I was not able to access the blog in Cuba as we had very limited internet. I am catching up now that we are home, so there will often be several new posts uploaded at a time. Happy Reading!
Presenting ten skits plus preparing for the ever-increasing crowd of children for VBS, means that our mornings--while Andrews University students are in class at the church--and our afternoons--while they do outreach--are spent at our house memorizing lines and cutting out crafts. After a couple of days of this, I was concerned that we were not spending enough time getting to know Cuba and our community.
The AU students take a break between their two classes to walk a few blocks to a long, narrow park that divides a major thoroughfare. They play Frisbee and interact with people who are sitting on benches or waiting for buses. On Sunday we couldn´t afford to take the time away, but by Monday we needed to get out! People at the little park were friendly and interested in the John 3:16 puzzles and little animated books we used as conversation starters. We learned in our previous trip to Cuba that these are irresistible. I was proud of my students who quickly learned what they needed to say to engage people with these tools.
Each of the five AU groups designed a "Creative Evangelism" project. One group gives haircuts outside their church, others take portrait photos, while another does vision screening and gives away glasses. They started Sunday afternoon, but as I mentioned, we were home working hard on our jobs. We had heard touching stories about the vibrant church in a very poor neighborhood known as "Chicharrones" (AKA "Pork Chop") and I asked the pastor of that church (Daniel) if we could visit during their Monday afternoon outreach. He agreed and told us he had worked out transportation that would have room for our group of eight. Check out the picture to see "room for 8" Cuban-style!
The AU student leading out at this church gave us a little tour and introduced us to the head deacon, who told us how he came to know Jesus, dramatically gesturing each line of his story. Three years ago Lázaro was a drunkard living on the street. Someone gave him a gospel tract with a phrase that caught his attention: "Love your neighbor as yourself." He wanted to visit the church to learn what "neighbor" meant, but he had no clothes and no shoes. He managed to find some cast-off things and cleaned them up as best he could. He radiated pure joy as he told about learning from God's Word and being baptized. Now he is an energetic, devoted follower of Jesus whose life has become all about loving his neighbor through his tireless work at his church. What a transformation!
The church building itself was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The makeshift structure they have used since then has rough wood walls that don't reach all the way to the metal roof, which leaks when it rains. There is just one rustic room for the children and the bathroom is an outhouse. As the university student told us, "No one in Cuba is rich, but these people are truly poor."
After our tour, we mingled with those who were waiting for their turn for vision screening, using our John 3:16 puzzles. Everyone wanted to try out the puzzle (it looks easy, but there is a trick to it!), so it was easy for my students to talk to people. We were all really touched by this personable congregation and my students insisted we need to visit again.
UPDATE: At the conclusion of the evangelistic series, baptisms were held at three different locations. Pastor Daniel asked us to go to Chicharrones for the baptism service there and present some of the skits we had done at the Veguita church. Our team presented the Heart Surgeon skit and planned to do a second drama, but we were missing one of our Cuban actors and one PAA student was sick. Pastor Daniel decided to begin the baptisms while we tried to pull ourselves together and students filling in for the missing members rehearsed their lines. I felt people would be ready to go home after two hours of baptisms (104 people!), but Pastor Daniel said it would work out just fine. So at the end of the service, our team presented the "Tale of Two Brides." As I watched, I realized we had the perfect conclusion to the baptism service. When the drama ended, I took the mic and made an impromptu call for response from the congregation. Did they want to be like the unfaithful bride? "No!" they responded. I told them that they had just made a commitment to Jesus, but just like in the skit, their "ex" would soon be knocking at their door. I reminded them that as the bride of Christ, we want to be faithful to the one who loves us so much, and like the good bride in the skit, tell that ex: "Vete! (Get lost!)".
Over the past four years, Andrews University has raised $10,000 for a new building, but about $20,000 is still needed. As we watched the rain coming in during the standing room only church service, we felt certain we could do something to help this active church get a new building. If you want to help make that a reality, you can donate on the Andrews University website. Choose "Care for Cuba Church buildings" and type Chicharrones in the "My instructions" box. Thanks!
