Warm Christian greetings to you brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a real blessing t once again to greet you by way of our mission blog posts. For those of you who have been receivers of our blogs over the years, I trust that they have been a source of blessing and encouragement to you and your family, as we have sought to document and share with you our travels around the world as we seek to spread the Gospel light. In a special way, we are deeply appreciative for those of you who have helped us, and partnered with us, as we seek to reach the world for Christ. Because of your prayers and sacrificial giving, much has been accomplished, and we pray that by God’s grace much more will be accomplished for Christ in our Generation.
Some years ago I read a very interesting book by a Cuban Pastor entitled “ I Will Die Free.” I found this book to be quite a riveting and captivating read, as the author took us on a vivid, explicit. and graphic journey, as he recollected his experiences as an Adventist Christian who suffered persecution in Communist Cuba. I always had a deep admiration for the author and his steadfast lion like faith, but, I never dreamed that one day I would be able to visit and preach in this communist strong hold of Cuba.
My good friend from Austria, Dr. Markus, called me a few months ago and expressed to me that he had a desire to plan a mission trip to the country of Cuba. He further stated that this was his first full scale mission trip, and that he was soliciting my participation in this project that would be in March 2013. I honestly was not sure whether or not it was God’s will for me to go, to be honest I was quite overextended in my many and varied commitments around the world, and Cuba would be a challenge both financially and mentally. Nevertheless, as I considered Markus’s assistance to me in India just a few months ago, where he and his team came and gave me ready assistance in the field, as well as build a new church in a village for us, I just could not refuse his request for support. After prayer and meditation on this point, I decided to take advantage of this opportunity to go forward, and decided to seek the Lord for provision on yet another mission project.
Going on mission projects are always a challenge to say the least. It seems like Satan and all of his hosts wait until you are fully committed to go, and then all of hades “ breaks loose in your life.” That has been the consistent pattern over the years, and this trip was to be no different. Trouble after trouble besought me as time drew near for the trip, in fact, I was not able (due to some visa issues) to secure my flight until the day before I was supposed to be in Cuba, and the funds needed for the trip, only came to me 8 hours before I was scheduled to fly. I am not sure why, but God usually opens the door for us, not in the last minute, but in the last second of time. It can be quite a nerve racking experience at times, but we are constantly learning to operate and excel in such constraints.
My plane arrived in Havana Cuba on a breezy, clear, and quite sunny day in March 2013. As the airplane taxied on the Havana runway, my ears were greeted by a most rousing applause, and shouts of exhilaration from the mostly Cuban passengers. In fact, the excitement was almost reminiscent of a Latino football game I had attended in the US some years before. Cuban nationals, expatriates, refugees ( some of whom escaped from the Cuban dictatorship years before), had now returned home. Due to the Obama administration’s easing the embargo restrictions some, many Cubans, and Cuban Americans, can now travel freely to and from Cuba. Many were tearfully happy to be in their homeland again, and had returned home to visit long lost loved ones. The Cuban passengers were mostly originated from Miami Florida, many were adorned with multiple gold rings, bracelets and gold chains, not to mention the latest designer sneakers and sunglasses. Many of the women could be seen in their stiletto heels, wedged canvased sandals, designer handbags, and freshly painted lip stick and mascara . Some had left the country, fleeing on makeshift rafts, heading to Florida with only the clothes on their backs. Many others entered the US from the Arizona Mexico, and various other borders, some were undocumented political refugees living in the US for years, but now they had returned home, better than when they left, and they wanted to make that point emphatically clear as we embarked upon the city of Havana.
