members are so accommodating despite my lack of fluency in Spanish. I was introduced along with my work team to our church. Dr. Ortiz spoke for church and announced our children’s evening program. Thankfully, Dr. Ortiz arranged for someone to translate for me and Suh Young for the service, his name is David.
After church, a parent came up to me saying that her kids will be in attendance. I pray that I can be a blessing to these little ones despite the language barrier.
Today, we went door to door sending out invites to tonight’s meetings. The people here are pretty receptive for the most part. I am grateful for my translator, Nelson. He is a medical student from Angola, great guy indeed! The first house we went to Lerancia and Valtina, before we knew it, we were in their house. They said that they were baptist and we encouraged them to come to our meetings tonight. We were able to pray for them and their kids.
We were able to enter into a medical office building and invited them and they were grateful that we were able to come from America to Santiago de Cuba. I felt honored to hear the boss tell us that. He mentioned that there is a need here in Santiago. We were able to meet Tanya, she was welcoming to hear what we had to say and opened her home to us as well, she was also thankful that we came… The more I hear such affirmations, the harder I keep praying. One of door to door visits was with Mr. Ricardo Perra, he of course opened his home to us and when we spoke to him about the programs, he stated that he would love to target but he is unable to walk as much because he was in cardiac arrest and it messed up his legs from the fall. He would like for us to come and give Bible studies for him and his family. I felt impressed to give a prayer of healing for Mr. Ricardo and asked God to find a way for him to be able to attend. Just before leaving, I told my translator, Nelson, to give him an invite but he said it was the last one and Ricardo said that he couldn’t go, but I insisted that he could still give it to him “just in case” I’ve been thinking so much about Mr. Ricardo and I’m praying that he has a way to attend our meetings. There was also another person but I didn’t catch his name. He refused to attend our meetings because of his “daily routine” I thought about Suh Young’s sermon being a message he needed to hear and about the second coming on Friday. Im praying for him because he says that he is alone since his wife passed away and his kids are gone. I am realizing that I need God more than ever. Only He can bring them to our meetings and touch their hearts. El Secreto es Jesus is becoming more real to me. Walking down the streets and looking at the faces of many people is an eye opener about the reality we face each day in the US. Lately, since leaving the US, I’ve been more inclined to revamping my sermon. I am realizing that I need to change the content of my sermon. I had a feeling that it was best for me to change my sermon.
Tonight was….huge. I didn’t expect so many children. I literally lost track of the number of children from the first meeting. One of the issues I had was of course with language barrier. I didn’t understand what the kids were saying so I had to get a translator. We were able to talk about Noah’s Ark in relation to the second coming of Jesus. One of the girls said that this was her first time coming to church and had a great time. I was so happy to hear that. I was able to inform the children’s ministries leader of the church I was working that the items I brought are for them to keep after I leave, she was grateful.
Day 3 in Cuba
Was able to see my other friends and hear their testimonies about their first few nights. It was amazing to see how God is using us and it’s not even Monday yet. For some of us, this experience is causing us to become speechless. We have viewed ministry and life totally different. Humility 101 pt 4 is now in session. We also went to visitation, we were only able to go to one house because the other people were sleep. I simply told him that the good part is that we were able to visit a house of Mireles and she was in good spirits and was happy to know that there are young people like us spreading the gospel of Jesus.
Her husband got the flu and we were able to pray for him. She shared with us a testimony about her son being healed from throat cancer. She spoke to us about her living situation and about the lack of water they get in their area. However, she is happy and content living here in Santiago de Cuba. She really wants to attend our meetings but her health/being overweight makes it impossible for her to walk long distance but said that she will make an effort to come Sabbath. I have gained so much respect for the bible workers here. The bible worker I was with would walk a good distance to lead out in small groups about a 20 min walk. We had to take a bus just to get where we need to go.
Our children’s program had less kids than yesterday but enough to keep me on my feet. Today, we talked about Jonah. The lesson was about obedience. I was still struggling with language barriers but I had my translator David to the rescue, I was so glad he was there. We ended up making balloon animals for the kids.
Day 4 in Cuba
We were able to meet Dr. Ortiz’s father and the only female pastor in all of Cuba. The pastor of my assigned church, Pastor Pablo did a couple of lectures one was about running a campaign and the other was about making appeals.