Jesus says we can´t do anything without Him (John 15), so why start our day trying? Back in December, students paired up with "accountabilibuddies" to help them develop the habit of spending morning "quiet time" with God and journaling their insights. Ironically, it is common to let time with God slide when we are doing work for God. We want to make sure that doesn´t happen while we are in Cuba, so we get up early each day for our 1-on-1 time, then we circle up for sharing. Mike starts by reading 1 Corinthians 14:26: "What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up." This is a reminder that sharing with each other what God is teaching us is the normal Christian life, not just for "super Christians." Although some in our group are more reserved, we are all learning to share from our quiet time insights.
After breakfast, we meet with the Andrews University students for worship at the Veguita church down the block from our house. This morning (Monday) it was our turn to lead out. After Gam and Jacob led us in some songs, I talked about the scriptures that guide Sus Manos: Ephesians 4 (training for works of service builds up the body of Christ) and 2 Timothy 2:2 (we need to pass on to others what we have learned) and I told about our quiet time sharing circle. Mike read the verse from 1 Corinthians, Keeley and Morgan shared from their journals, Damaris talked about what she was learning through the children at VBS and Josh closed with prayer.
I found it powerful that the girls shared what they had learned this morning in their quiet time, not something they had prepared before we left home. Keeley talked about how easy it is to find common ground in our negativity. We do this all the time, yet when we see it on a big scale like in Luke 23:12 (Herod and Pilate becoming friends as they planned Jesus´ death), we are disgusted by it. She encouraged us to bond through positivity. Morgan read Acts 5:41-42. The account of the apostles continuing to preach despite being jailed and flogged--and doing it joyfully!--shows us that sharing God's word is not always easy, but we should do it with joy and rejoice that God trusts us to do His work.
As part of our 2 Timothy 2:2, this year I bought a few journals for us to give to people we meet, to encourage them to try journaling their time with God. On Sabbath, instead of a skit, I did an illustration that showed the importance of listening, reading, studying, memorizing and mediating on God´s Word (The Word Hand). I had a volunteer try to hold his Bible with just one finger, then two, etc. to emphasize that we need all these habits to have a strong grasp on God´s word. My volunteer, a Bible worker named Fidel, was so surprised and happy to receive the journal I gave him to thank him for his help, he gave me a kiss on the cheek! (Latinos kiss on greeting one another, but I think Cubans are especially good at following the command to "greet one another with a holy kiss." So many children at VBS kiss us both coming and going, that I think I am going to have it so ingrained by the time I get back to school, I will be kissing all my students.)
Tonight I gave two more journals to volunteers. I gave an audience member a gift bag, but had her stomp on it before opening it. When I showed her the destroyed ornament inside the bag, I asked if she would treasure it always. (There are two congregations meeting in our building--upstairs and downstairs--so we present each drama twice. For the first service, my volunteer insisted she would treasure the shards of glass. In the second service, the volunteer was an 8-year-old girl who candidly said she would not. Ah, the honesty of youth.) The moral was that we may not find beauty in the Sabbath and treasure it as a gift from God if we trample it and don't guard it. I gave each of the volunteers a journal in which I had written up suggestions for journaling quiet time and a sample page from my own journal.
Update: During the last meeting (Saturday night), the woman who had received the journal Monday excitedly showed it to me. She read me each day´s quiet time notes. I loved the insights she had received and I told her she is writing a beautiful devotional book! I saw the little girl sitting a few rows ahead, so I dragged the woman over to her. Honestly, I had felt the journal was wasted on this young child, who was not likely to use it for a quiet time journal. I had the woman show the girl her quiet time notes and I (rather condescendingly I fear) encouraged the little girl that perhaps she could do something like that with her journal some day. A woman sitting in the pew behind the girl spoke up. "I am her mother," she said as she pulled out the journal. "We have been reading the Bible together and writing what we learn." She showed me several pages of their notes. Lord, shut my mouth! You know more about what You are doing than I do! (HINT: hover over photos for captions!)
We hit the ground running (click on photos or hover over for captions and some cultural tidbits, too)
We had just a few hours between getting off the bus--which had taken us from the airport in Holguin to Santiago de Cuba--and the first night of the evangelistic series. Fortunately, our first drama, supporting the sermon about salvation, is one that students know well, with lots of repetitive lines. It replays the scene of Jesus sleeping in the boat during the storm three times, with Jesus asking for money and good works in exchange for their rescue, and then finally saving the disciples just because of His love and their need. We thank God that Jesus doesn´t take bribes, because we are counting on His help here, too!
