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!