By Joe LaGuardia
On 6 November 2017, I embarked on a mission trip with a small group of clergy and lay leaders to Cuba through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. In partnership with the Fraternity of Baptist Churches in Cuba, the CBF has been nurturing mission opportunities over the past several years. These are my diaries from the trip. Read more: “Introduction” here. Find Day 1 here and Day 2, Part 1 here. Find Day 2, Part 2 here. Find Day 3 here.
We visited Communidad Christiana Emanuel in San Jose de Las Lajas, which is about 40 minutes outside of Havana. The town name, Las Lajas, means “tile” or floor and is so named for its red ceramic tile industry. Little red ceramic Christian ornaments, freshly made and baked by the children’s department, adorn Emanuel’s window sill in the sanctuary.
Emanuel is another free-standing church. It is simple in design, though it has stained-glass windows that set the church apart from the other churches we’ve visited. It does not have much room for ministry, but there is no need for wide gathering spaces. This is a mission-sending church, with outreach ministries in the neighborhood and in surrounding areas. They provide breakfast every morning to about a dozen homebound seniors; their sanctuary accommodates a local AA group. The pastor is also out-and-about, as he serves as chaplain to prisons and hospitals in the region.
A seminary-trained missionary is pastor to their mission endeavors beyond Las Lajas. The first mission is in a small neighborhood of Jamaica. The congregation of about a dozen people meet in the parlor of a home. The parlor is cramped, only about 8×14, and they wish to build a lean-to someday that can seat an open-air church. Jamaica is extremely poor and marginalized. It is a fenced-in village within a village.
The second mission is about an hour out (it takes long to get there not because of distance, but because of shoddy roads), nestled in the rich green, mountainous interior of Cuba. It is a beautiful scene, dotted with cattle and cane fields. It is located in Juan Abrahamstad, an agriculture impoverished village, home to Communidad Cristiana El Meson (“The Church of the Inn”).
El Meson is a small house church, though the entirety of the house is dedicated to the church, and can seat between 20 to 30 members. It was founded by a Freewill Baptist minister some years back and represented the first Christian presence in this otherwise atheist community. Since most of the men in the neighborhood either work far away or go into the military to escape the substandard living facilities, most of the congregation is made up of women. A woman, a proud octogenarian who received her divinity degree late in life, has been shepherd of this church for nearly a decade (she became a believer 14 years ago). She wept the entire time we were there, so happy to have these American guests–a first time for the village–in her church.
The pastor explained that the church is named “the Inn” because it seeks to be a place of respite, specifically recalling the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the Parable, as recorded in Luke’s Gospel, the Samaritan sees a person in need, brings the person to an inn, and provides for his healing and care. This is how the church perceives its ministry, providing a balm to the many wounds that communism and atheism have wrought on this town of some 1,200 residents.
On the “sanctuary” wall behind the pulpit, churchgoers view a series of hand-painted crowns. One is missing. Pastor explained that the one missing is yours and mine. In having received the Word of God and responded to God’s grace in faith, we believe in Jesus and then Jesus gives us a crown of eternal life. When we receive that crown, we make up for the missing crown on the wall. Are we counted among God’s saints?
This evening concluded our trip with a worship service back at Iglesia Bautista El Jordan. There were three groups there–ours, a Canadian youth mission team, and a small contingent of churchgoers from El Jordan. We sang, we shared, we read scripture (the lesson was from Psalm 133, “O, how beautiful it is for Christians to dwell in unity!”).
After a time of worship, Pastor Maykel split us into our groups to discuss what evangelism means to us. A representative from each group told the rest of the congregation what was discussed. Agreement came in the importance of relationships in sharing Christ. We also have similar challenges: all three countries are secular, some more hostile to Christianity than others. This requires hard work, open minds, and open ears. We all hoped that many Christians in our nations would close their mouths more often. All of us struggle with Christians that do a disservice to our churches by being judgmental, antagonistic, and close-minded. This was our prayer for Canada, the United States, and Cuba.