On July 20, 2015, the US and Cuba restored diplomatic relations that severed during the Cold War. Cuba has been closed to Americans for some time. However, President Barack Obama began working with Cuban President Raul Castro in December 2014 to establish a more friendly relationship between the countries.
Below is an interview with a missionary who went with one of the first legal Christian short-term missions into Cuba in June 2015. Remarkably, despite the gravity of the situation in Cuba and the history-making relationship evolution, his experience mirrors the experience of many others who I have heard from who have chosen to follow Gods call to become goers. Check it out:
A: What was your favorite part of the mission trip?
I did some really challenging things, which I think were good for me. But they were also hard so I don’t know if that would be my favorite part.
A: What were the challenging things?
The most challenging was preaching a sermon. Other challenging things were reading in Spanish. One Sunday morning, I read a book to the kids in Spanish and on another visitation I read a song in Spanish. Reading Spanish in front of people was so challenging because I struggle to read it even when I’m on my own.
A: What was your least favorite part?
Wearing pants everyday.
A: Why did you have to wear pants?
In Cuban culture or maybe Latin American cultures, for that matter, when you are representing the church it is customary to wear pants.
A: Who was your favorite person that you met?
A: Why was he your favorite?
He was really kind and generous and loving. He spoke Portuguese so he could help me when I accidentally spoke Portuguese. I do speak Portuguese pretty well because I took it as a class in college and have been brushing up via the Duolingo app. Portuguese and Spanish are similar so it was easy to accidentally switch over to Portuguese. It helped to know Portuguese but it also added confusion at some points.
A: Can you give an example of how you know Jose is kind and loving?
He took me to his house and fixed mangos for me to eat and made me grapes from his vineyard. He always made sure that we felt welcomed.
A: What were most surprised about in Cuba?
A: What about the cars surprised you?
Completely didn’t expect to see so many old American cars on the road. I guess it’s somewhat of a well-known thing because many people knew to expect that but I had no idea.
A: Is there something you wish you had done while you were there that you did not get a chance to do?
I would have liked to have gone to Havana but that wasn’t feasible. I would like to have ridden in the back of a jeep or a carriage or a side car of a motorcycle.
A: Do you think you changed anyone’s life by being there?
I hope so. I don’t know that I made a profound change on anyone. But I hope that I was able to at least be a positive influence with everyone that I did meet and disciple to while I was there.
A: Do you feel that your life was changed by going?
Again, I don’t know that it was changed profoundly. I think that all experiences change us somewhat and I think the experience that I had there will inform decisions I make in the future especially with respect to where I am interested in serving in the mission field.
A: How big was your group?
A: What were the demographics of that group
Carl was the leader. He and his wife, Martha, are in their 70s and spent 20 something years in the mission field in Latin America. Richard was 57, retired banker and he goes on mission trips bi-annually to Mexico to work with the Weechol Indians. Mark was 60 and he’s a former member of Ridgecrest (the church I attended in Missouri and who organized this trip) and now he pastors a church in Ozark, Missouri and plays the banjo. Kathy is in her 60s. She has a phD in Counseling. She was in my Perspectives class and she speaks pretty fluent Spanish. Stacey is 45 with 2 kids and is a speech pathologist who also speaks Spanish. Heidi is 41 and has a child she adopted from Korea. Jordan is 17 just graduated from high school and is interested in ministry and missions.
A: What are you going to be praying for regarding the people that were on your team (that you don’t mind sharing)?
I pray especially for Jordan that as he makes this big transition in his life to go to college that he can really make a positive impact at his school and be a light for Christ.
A: How will you pray for the Cubans that you ministered to?
I will pray that God does work in their communities, that he really uses them to make a change in their communities, to lead their families and friends to Christ.
A: What were the sleeping arrangements like?
We slept at the Baptist convention center of eastern Cuba and we had 2 to a room with 2 beds and a really thin twin mattress and a window unit AC. Jordan was my roommate. There was no hot water and sometimes there was no cold water either but the water was never really freezing because they kept it in a cistern on the roof and so it was in the sun all day.
A: If you were the leader of your own mission group, what is one thing you would do different?
Honestly, I think Carl was an amazing group leader and nothing stuck out that I would have changed. Maybe I would have tried to draw more information from our hosts about upcoming schedules and communicate that but I may not have done that either had I known everything that he knew.
A: Would you have brought little children with you if you had them? Under 12
I would not personally have a problem bringing kids but I’m not sure that they were really invited to this place but I wouldn’t have minded them being there.
A: What do you think was God’s purpose for you going on this Cuba mission trip?
I think to expose me more to missions and let me see an application for some of the things that I learned during the Perspectives class that we took this semester. (Look below for link to more information about taking “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” course)
A: Do you think that mission trips should provide aid in addition to discipleship? (This was an ongoing debate in my perspective class. I am not sure about yours but we frequently wondered whether the great commission supported bringing aid as a “door opener”.)
I don’t know. I think the most important thing is spreading the word. I think aid can be used as a tool especially if it’s a closed country that might accept some sort of aid and that allows people to get in where they might not have been able to otherwise. I don’t think aid in and of itself is a bad thing but it can certainly be used that way. I don’t think it should or shouldn’t be used, it just depends on the situation. We did bring some things to give to them. But I think that was gifts of love more than anything else especially for the people on our team who have been to Cuba multiple times and have a relationship with the people there.
A: What kinds of things did you bring?
We brought a banjo and some books for the kids and some bracelets to illustrate the story of salvation and some other educational materials.
A: Do you think a bigger or smaller group than 9 would have been more advantageous?
I don’t know. I don’t think at any point we found ourselves not having enough people to do what we wanted to do. I don’t think a smaller group would have been unable to accomplish the same thing but it wouldn’t have been better to have less people.
A: Do you think there were benefits gained from having what was clearly a cross generational team?
Yes I definitely do believe we benefitted from that.
A: What were those benefits?
We were better able to relate to a wider range of people in the community. We had older folks who could relate to older folks there and younger who could relate to younger. It enabled us to build more relationships.
A: Would you be embarrassed if some of the people you met there were able to watch the life you lead here? I’ve heard stories of people feeling remorseful because of the luxuries we enjoy that their new friends do not.
Not necessarily because of how much I have and they don’t. However, I think there’s always things that we do when we think no one is watching (or so we think). So I think if anyone were watching my life that I live, there are things that I do and that I’ve done that would embarrass me. I try to be honest and forthcoming about those but it’s difficult and those difficulties are made more apparent to yourself when you are on a discipleship mission.
A: When is your next mission trip?
I have no plans for a mission trip as of yet but I hope I’ll get another opportunity to do one soon.
If you are interested in taking the “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” 15-week course, please visit Perspectives.org to find one near you.