Our VBS plan for Day 1 was pretty simple, as well, which was a good thing, as we only had a few minutes to meet with the local church´s children´s ministry team before the program began. We expected a couple dozen kids for the first night, but we had about 65! I had presumed that VBS would be for kids age 5-12, as it was in Holguin two years ago, but we had toddlers to 15-year-olds for the first night. We are working with the church's children's ministry folks to take care of the younger ones and encouraging the teens to attend the evangelistic series.
Dr. Ortiz introduced us to Jaciel, a 5th grade teacher/choir director this afternoon. He helped us get the meeting started with singing, with Gam and Jacob playing guitar and uke (which had been donated by PAA´s recording studio). Josh and I continued our tradition from our 2017 trip of pulling a magic trick out of his backpack that illustrated the day's lesson. Tonight we introduced the topic of God's faithful promises and the rainbow. The trick was having a child put a handful of letters and a shoelace into a bag and then pull out the letters now hanging from the shoelace and spelling out "arco iris" (rainbow). After Damaris told the Bible story, we raced downstairs to do the skit for the main church service and then down to the basement, where another church group is meeting (their building is too small to accommodate everyone), to do the skit one more time.
Then it was back to VBS, where the local leaders had just passed out the workbooks and gotten kids names on them. That took all the time we had for the lesson, so we had to collect them again and get working on the craft. Kids were clambering for glue and it was a bit chaotic, but we got our rainbows made and children left happy.
Actually we are waiting at the gate, but feeling thankful to all be here. I am especially thankful, because after a really, really hectic week, I came home from school with a splitting headache and nausea yesterday. I sent out an urgent request to my Prayer Team and their prayers were answered. I am feeling pretty good this morning and didn’t have to implement Plan B, which I guess was Mike taking students to Cuba without me. Mike says there is no Plan B, so we are praising the Lord this morning.
The weather has caused our Andrews University partners’ flight tomorrow to be rerouted, getting them to Miami just an hour before our flight to Cuba. It brings back memories of Cuba 2017 when Dr. Ortiz and others were delayed and arrived in the nick of time before the plane door closed. Please pray that we all make that flight! We will be traveling by bus to our final destination and we need to all get on that bus! The first evangelistic meeting, and our first VBS and skit are Friday night and we hope to arrive early enough to have dinner.
We have an overnight layover in Miami tonight. We get in at 9:45 and I hope we will be able to find a place to eat, since it will be dinner time in Oregon. We did bring a good supply of granola bars, so we won’t starve, but might get tired of granola bars by the time we get that first Cuban meal Friday.
Our last preparation meeting started with a study of Ephesians 4:11-16. Mike and I like to say that Ephesians 4 is like ketchup... it is good on everything! Today we studied the section of the chapter that tells us what the end result of all of our training for works of service (what we have been doing the past several months) is to be: unity in faith and knowledge of Jesus, maturity, safety from false teaching, speaking truth in love, in every way growing up into Jesus as each part does its work. We talked about the importance of staying connected to Jesus and starting our day with Him through Bible reading and prayer, which we call the "quiet time."
My students expressed surprise and a little nervousness when I clarified today that we will be performing skits for adults, not for children--the kids will be in VBS during the evangelistic series--but they quickly warmed up to the idea. Our skits are designed to be a short introduction to the sermon topic for each meeting. We discussed the importance of the dramas: they prepare the audience for the topic and give a visual reminder of the message. I emphasized that, although there are some light moments in the skits that will bring a laugh, we are not trying to simply entertain and won´t be using goofy or slapstick comedy.
We will perform several skits that we used for our Cuba 2017 mission trip, but there were a couple sermon topic differences this year and, honestly, two of our skits last year fell a bit flat and needed to be replaced. I have had very little luck finding appropriate dramas from online resources, so I have had to write almost all of them. However, I faced a real writer´s block for one of the topics this year. I prayed and prayed for some inspiration, and was getting a little concerned, but yesterday I got an idea that I think will be a great introduction to the sermon about the new heaven and earth that God has promised to make. I will let you know how that goes in Cuba!
