Dan’s Report on Last Week's Cuba Trip with Rick Bonfim Ministries, September 30 – October 5, 2012
Sunday, September 30 and Saturday, October 6 were travel days, so the report below just deals with Monday-Friday, October 1-5.
On Monday morning we had Bible study, prayer, and teaching time with the team. The team consisted of participants in Rick Bonfim Ministries from all over the USA, so this was a good opportunity for team-building, nurture, and Biblical teaching. Monday afternoon we went to a construction site where modest faculty housing is being built to host Seminary professors when they come to teach in the Cuban Methodist Evangelical Seminary. Painting was on the agenda that day. Monday evening the team split into four groups and went to four different churches for a worship experience. Dan’s group went to a section of Havana, where he had the joy of preaching in Spanish (When God Shows Up, Things Can Happen in a Hurry). Several persons said an initial “Yes” to Jesus, and the Spirit moved powerfully as other folks responded to an invitation for a fresh infusion of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Weeping, laughter, and everything in between, as God touched people’s spirits, bodies, minds, wills, and emotions. We got home about 11:30pm (too late for this old man!).
On Tuesday morning we had more team time, and then in the afternoon we visited the Cuban Methodist Evangelical Seminary. We split into two groups, and each group enjoyed teaching the Seminary students for about 40 minutes, and then praying for them. Dan was blessed to be able to be the teacher for one of the groups, focusing on the fullness of Christ-centered transformation that is portrayed in the story of the Gadarene demoniac. A special emphasis was on helping the pastors understand that they will need to encourage their congregations to develop an outward focus because the natural tendency of the church is to turn inward. Without this outward focus, the fullness of our Christ-centered transformation becomes too selfish and hoarding. We are blessed not to hoard our blessings but to be the source of blessings for others. We then prayed for the students, which they deeply appreciated, but they also insisted on praying for us. They did this with musical accompaniment, and it was a grand time.
Tuesday evening, Dan’s group traveled about 45 minutes to a church in San Antonio de Rio Blanco. When we first passed by the building, we didn’t see it because (unbeknownst to us) the electricity in the whole community was off and we couldn’t see anything. Our van driver finally realized he had gone past the town, so he asked for directions and we turned around and headed back. We finally found the church, and we started the worship experience with two battery-operated lights. There were two preachers in this group, so they agreed that Dan would preach a sermon and give a salvation invitation, followed by the other pastor preaching on moving from Repentance to Power and giving an invitation to receive the Holy Spirit. Dan preached his entire sermon in the mostly-darkness (the two battery-operated lights), focusing on God’s proactive, seeking love as seen in Luke 15 (lost sheep, lost coin, lost son). He gave the invitation, and three persons came forward, all under 25 years of age. As the pastor was beginning to lead these people in a prayer to say “Yes” to Jesus, the lights came back on! Perfect timing, because they were in the midst of asking for the Light of Life to direct and illuminate their lives. Then Jim preached and there was a dynamic time of ministering in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. One thing we especially appreciated about this congregation is that after the service was “officially over,” they kept singing and dancing to the Lord, and they were doing it as an inter-generational family. They were simply Having Fun Together. This really touched our hearts. We got home around midnight (ay papa!).
Wednesday the team had more time together for nurture and ministry, and it lasted until 2pm, as several people received focused prayer concerning specific issues and/or needs in their lives. Because this went on longer than planned, we essentially took the rest of the afternoon as free time (everyone was pretty tired after a long travel day on Sunday and two very late nights on Monday and Tuesday). I had the joy of walking a few blocks with John (our youngest son) so he could buy something to take home to Jace. We also looked for something that I could take home to Jace (our grandson), but with no luck. John and I then enjoyed some Cuban ice cream, and it was very good. Then back to the Methodist Center (where we were staying) for a nap and supper.
Wednesday evening Dan was with a team that travelled about an hour from Havana, to a town named Tumbadero. This church was located closed to banana fields, and was down a long gravel/dirt road, leading to a side road that was clay. It had rained that day, so we eventually had to track through some mud to get to the church. When the service started there were about 50 people there. When the service ended, there were about 100 people there, and at least 40 of those were children. They had a children’s dance presentation, a small choral presentation, and one other event that featured teens. Given this congregational context, it seemed to the team that we should focus our ministry on kids and families, and so that’s what we did. All the team members gave a brief testimony. Mine was about how Nancy and I received the call to leave the local church ministry and focus full-time on ministry in Venezuela and Costa Rica. I told the congregation that we received this call when I was 51 years old. I made a point of encouraging them to answer God’s call in their lives (whatever it may be) no matter how young or old they are. They seemed to appreciate my perspective on this. The preacher that night was Gene, and he did a fabulous job talking with parents and families. We then formed a prayer tunnel and the entire congregation took time to slowly pass through the tunnel, as folks forming the tunnel laid hands on them and prayed for them. Oh, the joy and exuberance these Cuban Christians exhibited. It just filled me with gratitude and appreciation. Would that I could be so joyous in my worship back in the States (I even moved a couple of toes in a pretend dance!). We “enjoyed” another midnight arrival back at the Methodist Center.
It’s hard to say which day was the best, because I do love to preach in Spanish when God provides that opportunity. But I also dearly love the ministry of training leaders and pastors in the Venezuelan Seminary. It really lights my fire and fits the way God designed and gifted me. Given that, I think Thursday afternoon might have been my favorite time of the trip (besides being with John – all parents will understand that!). Thursday morning we had some more team time, but then on Thursday afternoon while the rest of the team was doing some fun touristy things, I had the chance to meet with the Dean and Rector of the Seminary. We explored ways the Wesleyan Seminary of Venezuela and the Methodist Evangelical Seminary of Cuba could partner together. Oh, my, what a blessed and joyous time. Alfredo and Cesar are wonderful brothers in Christ and very open-minded and open-hearted. They invited me to teach in Cuba if we can work out the dates. I of course invited them (and other Cuban professors) to teach in Venezuela. Especially important for us in Venezuela: they invited us to send some selected Venezuelan students to Cuba to learn Greek and Hebrew well enough that they can serve as our future professors of Greek and Hebrew in Venezuela. This is a HUGE blessing for a theological Seminary: as in, humongous. We also talked about sharing of library resources, and the possibility of finding a way that Venezuelan and Cuban students can adopt one another as prayer supporters. Just a fabulous meeting that left me almost speechless with gratitude for the new avenues that God seems to be opening up.
Thursday night the team travelled to a restaurant for a nice meal on what was supposed to be our last night together. I say “supposed to be” because on Friday when we went to the airport in Havana, we were told that our flight had been cancelled (with no prior warning). I won’t go into all the details. The end result was that we finally got tickets issued for a flight on Saturday, and then we headed back to the Methodist Center because we all needed to notify folks back home of the delay, and we also needed to make new arrangements to get from Fort Lauderdale to our final destinations. The internet in Cuba exists, but Cuban citizens are not allowed to have it in their homes, and the few internet cafes that are in Havana only use dial-up. So it took hours for some folks to get their travel arrangements completed.
So on Friday we had an unexpected additional evening with our Cuban brothers and sisters. We enjoyed supper with them at the Methodist Center, and then we shared some prayer time together, as each Cuban and each American received laying on of hands and prayer. This was a great way to have a send-off.
I give thanks to God for this trip. I learned a lot, I met new brothers and sisters in Christ, and I had the joy of exploring ministry partnership between the Cuban and Venezuelan seminaries. Thanks for your continued prayer support and financial support, which allows me to be used by God in these types of ministries. Through your prayers and financial giving, YOU were in Cuba with me, and Nancy and I are very grateful.