We were able to do a couple of visits but one of the most powerful visits I’ve experienced was when we went to the house of a man who have been doing Bible studies with a Bible worker. This guy had a Santeria job. He had to do a couple of required practices by praying to the virgins. Even though he accepted Christ, we would still have attacks from the spirits and hearing things. The Bible worker helped him destroy the idols after we all prayed with him. To hear him pray almost had me in tears. The tone of his voice sounded more empowered and victorious. Just when we thought everything was finished, the man ran back to his house to get a piece of paper and set it on fire. When we left the house, I notice a different walk from him, his head was held high. He told Heraclio that he feels like he’s walking on air and he feels like a new person. The Bible tells us “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (II Corinthians 5:17 NKJV)” Therefore, I am convinced that my sermon must target those reluctant to take the next step.
Tonight, we were able to talk about David and Goliath. The kids enjoyed the story. We were able to do hand motions and sound effects to make the story interactive. We even played Simon Says to keep them moving. They are simply the best!!! Even the parents are enjoying this.
Day 5 in Cuba
Amazing seminars about church growth and the types of small groups. Then, a couple of us did our rounds of visitation to those on the list. We were able to visit the same lady from Sunday who testified about her son being healed from throat cancer. It was great to see her husband doing well. They showed us some pictures of their baptism. It was first to know that they are both a great team hosting a group. We then attended some of their member’s houses. One member was in her 70s dealing with an illness the other one is still recovering from a home break in. The next house we went to was unexpected. I was intending on having a Bible study but when the woman says that there was a baby and wanted us to see her. We went from possible bible study to me doing an impromptu baby dedication. It was a great feeling.
Later on, I preached about baptism. I was in a blur of what was happening. I didn’t know what to say. God told me to start over and to stick to Romans 6. I don’t remember what I said but I was able to see people responding to the call for baptism. I was told that it was a powerful sermon. I was in a total blur. All I could remember was that I used my brother as an opening illustration about baptism and at the end I told those who came forward for baptism that they are victorious and that they should not come defeated.
Day 6 in Cuba
The Spirit of God is still moving. Charlyne did a great worship thought about allowing God to transform our lives here and back in the USA.The two seminars we were able to attend was about the pastor and family and the myths of child evangelism. Both were amazing. I was able to understand that my family is the number one priority. My family are to be active in ministry. My spouse must be mission minded.I was also reminded about the importance of children’s ministry. The Most important sector has been neglected Mt. 18
After the seminars, we went door to door. We were able to visit a guy who have been doing Bible studies and made a decision for baptism. He has a medical condition called elephantiasis, his feet is so swollen that he is unable to wear shoes, not even socks. His living conditions were painful to see. Afterwards, we ran into a guy who is struggling with identity issues. He was cross dressing and felt that we were going to judge him because of his lifestyle. We ensured him that we are not going to judge him and that he is love by God and us. He believes in Jesus but his friends practice witchcraft and tried to talk him out of Christianity. One of his friends tried to get his attention while we were talking with him, he eventually came over and began talking to Alejandro the Bible worker (they call him Ande) and of course turned into a debate. During this time my group started praying and I broke out in song. It was serious this guy was saying some crazy things.
That same day we were supposed to visit the house of the Bible worker, Alejandro, mother. She has been pretty skeptical about the “next step” especially after her two sons were giving her Bible studies. She had been dealing with issues of forgiveness towards herself because of a crime she had committed in the past. She had an issue with the man she once loved. He was cheated on her and when she addressed it to him, he would hit her. Then, he promised not to do it again and she forgave him. One day, she noticed lipstick stains on his shirt and said, “Never again.” When he returned home, she killed him. She was sentenced to 18 years in prison, meaning that Alejandro (Ande) and his brother were sentenced to 18 years without a mother. Five years ago, she was released from prison, but not from the guilt of taking someone else’s life. She couldn’t forgive herself. Then, Alejandro told us about his testimony as a street fighter becoming a pastor and medical missionary.We weren’t able to meet with her today because she was gone. So we decided to just pray outside of her home that God would lead her to a decision and that she can experience forgiveness.
Day 7 in Cuba
Pastor Guilma spoke to us about conflict resolution. She gave us a few pointers: conflict is inevitable, God is in control, and this too shall pass. She also gave us insight about training schools being a great weapon for evangelism. Suh Young wasn’t feeling well today and she wasn’t able to do any visits with us. I feel like the enemy is doing everything in his power to prevent her from preaching about the state of the dead. I was able to watch another set of Santeria idols being destroyed, there was a lot of items because the guy was one of the high priest of Santeria.