The Airport in Havana was quite small, and consisted of only a few modest and un- assuming buildings. In fact, in my many travels overseas, I can honestly say that it was the smallest airport I have ever landed anywhere in the world. As I entered the airport, I was anxious to view the faces of actual Cuban nationals working at the airport. Many of men were smartly dressed in their green uniforms, while women could be seen in their (unusually short) green mini skirt uniforms . Inside the Airports were the people from my flight, many of whom were jostling for the 1st place in the line, as many seemed anxious to clear customs, and claim their merchandise that they had brought back for their families. Big screen tvs, bicycles, laptop computers, clothes wrapped in big bundles of black saran wrap, and toys in abundance could be seen parading around the luggage conveyor belt . One man explained to me that he bought a bicycle for his son that caused $150, but, by the time he paid to ship it on the plane from the US to Cuba, and again paid duty to clear it at the Cuban airport, the price grew from $150 to over $600 US. He complained to me that it was just not fair, but he had no choice, as Cuba is still one of the most impoverished countries in the world, and unless you bring merchandize from abroad for your family, they will just go without.
As one enters Cuba, it would immediately seem as though one has stepped back in time. It would seem as though we have stepped on the set on a 1950’s movie, as we see mostly cars from the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s almost everywhere. Few people know the history, but based on what I was told, Cuba used to be almost considered US territory for many years, in fact, as far back as the early 1950’s, one could easily board a ferry from Florida with your car, and be in Havana in a few hours where you could easily drive around and spend US money in your travels. Many of the cars in Cuba up until the 1950’s actually came from the USA. Fidel Castro overthrew the Government of Batista in 1959, and shortly thereafter made himself president for life, but when he embraced communism, he became an enemy of the US, and thus began decades of strained relations with the US, and most of the western countries.
My family and I have lived in India and have seen poverty, in my travels elsewhere I have also seen many and varied cases of poverty, but I can relate to you through this blog that Cuba is one of the poorest places that I have visited so far. The people dress quite well overall, but still the living conditions are far below the standards of much of the world.
I was told by a Cuban national, that the average salary for a Cuban is between $13-$20 per month, in fact, the maximum salary in the country for a person who is a surgeon or lawyer is only $25-$30 per month. In Communism, the people also get a ration card, and receive a small amount of beans, rice, and other provisions that last them a portion of the month. According to the doctrine of Communism everyone is seen as equal, so irrespective of whatever you decide to study in school, you will never make above that $25 per month mark. A friend of mine who studies in Cuba, was relating to me the fact that his professor in medical school was a very gifted and brilliant man. This professor was so brilliant that he invented several devices in Cuba that can be used to regulate a person’s heart, and treat different kinds of irregularities. Even in all of his brilliance, this professor had to resort to sell ham sandwiches on the side of the road after school every day, just to make $5 or $8 extra dollars per month for his family. Every person in the country is free to study whatever they desire, and received equal educational opportunities, so that they can make a contribution to the Communistic society, but they will never be wealthy or financially successful from that education, as long as they live on the island of Cuba.
The Cubans in general are a very educated group of people, as education is free and available to all, and the majority of the population is highly educated. I have met several accomplished musicians who have studied, and mastered several instruments, yet are as poor and desperate as the man who sweeps the streets. I met a very charming and well rounded Cuban young lady on my trip, she was just 20 years old, but spoke fluent English, French and was learning German just a few weeks before our encounter. She explained to me that life was hard for her and that just a short time before, she used to sell cheese in the market in order to buy food to eat. My translator Leonardo who translated for me during my meeting, shared with me that when he received the call to translate for me he was very happy for the opportunity, but he could not even find the money to travel the 4 hour journey to the town of our meeting. He told me that he sold his wedding ring of 18 years, in order to secure the bus tickets for his family, and to buy a pair of shoes for his young son to attend the meetings. After the meetings, I stayed with him and his family in the slums of city of Santiago de Cuba for 1 week, and personally witnessed the living conditions there. During my stay with them I daily purchased food for the family at a cost of $7 per day (just vegetarian beans, vegetabes and fruits) and the family was extremely thankful. Leonardo personally thanked me, and reminded me that as a result of my being in his home, his wife and children were able to eat for the whole week.
