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July 6, 2012

Press Photo

Cuba Mission Team.

"Stay organized and on schedule. Set detailed goals before you go. Establish schedules and refuse to deviate from them. Do not accept delays, last-minute changes, and impromptu visits and invitations..." The Baptist College of Florida (BCF) student Rachel Butler read out-loud in a laughing manner from an internet blog titled "10 Ways to Ruin Short-Term Mission Trips" to the three other girls in the hotel room on Thursday night June 14th. The girls laughed together at the irony of the situation because at that point, all of their plans had changed, the schedule was abolished, and the Cuba mission team had no idea whether or not they were going to travel to Cuba or have to turn around and head back to Graceville.

The Cuba mission team of 11, which included eight BCF students and one BCF professor, was supposed to leave Thursday morning from St. Petersburg, Florida. They showed up at the airport with plane tickets in their hands and bags behind them, but little did they know, God had different plans. Somehow, there was a miscommunication between the booking agent and the airline, and the Cuba team was not booked on the flight leaving that Thursday morning. However, the attitudes and the spirits of the team members remained joyful as they held on to the foundational truth that God was in control no matter the outcome.

"Give me faith to trust what You say, that You're good, and You're love is great," rang throughout the airport as the team gathered around and praised God through song in spite of the uncertainty. After all, the main prayer request of the team was to be used and be flexible. That prayer was certainly answered as the team became stretched through this circumstance of waiting hours in the airport. The question then became, would the team get a flight out the next day? Saturday? Sunday? Or no flight at all?

Finally, the booking agent was able to find the Cuba mission team a possible flight out of Miami on Sunday. Because of the rules for U.S. citizens traveling into Cuba, however, the team had to wait on the approval of the flight by the Cuban and U.S. governments. Whether or not the team would go to Cuba was still up in the air. The team had to wait on God.

The bulk of the team's extra or spare time was spent mastering Cuban hymns and planning VBS activities. According to several team members, there were special moments of bonding, worshiping through song, and unifying devotions at night. The group spent all day Friday eagerly waiting to find out God's plan for the team.

On Saturday morning, BCF Music and Worship Division Chair Bill Davis stepped out to take the phone call that would determine the team's future. He walked back in with an attempted frown on his face as he reported the news, "I'm sorry guys, but.... WE'RE GOING TO CUBA!" The group rejoiced and immediately prayed thanking God for His provision, goodness, and sovereignty. After lunch, the mission team was on their way to Miami.

As the plane lifted off the runway on Sunday, the team could do nothing but smile as what was long anticipated had finally become a reality. In 45 minutes, the mission team would be in a foreign land among foreign people in a foreign culture.

Classic American cars rigged with diesel engines cruised the streets as some of the team members breathed in the humid Caribbean air for the first time. The team was officially in Cuba. After a three hour bus ride out of Havana, the team arrived in Pedro Betancourt and was immediately greeted by the pastor's family and church members. The evening concluded with a relaxed church service in which the mission team led worship in Spanish.

Over the next three days, the team worked. Every morning the team worked on the pastor's house which included removing the roof of the house, stacking shingles, chipping stucco off of the walls on the inside and outside, and hauling all the debris to a tractor trailer. During the afternoons, the Cuba team conducted a VBS for approximately 150 kids in which Bible lessons were taught, songs were sung loudly, games were played, and love was shared. During the evening, the team held worship services which included worship music, preaching, testimonies, and special music. Unfortunately, the rain only allowed one VBS day and two worship services, but the Cuba mission team was already well aware of being flexible and how plans change.

Out of the closed doors and change in plans came new opportunities for the team. For instance, one afternoon in which the rain inhibited the VBS, the Cuban church's praise band and the musicians from the Cuba team were able to learn Spanish songs together. Davis gave the Cuban praise team some tips on leading worship.

"Going to Cuba has been one of the biggest blessings in my life. God used this opportunity to teach me so much," stated BCF student Rebeca Salmeron who acted as one of two translators for the trip. "I am always blessed by my brothers and sisters in Christ from Cuba."

By Friday around 6:00 p.m. the Cuba team was back in Miami after a tear-filled goodbye from the Cuban Christians from the church in Pedro Betancourt. "I'm not sure music is the universal language, but a smile, a kindness shown, a hug, a gift given in humility, well, those things translate really well," expressed Davis as he reflected on interactions of the trip.