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PAA Students Witness Cuba’s Hunger for God

As a privileged American, you probably have several bibles in your home and maybe one or two of them are read only occasionally. But families in Cuba are lucky to have even one.  Often, they share their bible with another family. It gets read so often the pages are worn down.

This reality represents Cuba’s long-time hunger for religious freedom.  Seventh-day Adventist churches in Cuba have been growing despite more than five decades of government restriction on religion which included imprisonment and even persecution of spiritual leaders.

Now, thanks to positive changes between Cuba and the United States in the last several years, the communist country has been slowly opening doors to churches.

Andrews University (AU) was and continues to be on the forefront of mission work in Cuba. AU’s Masters of Divinity department established

Care for Cuba (CFC), an outreach designed to support the growing Adventist church in Cuba.

Care for Cuba serves Cuban pastors, bible workers, and their churches with much needed resources as well as evangelism events. But it was designed for students earning their Masters in Divinity to be implementing the outreach, and not for high school students like ours. That’s why Rita Barrett, our Spanish teacher and Cuba mission trip leader, was grateful to receive an invitation.

PC: Dr. Fernando Ortiz

“Bringing high school students on a serious trip could have been a distraction,” acknowledged Barrett. “It is a miracle we were invited to come!”

“The Lord did,” says Dr. Fernando Ortiz, AU’s Master of Divinity director and the founder of Care for Cuba. “It all started with the Lord impressing upon ‘Profesora’ Rita Barrett to take her students on a mission trip to Cuba. She called me asking if they can join our seminary study tour.”

“My first reaction was, ‘not possible’ as we have never done it and our trip is full to capacity and it was mainly for Master-level students. But as we prayed, the Lord impressed upon my heart that we should give it a try and work together on this endeavor. As a result we ended up adding another evangelistic venue targeting youth, young adults and university students, and it was a huge success! To God be the Glory!”

The trip was a privilege PAA students did not take for granted. Their diligent preparation months before the trip was a testament to their understanding of the responsibility as well as the Christ-centered and character-driven values of our school.

The privilege was also a reminder that Barrett’s mission trips are not a vacation. Our students studied the language, culture, and customs long before they got on a plane. Throughout the school year, they held each other accountable to early morning devotionals, they met frequently to plan skits, prepare children’s’ programs, and pray for Cuba.

“Preparing for Cuba has changed my life,” says Josh Peinado, PAA Junior. “I gained new habits like morning devotions that I intend to keep up. It’s been so good for me.”

Peinado, well known for his comic-style drawing at school, was inspired to create a comic in Spanish to introduce each day’s workbook page for the children’s program. The book served as an interactive workbook filled with coloring pages, stories, and games for the Cuban children.

Before their travels, PAA junior, Josh Peniado helped create these beautiful interactive workbooks for the children they would be meeting. The children were so excited!

Spanish II and III students also helped to create resources for the Cuba mission trip, despite not being able to travel there. A children’s workbook they helped create put their Spanish to good use and served  PAA’s goals to implement Project Based Learning and Mission Focused Learning. More so, it gave the students  satisfaction knowing their work was benefiting an important mission.

In Cuba, our students faithfulness to Christ-centered and character-driven values was noticed. “In Cuba, PAA students prioritized one-on-one daily time with God, which they call ‘the quiet time,'” said Barrett. “Getting up early each morning, they spent time reading their Bibles, praying and journaling. A pastor who saw them snapped a picture, surprised to find young people with this habit.”

Their prayers gave PAA students courage to step out of their comfort zones. Given Cuba’s long-time restrictions on United States tourism, Cubans are enthusiastic about visiting with Americans. Both AU and PAA students used this opportunity to reach out to strangers.

Could you ever imagine a game of Frisbee ending in prayer? In Cuba it is possible.

“People were so friendly and willing to talk,” said PAA Junior, Adoniah Simon. “We were able to invite so many people to the meetings just simply by hanging out in the plaza, playing Frisbee, and making friends with strangers.”

“A few years ago, it was unthinkable to do religious services in a public arena,” said Ortiz.

Even now, Bibles are shared between families and often become so worn out they can’t be read. Most people do not own cars. If a pastor doesn’t have a bike, it can take him hours to get to the people he serves.

“Cuba has felt forgotten by the world; even the Adventist world,” says Ortiz. “We could not go there or send money for decades, and now it is time to recoup what we haven’t been able to do for 50 years.”

Like most Cubans, the Adventist pastors and bible workers do not own cars. CFC donated 100 bicycles which help pastors cover so much more territory. They are able to meet with far more people with the help of a simple bike.

That’s why CFC doesn’t just come and go each spring. Every year, CFC distributes bicycles to pastors as well as laptops and tablets loaded with hundreds of books and ministerial resources. “We bring the inspiration, the tools, and the materials. It’s an avalanche of help to empower people who are passionate for God and solid Adventists who need a boost to be equipped to do more effective ministry.”

“The children’s ministry leader told me she had never ever imagined

[this blessing],” says Barrett. “She had just been told her husband would receive a bicycle and that she would be getting a laptop. She presents her seminars using just her phone and it it’s so difficult. She said the laptop will make her job so much easier.”

As the trip came to a close, PAA students witnessed 222 baptisms and lives committed to Christ. Since Care for Cuba launched its program in 2013, more than 800 new members have been baptized. The possibilities are endless.

“Indeed,” says Ortiz “the Adventist church in Cuba is lively!”

You can be a part of the Cuba mission right at home! Read about it HERE

Read Rita Barrett’s blog HERE. Enjoy a recap from the 2017 trip with AU HERE.


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