Then it was time to work on VBS. Jacob brought his guitar and he and Gam led us in practicing our theme song (Todas las promesas AKA Standing on the Promises of God) and some choruses. Morgan (with help from Mom--thanks!) got together some great crafts and Keeley has planned some fun games. Damaris looked over the pictures that will guide her in telling the Bible story each night and Josh brought the new cover he drew for the VBS workbook, which he and I wrote 2 years ago. PAA´s administrative assistant has offered to copy the 140 workbooks for us this week. (Thank you, Shawna! We owe you some good chocolate or something!) We have a few more loose ends to tie up, but things are looking pretty good.
Thank you to all who have been praying for us as we prepare. We often think about our need for prayer once we are in the field, but believe me, we need lots of divine aid as we are getting everything together!
We went over lots of little details and then headed over to Cubo de Cuba for some Cuban food. Gam´s mom also joined us and they both said the food reminded them a lot of her native Puerto Rican cuisine. Sounds like I need to eat at their house! Jacob´s brother Ryan (Sus Manos Dominican Republic 2016 and Cuba 2017 alumnus) had just come into town for spring break from university and joined us for dinner. He plans to spend next year as a student missionary. It makes me very happy to see how that Ephesians 4 training is bearing fruit!
Part of our Sus Manos preparation each year is to visit a Spanish-speaking church in February. We had planned to go to the Forest Grove Spanish church this year, as it is Gam and Damaris´ home church. I was so surprised to get an email from Dr. Ortiz in December, saying he would be in Oregon in February and would be speaking at the Forest Grove Spanish Church. Wow! What a divine appointment!
I was excited for our team to be able to meet Dr. Ortiz prior to our trip and for him to talk to the students. We were all looking forward to this and... bam! I came down with a sudden and hard-hitting flu the Thursday before our meeting. Fortunately, my husband and co-leader Mike (tío Miguel, as students call him) was able to take over and the show went on without me. I was able to watch the church service via live streaming at home, and I enjoyed seeing the camera catch our group as it panned the crowd.
Our team enjoyed the church service in Spanish (with a friend translating from the pew behind them) and a potluck afterward. They met with Dr. Ortiz and got an overview of the outreach plan, our housing and tips for staying well. (It´s the water!)
After meeting with Dr. Ortiz, Sus Manos stayed at the church to rehearse half a dozen of the skits we will be presenting at the evangelistic series. Gam´s mom made sure they had another delicious meal before they returned home that evening.
I was bummed to have missed out on this big day, but proud of my kids for being able to keep things going in my absence.
We began our Sus Manos retreat weekend by reading 2 Timothy 2:2. "For you must teach others those things you and many others have heard me speak about. Teach these great truths to trustworthy men who will, in turn, pass them on to others." (TLB)
This passage says in a nutshell what I hope we accomplish in Sus Manos. It is not enough to receive the gospel. It is not even enough to share the gospel with others. We want to be sure to pass it on so clearly to "trustworthy men and women" that they will be able to teach others. We discussed what keeps us from sharing our faith. Although there are many things that inhibit us, I think the #1 problem is that we have not understood that this is the NORMAL Christian life, not the life of Super Christians. I asked my teammates, "Who are MY faithful men and women?" The answer: they are. I pray that I do my part in preparing them to pass on what they have learned.
Friday evening and all day Saturday, we attended Mission Connexion. This event brings together some of the most passionate, mission-minded people in our area and beyond. Heather Mercer, one of the keynote speakers said, "The American church has an unlimited buffet," and we certainly enjoyed that buffet through sermons and workshops during our weekend. Links in this blog post will take you to videos of keynote speakers and recordings of many of the workshops. [Note: links will take you to recordings of workshops and keynote speakers.]
The first speaker was Luis Palau, a local evangelist who has shared the gospel around the world, especially in Spanish-speaking countries. He has stage 4 lung cancer and his presence at the conference was seen as a miracle. He reminded us that the harvest is plentiful, and we should be asking the Lord of the Harvest to send more workers. As Luis spoke and then as two men helped him off the stage, I kept thinking of Paul saying “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course…” Luis Palau exuded joy and confidence in God’s faithfulness and shows no fear as he faces the end of his life.
