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A Life Changing Vacation

Joshua has worked as a legislative aid at the Louisiana State Senate. He has a bachelor's in communications from Thomas Edison State Univ.

an-unforgettable-vacation

My Experience in Havana, Cuba

Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to go on a missions trip to Havana, Cuba with 27 other believers from Bethany Church. This team was led by Pastor James Pursiful and Pastor Paul Brill, two former missionaries to Mexico. The missions trip to Cuba was both an exciting and an eye opening experience that helped to expand my focus beyond the U.S. and my home city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Here is a day by day account of this trip:

Friday, July 6

After a couple of flights, our team arrived in the Airport in Havana, Cuba. After heading out of the airport, we met a Christian bus driver named Francisco and boarded a bus that was built in the 1940s. We would use this bus for much of our transportation during our stay in Havana. Although this bus had no air conditioning, it was very enjoyable riding it with the windows rolled down to get a great view of every building we drove past.

We also got to meet Pastor Alain and the bus drove us to his church, Nueva Vida Iglesia (New Life Church). This open air church building was where we would spend much of our time and enjoy most of our meals during the vacation. Pastor Alain shared with us the story behind his church. Though there are many churches in Cuba, most of them are very traditional. This pastor had a vision to build a church that was contemporary and relevant.

However, He had a couple major hurdles to deal with. It is illegal to build a church building in Cuba (as a result, most Cuban pastors build additions onto their homes for church meetings). As a result, when he presented the government with his plans for a church building, he said "We are building a celebration center." The government officials asked, "What celebrations will you host?" He replied, "We will have celebrations on Sunday and celebrations on Wednesday and other days of the week." As a result, his building project was approved.

Still, it was difficult to find the funds to build his church sanctuary. The average medical doctor only makes $30 per month and many Cubans make even less each month. Therefore, it would be very difficult to raise money for a church that costs $1,000s to build. Fortunately, God provided funds from a Church in Mexico called Mas Vida and from Iglesia Ancla in Baja California.

Pastor Alain's church now has over 300 people and is impacting Havana. This city has traditionally had a great deal of agnosticism and witchcraft, but the gospel is changing the lives of many people in this area.

After visiting with Pastor Alain and enjoying a great Cuban lunch, we were shown to the places where we would be lodging. Our team was able to rent some beautiful houses that were both near the church and close to the ocean. The rooms where we stayed were comfortable and fortunately, they had some much-needed air conditioning.

On Friday night, we visited another church in Havana to hold our first church meeting. Before the service, the church gave us some gospel tracts to hand out and invite people in the nearby neighborhoods to church. This was a great evangelistic opportunity and a couple new people came to church that night.

Saturday, July 7

The next day, we hosted a couple of children's programs. The first one was at Nueva Vida Iglesia and the second one was at another church in Havana. The children received balloon animals, toys, and candy. Our leader, James Pursiful, led several contests to engage the children. These included musical chairs, a Bible quiz, and a cookie eating contest. It was a great opportunity to reach out to these kids with activities that they really enjoyed.

After the second children's event, we got talk to the pastor and first Lady of the church where we hosted the second event. Pastor Dione is only 23 years old, but has a tremendous heart to reach out to his community. His goal is to start by reaching the children with the gospel (it was very appropriate that we had a children's event at his church). He desires for his family to be a blessing and example to many others. He also wants to provide food for impoverished people in his community.

On Saturday night, we visited a historical site called Fuerte San Carlos de Cabana. This was a large fortress with many cannons that overlooked the ocean and the city of Havana. Hundreds of years ago, when the British controlled Cuba, they would fire one of these cannons at 9:00 pm to announce a curfew for everyone in the city. As it started to get dark, we saw a reenactment with young men in revolutionary war-style costumes lighting and firing a cannon. It really brought history to life.

Sunday, July 8

On Sunday morning, Nueva Vida Iglesia was hosting a baptism celebration for 14 new believers. The baptisms were held at a beach near the church and many of our team members stepped in the water to help those getting baptized. Some of the Cubans had fun splashing each other in the water after each baptism. This was a fun and joyful time with church members singing songs and rejoicing over each new believer who was baptized.