One might ask the question why don’t the people just farm? I also asked the same question as I saw them struggling to obtain food. I came to understand, that unlike the US and other Countries of the world, Cuban policy was different. The people of the country do not own their houses, lands, cars or anything else. If a person wanted to grow a few acres of peas of corn etc, he must 1st obtain permission from the Government to do so. Secondly, the government could make a demand to receive a portion of whatever he or she grew, at the price that they set, and whatever percentage remained the individual was free to do with it as they liked, providing that they paid their taxes after. A refusal or neglect to obey such an order could land one in prison for 5-10 years of hard labor and (or) the seizure of one’s property. Because of these and other stringent measures, as I traveled from West to Eastern Cuba, that the majority of the rural lands were hundreds of thousands of acres of vast barren wasted lands.
The government can also show up at any given time and demand that you vacate your place of residence, irrespective of however long you have lived there, if they deem it a place of interest for themselves. If you are one of the fortunate few Cubans who can afford to buy a vehicle, you must seek permission from the govt. to own a vehicle, and then they must inform you as to what kind of vehicle you can buy. Even if you end up with quite a bit of money from some source, you cannot just own a new vehicle, as these are restricted for Govt. uses only. If you are caught somehow owning a new vehicle, that vehicle can be immediately seized, and you can be put in Prison. I have heard of people who have worked in the US for some time and decided to build a nice mansion of a home for themselves upon their return home. The Govt. gave them permission to build these mansions, and then shortly thereafter, upon completion, demanded that they be demolished, as they were inconsistent with communist standards. Essentially, the houses that were built were too big, and too fancy, in comparison with everyone else’s.
Communism is an interesting ideology that I struggle to accept. In my opinion, there are many undesirables features to this system of government. But, I have learned to really appreciate Cuba’s higher education system. Irrespective of whatever educational vocation you desire to follow, all education is free. Not only is the education free to the Cubans, but individuals from any other nationality or people groups are welcome to study for free in Cuba. I was fortunate enough to meet many Africans, Haitians, Jamaican, and individuals from many Caribbean islands. I also came to understand that there are currently about 100 students from the US, who are taking advantage of this golden opportunity, and are studying medicine in Cuba. Once they return to the US after their studies, their degrees are recognized anywhere in the US, and the blessing is that they have no student loans to repay. It is one of the many admirable humanitarian gestures that Cuba offers to the world, but unfortunately many times, such admirable benevolence gets lost in the shuffle of political rhetoric in the ever evolving global arena.
Markus had scheduled our evangelistic meetings in the Holguin province of Cuba. Holguin was truly a remarkable place to visit during our trip. What I found to be quite interesting was the fact that most of the population in the Holguin province was Caucasian. Having originated from the country of Jamaica, and having visited several Caribbean islands, I was under the impression that all of the islands were the same, and that they consisted mostly of people of African descent, boy was I wrong. I came to understand that a large percentage of the population of the people in Cuba were European. Most people of European descent in Cuba, were descendants of the Spaniards who had came to occupy and colonize Cuba a few centuries before. Other Spaniards fled Spain during the terrible periods of the Spanish civil war under Franco, in order to escape the terrible persecution that later ensued. As I preached to an almost exclusively Caucasian audience every night in Cuba, I was reminded of how little I really knew of the world. In my mind I knew that I was still in the Caribbean, but Cuba was just a whole different experience in itself.
In Holguin province, the main modes of transportation for those who were operating taxis were actually horse and buggy, and bicycle taxis. It was hard to believe that in 2013 people were still using horse and buggies as taxis. In fact, in the rural village where I conducted our meetings, the only mode of transportation was horse and buggy for the local people. Due to the economic depression that had oppressed the people in the past decades, they had learned to use their ingenuity and to become self sufficient in many ways. We can boast of our Hybrid and electric vehicles in the US, but the Cubans had far exceeded us I believe, in that they had learned to even operate a taxi that does not require gasoline or electricity, only grass, now in my opinion that is truly thinking green.