Heather Mercer, quoted above, has shared the gospel in the 10/40 window for the past 20 years and was captured and held by the Taliban for more than three months. She challenged us to stay in this for “the long game.” She quoted Luke 12:48: “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” Heather insisted the work of sharing the gospel is not “worth it” because it is a great adventure or even because there is great need, as that need will crush us without the Holy Spirit to carry it. The gospel is worth it because Jesus is worthy.
Nik Ripkin´s struggle with suffering in his mission field convinced him that “evil has no bottom.” He outlined 5 responses to evil:
The final keynote speaker, York Moore, asked us to consider what our organizations can do together that we could never do apart. Our philosophy in Sus Manos is to always collaborate with the local church and other mission organizations. How is that collaboration working this year? What will Sus Manos bring to the evangelistic series in Cuba that would not be the same without us?
Mission Connexion take-aways
Mike: We are not the Lord of the Harvest, but just His workers.
Gam: I grew closer to my team and got a glimpse into the world of missionaries, a world filled with the strongest, most selfless and inspiring people.
Keeley: I really appreciated having the perspective on missions from experienced people who I otherwise would probably have never met.
Rita: Who SHOULD do the work of sharing the gospel in hard places, if not the American church with our “unlimited buffet”?
Mike drove us into town today, which meant I didn´t need my set of keys... um, except for getting into the school for our meeting. Well, oops!
Thinking quickly, I directed the team (good thing I got everyone´s number in my phone during the November meeting!) to meet us at the Adventist Medical Center next door. I was sure they would let us use one of their meeting rooms, and they did not disappoint. Not only did we have a quiet place with tables and chairs to meet in, but Mike knew how to hook my laptop up to the projector system and we watched the new Care for Cuba video on a big screen, instead of on my laptop.
Each team member has an official Sus Manos journal and we spent some time talking about the importance of daily morning quiet time with God and different ways to get a grip on God´s word. We wrote our notes in Spanish, so we can share this with people we meet in Cuba.
Listen: Most of us listen to the Word--through sermons, maybe an audio Bible.
Read: We know we should read the Word every day, but most Christians struggle with consistency. To help us develop a strong habit, each team member paired up with an "accountabilibuddy." The idea is to text a simple "yes" or "no" each morning to let the partner know if the teammate spent time with God. Why morning? Well, Jesus said, "without me, you can do nothing." So why start the day trying?
Study: This may include Bible class, Sabbath School lessons, studying alone or in groups. It is different from reading, because it includes comparing different scripture passages and may include using commentaries or Bible dictionaries.
Memorize: Mike shared his system of memorization and frequent review with the team.
Meditate: Filling our minds with memorized, studied, read and heard scriptures means we have something to ponder. Meditation helps us apply scripture to our lives.
Journaling helps us remember what God impressed us with in our reading and helps us to be ready to share with other. Our quiet time journals will be a key part of our Sus Manos experience.
I had several study topics planned for our first Sus Manos meeting, but we ended up using most of our time for getting to know each other better.
We started with lunch--haystacks, of course--with Gam and Damaris´s moms helping to get the meal ready, following Summit church service at PAA. As we ate, I asked each team member to tell us why he or she felt called to join the Cuba mission trip. I am excited to be working with these six students.
After lunch, we drove up to Mt. Tabor Park. As we walked with a partner, we shared how we usually spend Sabbath and a memory of a Sabbath that felt "just right."
Later we read "Tyranny of the Urgent" together. I had thought of using this with students in the past, but I wasn´t sure if it would resonate. My group this year is made up of a lot of busy students, so I decided to give it a go. Boy, did it resonate! In a nutshell, the article says that the URGENT things can drown out the IMPORTANT things in our lives, unless we are careful. He recommends spending time with God each morning to receive guidance for that day, and longer planning times each month.
We discussed the time usage percentages from the discussion guide (below). Students couldn´t believe that there are people who only waste 2-3% of their time, as we all recognize a lot of time wasters in our lives. We discussed the things that distract us. Most of them revolve around social media and resolutions for curbing the addiction came out of the discussion.
Discussion guide item
Covey and Merrill created a time grid, and assigned a descriptive title to each one. Their research determined the percentage of time spent in each category by typical organizations and individuals:
We tied Tyranny of the Urgent to our discussion about Sabbath. How can we leverage the Sabbath day of rest for spending more time with God and getting our priorities straight?