I have asked Mary Daunhauer, a member of our church and a regular participant in our short-term trips to Cuba to share about her trip last month. We have been partnered with Baptists in Cuba for years and through Cuba 4 Christ, we continue to send teams annually to serve.
First, let me say that this mission is the answer to 10 years of prayer for access to the Baptist Camp at Yu Muri in Matanzas.
In 2006, we, the Cuba4Christ
team members and our Cuban brothers and sisters, believed that God was/is calling us to reach children for Christ through VBS and other means and to move away from the "construction only" missions format of the past. We have prayed for an opportunity to encourage leadership and to share the gospel with kids at Yu Muri Camp.
In November 2013, we were hosted by the Western Baptist Convention (WBC) directly and actually stayed in apartments at the Convention headquarters in downtown Havana. We spent time getting to know the newly president (elected in 2013) Juan Carlos and his wife, Ygani. We shared our mutual desire to see children and their families become Christ followers in Cuba. Juan Carlos is trying to extend the reach of the gospel over the entire country and is discipling and training lay leaders as quickly as is possible. People are accepting Christ at unprecedented rates and churches are springing up everywhere. Their desire is to honor God and bring people to Christ. Juan Carlos has begun to include the Eastern Baptist Convention (EBC) in their plans and in their outreach as well. At their annual conference this year, some of the Eastern Baptist Convention leadership attended the conference and collaborations have begun to reach people in the more remote parts of the island. Juan Carlos is also the pastor of Calvario Baptist Church which meets in downtown Havana and is one of the largest congregations in the convention.
Working with the WBC directly has given us opportunities to reach further with support, encouragement and resources so more people can hear the gospel and be discipled. Juan Carlos and Ygani recommended that we work with Abby and Victor Lores via APEN. (APEN is the Spanish acronym for Child Evangelism Fellowship
Abby and Victor Lores work closely with the WBC in Cuba and their offices are located at convention headquarters in Havana. Child Evangelism Fellowship is a worldwide interdenominational evangelistic outreach and discipleship ministry and Abby and Victor are directors for Cuba. We were able to get to know Abby and Victor last November and learn about their ministry. They place strong emphasis on salvation but also on training children to share the gospel effectively in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods. We visited 3 new house churches in their care. These churches are in a run-down part of Havana known as Guanabacoa. This is one area identified by the WBC as needing more outreach and help in sharing the gospel.
We listened to pastors and church members tell of their hearts desire: to see people come to know Christ. We helped host a Saturday picnic for these new churches and gave resources to help them attract kids and give opportunities for sharing Christ: food, medicine, clothes, beanie babies, puppets, balloons, music, Bible study materials on flash drives, etc. We committed to pray for these people and their neighborhoods.
At the end of this mission last November, Abby and Victor invited us to join them at the children's Spring Break camp in April 2014. Yahoo! We were going to camp!
The Spring Break camp was promoted in all of the churches with a video promo shot and edited by Abby and Victor. The theme was "Putting on the Armor of God" and churches were asked to select 1 or 2 children to attend the camp during Spring Break. The camp can comfortably host 250 people but the number of kids was limited in part due to budget constraints. The children did not pay to go to camp, so the funds came from churches and the WBC. Eighty children, ages 7-8, attended camp, along with trained counselors who have been discipled in their churches via APEN and Awana, medical personnel, the camp directors, volunteers for kitchen, housekeeping and babysitting, and Cuba4Christ members.
We flew to Havana on April 11 and spent Saturday making preparations for camp with Victor and Abby. On Sunday we worshipped at Calvario Church, saw some longtime friends and rested for the days ahead.
On Monday we traveled to the camp in 2 large buses, given to the WBC by Texas Baptist Men
. A microvan transported adult leaders while the young adult counselors rode with their kids. Abby and Victor stressed that this time was a great opportunity to know these children on a deeper level than can occur at church. They encouraged counselors to spend time with each " family member" and to pray with them and teach them to look to Christ for their salvation and their strength in daily living.
The kids received workbooks with training materials and were challenged to memorize scripture, study the Bible, and talk with God. All the activities at camp emphasized this theme, from the songs, and games, to the teaching time, and evening celebrations with the clowns. Victor presented the plan of salvation and what it means to have a victorious life in Christ and 10-12 kids raised their hands to indicate they wanted to receive Christ and were counseled throughout the rest of the time at camp. There will be follow up with these children when they return to their home churches as well.
Children stayed in dormitories, had hot showers, ate 3 meals plus 2 snacks (meriendas), had training, played games, and had lots of time to run and play all over the campground. We stayed in visitor quarters and had air conditioning, filtered water, fresh fruit, etc. Not really roughing it too much!
Many of these children are the only Christ followers in their immediate families and the training emphasized the faithfulness of God during all circumstances and encouraged the children to put on the armor God every day. The theme song and video promoted prayer and Bible study and God's desire for them to be victorious in Christ.
What an awesome time we had at the camp. We got to work with devoted Christians and help children become ambassadors for Christ. The counselors and teachers shared with children about the need to walk closely with Christ and trust Him in all of life's circumstances, and to go and tell others about Jesus. This was a life changing experience for these children. Many of the the adults we work with in Cuba cite their time at the camp as a defining moment in their lives and their determination to continue to walk with Christ today. Yu Muri camp is often described as a little piece of heaven on earth and it is indeed beautiful, but it is so instrumental in pointing these children to Christ as Savior and Lord. These children will go throughout the island nation of Cuba with the gospel of Jesus. It is truly exciting to see how God is working here, and we praise Him for letting us be a part of His redemptive work in the lives of people, here in " la isla preciosa", Cuba.
Back to the city on Thursday afternoon and a debrief with Abby and Victor after the children have been safely delivered to their parents. (BTW no illness or injury at the camp!)
Abby and Victor invited us to their home for dinner and to get to know her parents. Her father, Reynaldo and his wife were pastors at Calvario Baptist Church for more than 30 years and Reynaldo is a fount of information about the origins of Baptists in Cuba.
Good Friday was spent talking with people we have partnered with for years and distributing resources to about 40 churches and ministries. ( We have been working with more than 90 churches and ministries in Cuba but have scaled back the amount of resources that we are bringing in now. We just don't have enough people on the trips to carry in the resources. )
We hosted dinner for friends Friday evening at a local restaurant and then attended a concert at Calvario Church.
The orchestra for the concert was comprised of mostly university students who are part of churches in the WBC. Some of them traveled more than 16 hours to come and play in the orchestra directed by Samua, one of the musical directors for the WBC. The theme of the night was the cross of Christ. The doors were wide open and the gorgeous refrains spilled out into the streets for 2+ hours. I saw tourists strolling by, stopping and coming in to listen to the story of Christ and the cross. Amazing music and then a time of catching up with friends before we had to leave on Saturday.
Abby and Victor have already invited us back to work at the camp in October, this time with kids ages 11-12. We are praying that God will allow this and that more people will have a desire to serve Christ in Cuba. We are praying specifically for more men and young people to join us as we expand and grow and share the gospel here in Cuba.
Thanks again for being passionate about missions and teaching us to go and tell the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world.
Cuba para Cristo!