While the items were being consumed by fire the neighbors were complaining about us being disrespectful to burn our stuff but they normally burned their garbage in the same area. It was surprising to see them giving us grief for burning the items but at the same time it was not. Afterwards, the guy informed someone down the hill with hand signs which was saying “no more Santeria, I’m choosing God.” He even told his friends about the good news. He said that he wants to be baptized this Sabbath. He reminds me of the story about the woman at the well, once when she found Christ, she was willing to tell the world of what Jesus has done for her. He wants to tell the church about his testimony. What God is telling me from this situation is that He is greater than anything. He is Mighty to save every and anybody. He is a strong deliver. It’s amazing to see people denouncing lifestyles that are against the will of God. Tonight, we were able to pray for Suh Young to feel better. I wasn’t able to hear her preach since I was conducting the last night for the children’s program. It was the hardest thing I had to do. I told them I will be heading back to America on Monday. To see their faces nearly killed me. I told them if I don’t see them again soon, I will see them in heaven. I’m trying so hard not to cry while writing this. These kids have taught me so much. The teachers are phenomenal and I pray that I would be able to keep in touch with them. I miss these kids already. They will always have a place in my heart forever. They love me despite the language barrier. I have learned that love is a universal language. There is no need to translate it.
After everything was over, Jose had issues with his car, plus Suh Young’s fever was gone. Then the next thing I saw was Jason and Jonathan coming to the church with a huge rice bag with all the Santeria idols from a lady’s house. There was so much stuff from statues, to money that was offered to the “virgins” and even beer. Then the items were destroyed.
Day 8 in Cuba
Today for our seminars, we were listening to Pr. Daniel Lopez as he discussing the topics of youth ministry and praise and worship. There was a random awkward moment when the discussion of certain genres of music and styles of worship have taken place. I personally feel as though the topic of types of music in worship services is something that we all could agree to disagree. What was even more interesting was that while sitting down, is that those who put their two cents in the discussion were from two different backgrounds, racially. I believe that if the music is glorifying God and it is bring others to Him is what matters most. There are some people that have no business being upfront for worship because of the way they carry themselves off stage. I can’t believe it’s been over a week since our arrival in Cuba. It seems as though I’ve known these people my whole entire life. I can’t believe I’m surviving without Internet. My busy schedule keeps me distracted from missing FB and Hulu Plus. My typical day consists of going to Veguita church for worship and seminars, going to my assigned church to meet up with the Bible workers, then walking God knows how many miles to get to the Bible workers’ contacts houses(all over Santiago), go home and rest a little (keyword: little), go to Fomento for the evangelistic meetings where I am leading out in the children’s meetings and the only time I would sit in the actual meetings is whenever I’m preaching (go figure) but I love every moment of it. Many have used spring break as an opportunity to go on a vacation at a nice beach, relax, do school work, seeing family, or just doing absolutely nothing; however, I choose to sacrifice my spring break for ministry. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be doing anything other than doing “school work” or watching Netflix and Hulu plus with some Chic-fil-a. I wanted to make myself useful. I was nervous about the thought of going since I’ve never been out the country in which I would need a passport. I was feeling kind of nervous with the thought of going to a communist country since China and Soviet Union came to mind. I thought it would be like a military dictatorship expecting a soldier in every corner of the neighborhood and church spotting every move we make. Tonight as I prepare to conclude our series at the Fomento Church, I’m at peace of what God wants me to say to His people concerning his second coming. It’s amazing how the people in Cuba are on fire for God. Some of these Bible workers are working full time, no pay at all but they want to tell the world about Jesus. I’m able to think about how my classes have prepared me for this task. I’m praying that God could just use me one more time here in Cuba. I am humbled at how he used me during my time here. Before coming here, I felt that I couldn’t do this kind of work, I was not worthy for such call. But God, said “Of course not, that’s what I’m here for, I want to use you in this capacity.”
Tonight was an indescribable feeling. Mr. Ricardo decided to come and join us tonight. Ms. Marisel was excited to hear about it. I saw the individual that we spoke to Wednesday attend our meetings.
I preached about the second coming of Jesus and there was so much going on. Many emotions. The part that got me the most was when Jose started singing “Midnight Cry”, I tried so hard not to cry while being on the pulpit but a huge wave of emotions came full speed ahead. I was touched by the song as well was my own sermon. Just when I thought I was done being a cry baby, one of the kids from my children’s program around the age of 7 (I think) came down in response to my call, then 3 more of my kids….😭😭😭😭😭😭😭 I was overwhelmed with joy to see the children coming forward for baptism is my ultimate kryptonite.
