About 25 years ago, an evangelist was able to organize a trip to Cuba, the window of opportunity opening for a limited time to travel there for humanitarian and educational purposes. It was a two-way arrangement with our neighboring nation just 90 miles southeast of Florida and the journey was one etched in my memory indelibly. Another Indiana layman accompanied the evangelist and his team, along with myself and the late Dr. Collins Glenn who then pastored the Grace Baptist Church of Muncie, Indiana. Having flown to Havana, we immediately got into waiting vehicles and traveled two or three hours to the western side of the island. The evangelist had done the preparatory work for the trip and had some contacts that arranged for us some motel-like housing which served as a place for us to get some rest before going to some more remote villages and/or homes for services with small church groups that had been alerted to our coming and were waiting on us when we arrived. We went from one group to another holding brief services including the preaching of a gospel message. The evangelist leader of the mission was adept at chopping boards or concrete blocks in half with his bare hands, so when we were with him if there were young people present, he would get their attention by demonstrating his brute strength through the karate skills he had mastered. Then, either he or one of the group would share a testimony or a brief message. It was a surreal experience for all of us in the ministering group to be holding evangelistic services in a communist nation which had been closed for decades to this type of ministry. We kept a low profile, and the entire mission was no longer than a week as we traveled sometimes to small villages holding meetings in huts or homes with people sitting in window sills when there was no standing room left inside.
We preached to encourage the believers and to evangelize the lost and the reception that was extended to us was overwhelmingly warm. A couple of the meetings were held in bigger towns at an outdoor park or in a small auditorium that would hold maybe 80 to 100 people. It was an amazing few days! I shall never forget a Sunday dinner held in a rural home with the family serving us some fried chicken and a vegetable and piece of bread. You did not have to be a farmer to realize the chicken was pretty skinny and the meat on the bones pretty scarce, but you knew as you were eating it that it was their choicest meal, and they were giving it sacrificially to people they had never met. It was a totally humbling experience yet one that I suppose most missionaries have had maybe often on their journey into the homes and hearts of those they were trying to reach for Christ.
Before boarding the plane back to our homeland, we met with a church in Havana. Martin and Marita (not their real names) were eighteen years old when Castro took power following Cuba’s revolution. They had spent all of their adult lives under communism, he a pastor of a Baptist church and his wife a wonderful, godly helpmeet, rearing their children up in the faith, grounded in the Word. We got to visit one of their services and were so blessed by the spirited singing of the same songs we sing on Sundays in our USA services only in Spanish. The love was transparent, love for Jesus and love for each other and love for a group of visiting believers whom they had never met before. Pastor Martin was giving oversight to several satellite churches that his church had “mothered.” The experience of worshipping there that night was one of the highlights of my ministry. A bond was quickly forged between the pastor and his wife and us and God orchestrated a trip for the two of them to our church a year or two later so that we could reciprocate the blessing, scheduling them to visit and testify in several of our churches in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. They were our guests for about six weeks. And their experience here must have given new meaning to the word “surreal.” On one occasion we took Pastor Martin and Marita to a large store that had groceries, clothes, hardware, etc. all under one roof—you know the kind like some Kroger or Meijer stores that we regularly shop in here. After a brief time in this massive store, Marita began to tremble, begging us to take her home. We did so of course with concern that she might have gotten sick; but, no, she was not sick, but was simply overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the choices and goods available to us living as we do awash in abundance. She had never dreamed of anything like what she saw, and she just could not take it in without becoming faint. She had been accustomed all of her adult life to having a few eggs rationed out to her for her family each month and living only a bare material existence. She and her family and church enjoyed an abundance of fellowship, of love and of the Spirit’s grace, but the material extravagance she was exposed to on their visit to America was more than she could deal with on that particular day and it literally made her weak.
We kept in touch with these wonderful people for several years through emails and even a few phone calls until the door once again closed. But the memories of that week we spent in their homeland, much like stepping back into the 50’s, and the six weeks or so that we were able to share with them here, are memories etched upon the pages of our minds forever. It made us so appreciative of those faithful believers who in the harshest of circumstances cherish their freedom and standing in Christ and relish His grace and goodness; yet it humbled us deeply to think of what freedoms and fulness, both spiritually and materially, we have enjoyed here in America past and present, yet have so often taken for granted with an almost thankless spirit. But with each passing day now, we feel these freedoms are more fleeting and we understand that what our friends living so near the States but such worlds away have only known since they were married in their late teens, totalitarianism, may soon be what we are daily experiencing too. It behooves us ever to trust God, not the government and to be prepared to stand, and having done all to stand.
“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God and there is none else.” (Isa.45:22)