We conducted 2 Evangelistic meetings in total on this brief mission trip to Cuba. My Austrian friends Markus, Beatrice and Kristoff conducted 1 meeting in the main town of Holguin province, while I conducted 1 meeting in a rural district 1and ½ hours away. I was able to vist Markus’s meeting site on one particular night and I was really quite blessed. Markus was the main speaker who delivered the message every night in Spanish, unaided by a translator. As I work with this young man, I am more and more impressed by how much he allows the Lord to use him. As I mentioned in my last blog, Markus is an Austrian who speaks fluent German, Spanish, English and possibly other languages. He was our lifeline and main means of communication with the Cubans, as my 2 years of Spanish in high school could not get me past hello and how are you. His meetings were also intensely interesting, and it seemed as though hundreds and hundreds of people came every night to hear him. He had fostered many friendships with the Cubans in his past trips, and he had sacrificed and invested many thousands of Euros into the Cuban missions from his own pocket, and so the people of the Cuban Adventist missions held him in high regards. Markus had seen the plight of the Cuban brethren in his past visits, and promised himself that he would not forget them. As a layman, he brought us with him as a missionary and Evangelistic team, to preach the Gospel, and to uplift the down trodden brethren in Cuba.
As mentioned earlier, my meeting was in a very rural town almost 2 hours away from the main province. The people in the town were almost wholly agrarian, and very, very poor. The local Adventist church was a large building indeed, and was almost full to capacity every night. Many of the people who attended my meeting lived in other small towns and villages scattered miles away from our meeting site and without transportation they had to walk many miles to come to our meetings. Because of this fact we found it necessary to hire a large dump truck, and an agricultural tractor to carry the people to and from the meetings every night. Some had to travel more than 20-30 kilometers every night on rough and bumpy roads, but in spite of this and other inconveniences, many never missed a night.
The meetings were filled with the power of the holy spirit every night. I had prayed and studied my topic that I preached on every night, but I quickly discovered where the power was coming from, as there were a group of some 6 people who prayed for me every night continuously while I preached. Though they themselves wanted to be in the meetings and hear the word, they sacrificed their time to pray for me while I spoke. In fact, the leader of the prayer team said that they began to pray for me months before, even as soon as they heard that I was coming to their town. Whenever we preach on certain topics we can expect opposition from Satan, one night as I preached on the subject of the mark of the beast, all of a sudden my computer and projector went blank. I stopped preaching and try as I might I could not fix the problem, 2 members of the prayer team then prostrated themselves flat on the ground and prayed aloud and most earnestly, and in just a few seconds after they began to pray, everything again resumed without interruption.
In some meetings, people could be seen with tears streaming down their cheeks as we made our appeals. Several people took their stand for baptism, even my translator and his wife decided to get baptized after the meeting. My translator Leonardo and his wife Anya were dis-fellowshipped from the Adventist Church some 18 years before. Leonardo explained that he had an adulterous affair with Anya some years before, things intensified between the two and finally Leonardo left his wife and their 2 children to be with Anya permanently. They were subsequently dis-fellowshipped, Leonardo divorced his 1st wife, and then married Anya and they had 2 children between them. They had both been struggling to keep their marriage alive because of the intense guilt that they felt, and with no church support they finally found themselves on the verge of divorce. They felt impressed to come to the nightly meetings, and after 18 years of being on the run, they want to make things right between them and the Lord. They have decided to make a public confession before the church, and to seek the brethren’s forgiveness. As well as they both want to get baptized. Many were the testimonies that came from my meetings in Cuba, and all that I can say is to God be the glory, great things He hath done.
I have already been invited back to the country of Cuba to conduct another series of meetings in the very near future, and I will put it in the Master’s hand as to when is the right time to return. Please continue to keep our brethren in Cuba in your prayers, as they face many struggles that we in America can hardly imagine. My local church where I worked expressed an urgent need for 3 bicycles that would be used to transport the local Gospel workers from village to village, as well as they are in desperate need for another horse and buggy. If you are impressed to help and are financially able, please feel free to make a donation online at www.3goingforward.com or you can mail us a check to 3 Going Forward Ministries P.O. Box 324 Burtonsville Md. 20866, please just note your donation “Cuba.” As a ministry we are always grateful for your support, as you support helps us to carry the light of God’s word around the world. May God continue to richly bless and keep you in His loving care is our prayer for you. Maranatha.