On Sunday night, we attended a worship service at the church. This was an exciting church service with exuberant Spanish worship and even a Christian Hip-Hop team. Then our team led in an English worship song: Alive by Hillsong Young and Free, while the congregation sang the same song in Spanish. After worship, several of our team members took turns sharing a message on Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath. It was both a God-glorifying and enjoyable service.

Monday, July 9

On Monday, our team had a relaxing and fun vacation day. In the morning, we visited a beautiful sandy beach with refreshing cool water. I got some exercise swimming a long distance and I also got to ride a paddle boat with some other team members.

In the afternoon, we went shopping and visited several historical buildings in downtown Havana. Cuba has many old and magnificent buildings that have been restored. The Cubans are trying to restore 600 old buildings before the 500th anniversary of Cuba's founding by the Spaniards.

One of my favorite buildings was the Havana Cathedral. This Catholic church was built in 1777 and Included some beautiful sculptures and artwork inside the church. Near the church was a high bell tower that I climbed to the top of (I also range the bells before seeing a sign that said "Please do not ring the bells").

Our team also visited several places where the American Author Ernest Hemingway stayed. Hemingway spent a great deal of time in Cuba and this was where he wrote his novel The Old Man and the Sea. We saw a restaurant where he ate overlooking the ocean and the Hotel Ambos Mundos where he lodged. This high rise hotel had an old fashioned elevator, with metal bars, that took us to the top of the building. Here we had a breathtaking view of the surrounding buildings in Havana.

Tuesday, July 10

On Tuesday, we were not able to use our blue bus because it had an axle that was broken. As a result, we had to rent a couple of more modern, air conditioned buses for the next two days. That morning, we walked beside a maze of cactus to get to the church we were visiting (it looked sort of like a jungle church). After a time of vibrant worship, several team members, including myself shared testimonies with the congregation. I shared a word of encouragement about I how I learned to meditate on the Word of God and have communion with Him despite my busy schedule.

On Tuesday night, our team had a great opportunity to practice patience as we waited for another bus to come and bring us to the church where we were ministering that night. Finally, the bus arrived over an hour later than we expected (timeliness is not always guaranteed in the third world). Fortunately, we still got to minister to that church and we blessed their worship leader with a new keyboard. He had been using an old keyboard with many keys that were no longer working and was very grateful to receive this brand new instrument.

Wednesday, July 11

Wednesday, was our last full day in Cuba. After we had spent several days in Havana, we got to visit a church in a smaller town called San Antonio. This town was more rural and less developed than Havana. In Havana, we had seen a lot of old cars, but in this town, we noticed that most of the people were riding bicycles, some of which were large enough to seat an entire family.

Here, we enjoyed an encouraging church service with some final testimonies from our team members and a message from Pastor James Pursiful. After the service, we enjoyed a delicious meal of rice, beans, pork, and tropical fruits prepared by members of the church. Then, we headed back for our last evening in Havana.

After attending a Wednesday night service at Nueva Vida Iglesia, we got to meet the chef who prepared all of the delicious meals for our team. This man was a former navy chef who made every meal with excellence. For our last supper, he and his wife prepared a gourmet, mouthwatering meal that included lobster, shrimp, clams, and large fish. This was truly the grand finale meal of our trip!

Conclusion

My trip was Cuba was truly an experience I will never forget. I liked the fact that we were able to stay in houses and eat authentic meals prepared by a Cuban chef (a much better missions experience than staying hotels and eating at fast food restaurants).

Most importantly, I am glad to see the kingdom of God advancing in a country that was once closed to the gospel. I loved visiting the churches, and though I did not understand the language, I felt the presence of God and was encouraged to see believers that were hungry for the Lord. It was also encouraging to hand out tracts and find that many of the unbelievers were very open to the gospel. We saw 50 salvations and several healings.

Before this trip, I was focused just on the U.S. and particularly my home city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Now, this trip has broadened my horizons and shown me how God is moving in other countries, especially in Cuba. God has now given me a heart for the nations!

an-unforgettable-vacation

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