Friday, November 28, 2008

Local pastor reflects on missionary trip to Cuba

Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008
Local pastor reflects on missionary trip to Cuba

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Rev. Anne Barber is pastor of My Father's House
Church, 7215 U.S. 301 N., Ellenton. She has been leading missionary
trips to Cuba since 2003. Here she writes about her 12th and most recent.

As my plane began its final descent into the Camaguey, Cuba
International Airport on Oct. 28, the damage from Hurricane Ike was
apparent. Cuba had been devastated. Trees uprooted, homes without roofs,
buildings in shreds. Even the airport had not escaped as buckets were
placed here and there to catch the rain freely entering through the
damaged roof.

Since this was my 12th missionary trip to the island since 2003, some of
the customs agents recognized me. They shared their hurricane stories,
and marveled that our group had received religious entrance visas,
because Cuba was pretty much shut to visitors due to lack of food, pure
water and transportation.

Outside, the group of pastors I had come to visit stood waiting
patiently in the rain as we progressed slowly through the three-hour
customs ordeal.

Finally, each item of medicine we were bringing had been examined and we
were joyfully hugging necks — so happy to be back in Cuba! To these
pastors and their families and congregations, our visit represented much
more than the medicine, Bibles, clothes and prescription glasses we were
bringing. We brought them encouragement and hope, and the love of Jesus.

It meant the world to them that we had chosen to leave the comforts of
our homes to give them a week of our lives, under really dreadful
post-hurricane conditions in Cuba. But I knew it was important to be
there, because when we stand before their congregations, our very
presence assures them, "Someone cares about you. You are important to us
and to God."

As we drove the rented van onto Pastor Frank's property, a
heart-wrenching sight caught our eye. Frank's 80-year-old father,
Francisco Manso Loyola, waved to us from a chair where he sat amidst the
ruins of the only home he has ever lived in. All that remained were two
walls and the foundation. Hurricane Ike blew the rest away.

Francisco continues to spend most of his days there, weather permitting,
a poignant portrait of the psychological and physical pounding suffered
by the people of this island.

Francisco owned all the property, which also houses his extended family.
But five years ago he dedicated it to the church his son, Frank, now
pastors. Miraculously, the little wooden church right across from his
house, no better constructed than the homes, withstood the winds of
three hurricanes that have torn through the island in less than two
months. It stands as a testament to God's grace and mercy.

It was a marathon week: I preached six different sermons, baptized 20
people, dedicated a baby, received new members into a church, and
officiated at Holy Communion in a service attended by four different
congregations ranging from Baptist to Pentecostal.

The Lord has been pouring out His Holy Spirit on Cuba for years now, and
the tiny church could not contain all those who came to each service by
bus, bicycle and foot to hear the word of God. Many stood outside the
sanctuary peering in through the open windows, and through the open back
door. Even when it rained, no one left. They didn't want to miss a
minute. When we sang, they sang in the rain; when we danced, they danced
in the rain. I don't think we'll get much closer to Heaven, until we
step into the Throne Room itself.

We also were treated to two separate Cuban pig roasts, each attended by
about 100 parishioners. Although food had become very scarce after the
hurricanes, two of the pastors had saved their pigs for our visit. Cuban
hospitality always prevails over personal necessity among those
beautiful people. They are the warmest, kindest, most loving and
genuinely humble people you will ever meet.

Our small church in Ellenton has been deeply involved with the mission
in Cuba for almost six years, and we now support and encourage seven
churches and several missions in the Camaguey area. One of these
churches and three of the missions are located in Santa Cruz, the sea
town just decimated by the third Hurricane, Paloma, in less than two
months. As I write this, I am waiting to hear about Pastor Reuben and
Pastora Diosnesa, and the condition of their little church, which meets
in their home. If they have lost the house, they have also lost the
church building, and are in urgent need of help.

But then, the whole island is in urgent need of help. Crops have been
destroyed, and re-destroyed. The water has been polluted. Poultry has
blown away and hundreds of thousands of people are homeless. A famine
looms on the horizon if substantial aid is not forthcoming. I urge all
of you who are reading this to pray for Cuba and its people, and ask God
how you can become involved.

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