I praise God for using me. Then, one of the translators for another group, Alex informed us that the baby had finally arrived around the time I was preaching. Note that his wife was playing the waiting game, the baby was overdue but thank God that the baby is ok. What was funny was he was translating for our seminars while his wife was at the hospital getting induced we were looking at him like what are you doing here??? Lol We realized that in Cuba, the father of the baby are not able to witness the birth therefore, they have to stay in the waiting room. He said that he didn’t want to waste his time in the waiting room when he should be using that time to serve God. Then after that Mr. Ricardo opened up to us for his desire to serve God. While we were in the jeep dropping off Alex at the house before the hospital, Ricardo told me how much he enjoyed my sermon, he said that it was beautiful. I could tell a sense of change in him. He wants to quit smoking and drinking but doesn’t know what to do to manage his stress. He said that in the near future, he will officially become Adventist.
Day 9 in Cuba
Today was a powerful day. To see many people getting baptized caused me to feel some kind of way…a good way. As mentioned in an earlier blog, Alejandro’s (Ande) mother had decided to be baptized. It was touching to see Ande and his brother, who happens to be a bible worker as well.
I was able to do a spotlight for the kids and had some of the attendees of the children program say a few things of what they have learned. The kids talked about how they have learned many Bible lessons and one said that he accepted Jesus as his Savior. They gave me this beautiful set of flowers made from paper.
I miss these kids already!!!
We were invited to Sabbath dinner by one of the Bible worker’s wife.
I was pressed for time and there was a ton of walking to do to get to the tablet and bike ceremony to Veguita. We eventually made it to Veguita…pretty late. I was glad that Ande and his brother received a tablet as well as Perrie. Pictures were being taken and an impromptu tutorial of using the tablets. Others were impressed with the tablets that we got them as well as the bikes. Later on that evening, we had a choice to go to Veguita, but my work group decided to hang out with a couple of our peoples from our church. There was cake and other goodies. David, my translator for the children’s program was there and Ande came later. I was kind of nervous at first because Doris, Jose, David, Suh Young, Ande, and myself had planned on doing something together before Leonardo, my preaching translator, called us…when we got home…inviting us to his house for a get together. David called the house and knew about the change of plans and decided to go straight to Leonardo’s house instead of meeting with us at the church with Ande (who has no phone). I was feeling bad because we didn’t communicate with Ande about our change of plans, but to my surprise Ande showed up at Leonardo’s house….Gloria a Dios!!! lol… Later on, Suh Young, David, Ande, and myself hung out together and had a season of prayer. Ande wanted us to pray for 4 things: 1. Ourselves, 2. Our friendship, 3. Our spirituality, and 4. Our parents. We sang songs together and of course prayed together. We started talking about our spiritual lives. I told Ande how amazed I was to see his mother baptized and he gave me some good counsel: Pray, pray, pray and show genuine love to others. He mentioned that his biological father practices Santeria and has no interest in God. He asks that we pray for him. He wants us to stay connected. I miss Ande already, he has touched my heart in many ways. His powerful testimonies, his smile, and his passion for ministry has left an impression on my heart. I feel at peace whenever I’m with him.
Day 10 in Cuba
Today was when we began our “decompressing” time by doing a tour around Santiago de Cuba. Before doing this tour, I felt that there was no point to going because we’ve basciallly walked all over Santiago when we did our door to door visitations. However, I was wrong. There was so much to see. We were able to visit a prehistoric site as a part of our tour. I felt like I died and woke up on the set of Jurassic Park or even the “Land before time.” It was interesting to see various types of dinosaurs and other creatures before time. The site was on the basis of evolution, but it was interesting to understand their side of the story of earth’s history. The only thing I didn’t like about that site was the bathroom attendant, her attitude was just messed up. To charge one peso for a bathroom with NO toilet paper and NO soap was mind boggling to me.
I was able to try some fresh coconut water that was refreshing because of the nutrients. Now I know why my daddy drinks it every morning on his way to work and after a good workout. Who needs Gatorade when you could drink nature’s sports drink, agua de coco.
