It's been a few months since my trip to Cuba in May of this year. I've delayed writing for various reasons, one of which, had been an inner struggle about future involvement on the Island. After getting back I couldn't help but talk about my experiences as I visited my native country forty-two years after leaving it in 1966. I proudly showed my pictures and shared the exciting stories of my trip. Yet, for several months, I pondered about what this trip would mean for my future.
Cuba, 775 miles long and 191 miles wide, is a most beautiful Island. The Royal Palm Trees stand tall and impressive. The valleys are breath-taking, and the people are playful and friendly. In the midst of the suffering most Cubans make the very best of their limitations and try to make ado through innovative ways. For example, in order for you to use someones email connection (few have it) you might barter with them by giving them two eggs for their time. The monthly food control allotment booklets (Control de Ventas Para Productos Alimenticios) are still being used but sometimes certain items are not available, or the money to purchase them has run out ($12 - $20 a month per worker is not uncommon pay).
I met several pastors during the training I led through SCPI or Saturation Church Planting International (http://www.scpi.org/). This organization is partnering with Cuban churches to help them in their church planting (=new church starts) efforts. With close to 12 million inhabitants, and less than 5,000 churches ministering the gospel, many denominations and churches have come together to start a total of 16,000 house churches by the year 2020. What an amazing challenge!
I'm now making plans to return to the Island in September to provide further training.
Many in the Cuban exile community look disfavorably at visiting Cuba. They feel that visits should be limited to only humanitarian needs, and that too many people from around the world, including the U.S., are traveling to the Island simply for pleasure. For example, the waters of Varadero beach are aqua blue and the hotels on the richer side of the peninsula are second to none. Some estimate that two million visitors travel to Cuba each year. This fact, they argue, has helped the Fidel & Raul regimen to stay in power and survive longer than otherwise would have been possible to do so. Yet, many continue to visit at will without truly understanding the full history - and present reality - of Cuba.
I can understand the strong sentiments of many in the Cuban community in the U.S., because I am one of them. However, due to this strong stand against visiting the Island, many don't see how clergy involvement from the U.S. can contribute to the growth of an otherwise growing church. After spending a few days in Cuba and seeing the servant-heart of pastors on the Island, it is true that we have little to teach them about church planting per se. The church under communism is growing and Christians are reaching out to others. So, why get involved? Why return with further training?
Tomorrow I will share a few reasons for my sustained involvement in Cuba.Por Su Gracia y Fidelidad