After leaving the prehistoric animals museum. We stopped by the antique car museum. It’s amazing to see the various cars that people used to drive around in. I was able to pose next to a couple of them. Then, we went to this really nice restaurant called La Canasta, which means “the basket” in Spanish. I fell in love with it because it was a restaurant with a basketball theme. It was really cool that at the interest, there is a hoop and one of the hosts allowed us to shoot before going in. We were taken inside of an outdoor feel and sat next to pictures of the US Dream Team of 1994 and jerseys of Ginobli near our table.
We even had a duo singing for us while eating. The food was amazing, I had the fish that was really tasty.
After a great meal, we went shopping for sovenirs. Bargaining has become my BFF. Got some nice stuff for the family. We went by the big cathedral in Santiago which was next to the hotel gran casa blanca. Just when we returned home, my host family took us out to catch a beautiful view of Santiago. I wish I caught a pic of it because we weren’t supposed to take pictures where we were viewing. We went back home to receive a parting gift from our host family. I miss them already, I don’t want to leave them. I love them so much!!!!
Day 11 in Cuba
Today is the day that I have dreaded for the longest, leaving Santiago. I was sad having to say goodbye, especially to Mr. Ricardo. He gave us his blessing and I gave him a big hug. Then, the last ride on our amazing jeep back to where we first met Marisel and Jose. I was holding on to Marisel while everybody else was taking pics and bidding their adieus to their host families.
Then I was leaning on Jose saying “No quiero salir” after hearing Dr. Ortiz saying that we would be leaving in 5 minutes. I gave Doris the biggest hug because she became mi hermanita. When I hugged Marisel the last time I said to her, “Te amo” and she responded by saying “Tu quiero” which also means “I love you so much.” Getting on the bus, I was wiping some of the tears in my eyes and while the bus took off I saw Doris waving goodbye with tears in her eyes while Jose was holding her, which broke me completely. I was super quiet for the most part wishing I was still there. We eventually made it to the beach in Holguin, I was able to get more stuff and then I did something that I’ve never done before, swimming at the beach. The water looked so amazing.I took Dr. Ortiz’s advice by taking this time to decompress and enjoying the beach to help with my grieving. It was great to just bask in the Cuban sun and immerse my body in the saltwater.
We eventually went to our hotel area that looked nice. I enjoyed the scenery. The rooms were okay, I guess. Not like a typical American hotel room. But, the toilets were flushable, I didn’t have to worry about filling a bucket with water to “flush” after using it. We had a great walk around the hotel area until coming back to my room and seeing a spider that was super big. I was super traumatized after that and I was more than ready to head back to America.
This was one of the greatest experience that I’ve ever had in my life. I would never want to trade this for the world. I have learned so many lessons during my short stay. I have learned that even though many in Cuba are living in conditions that are considered to be poverty, their relationships compensate their materialistic poverty. I realized that the worst form of poverty is relational poverty. The cause of such poverty is pride. We were going into houses that if it was in the USA, people would be ashamed to crack open the door for us to see inside. I have a greater respect for those who have chosen the Medical Missionary field. Seeing people dealing with illnesses and are unable to seek medical attention because they are so far away from a hospital raises the need. It is not just a great career but a great ministry. I have learned that the battle is not against flesh and blood, but spiritual principalities. It’s evident that that’s the case when you talk with some of these individuals concerning health relation issues, relationship issues,etc. I am encouraged by every Bible worker, they have taught me so much about being on fire for God. I am challenged to improving on my prayer life as well as my devotional life. I was taught to never give up on people, the sermon that I once preach a few months ago reminded me about that. I realized that I am to love people despite their shortcomings. I realized that God will never give up on His children. He loves us so much. If only we as Christians would hold on to the fact that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus and that He died for our sins great or small, He is FAITHFUL to us despite our unfaithfulness,we would not try to imprison ourselves with the guilt of our past. God is Sovereign! God is Greater than Anything! God can uses our brokenness and make something beautiful. He did it for me, He used me!! I am free to say that I am NOTHING without God. I am NOTHING without God. I may be broken, but I am still usable. Ministry is not a title, neither is evangelism an event, they are both a lifestyle. God has been amazingly incredible and gracious during my time there. I pray that one day I am able to return and see those that I fell in love with down there. God is moving in Santiago de Cuba, I pray that God continues to be with every individual who had made this possible for all of us.
So my question to you today is what is holding you back from being fully used by God? Is it pride, fear, laziness? As my sister once told me, “There is a saying in NAPS (mission group) ‘Do your best, and let God handle the rest.” Let God use you today right where you are.