January 6, 2015
This Week’s Storytellers are…
Loree and George Reed, Ponte Vedra UMC, Ponte Vedra Beach
It began simply enough. "So Pastor Jeff, what's the deal with our sister church in Cuba?"
Attending Sunday morning services was about the extent of our church involvement. Neither Loree (my wife) nor I had ever been on a mission trip before. We'd never even considered the possibility. And surely Jesus was talking to someone else with that "Great Commission" business. My knowledge of Cuba was limited to whatever I picked up from watching Ricky Ricardo as a kid. But that question changed everything. It turns out, there was a bigger plan.
Our pastor sensed an opening, put us in touch with the North East District Coordinator for Methodists United in Prayer (formerly the Cuba-Florida Covenant), and a few months later we were on a plane to Havana.
Despite the excellent training we received, nothing can prepare you for the shock that is Cuba. You first see the poverty; the Cuban people live on less than a dollar a day. You feel the oppression. And you witness a country stuck in the 1950’s: horse drawn carriages, old cars, crumbling infrastructure, bad water, scarce food, very little contact with the outside world, alcoholism, and beaten-down spirits.
We were met at the airport by our sister church pastor, Damian Pacheco. At the time, Damian was pastor at La Sierra, a pretty church in a small town of around 2,500 people, an hour or so east of Havana. We jammed ourselves, along with several hundred pounds of supplies we had brought, into an old (1947?) car for the trip to La Sierra.
As shocking as our arrival in Havana was, so was our arrival in La Sierra, but in a good way. We were warmly greeted and there was excitement in the air. We made new, life-long friends. We spent that week with the pastoral family, living lives the way they live them, and marveling at the excitement and enthusiasm that is the Methodist Church in Cuba.
The Holy Spirit is working in Cuba, and the Methodist Church in Cuba is on fire. There are over 400 churches on the island with new churches being planted constantly. But sadly, less than half of those churches have a sister church in Florida. We have some work to do.
From the day we saw La Sierra for the first time forward, we have been treated like family. That church family has become our family. We pray for one another regularly and stay in close touch. Damian has twice visited our church in Florida. Others from our congregation have spent time in La Sierra. We have helped them grow and spread the Word in a country desperate to hear it. We have kept the music playing with instruments and supplies, and provided VBS materials. We have helped them to expand and improve the church building and parsonage.
That trip was eight years ago; I have now been there ten times and will go back again. Our lives changed that week in Cuba. I became the North East District coordinator for the ministry a couple of years later, working to establish and strengthen connections between our District and the Havana District. Last year, I assumed the duties of Chairperson for the Conference’s Cuba Task Force. We are working to connect the remaining 200+ unconnected Cuba churches.
Each year, we send several hundred Methodists from Florida to Cuba to visit their sister churches. If your church has a sister church, consider a mission trip to see them. Everyone who has made the trip with us had but one question on the plane home: “When can we go back?”
And if you do not have a Cuba sister church, why not? Remember the Great Commission and join us. For more information, click: http://flumc-missions.org/muip-covenant.html.
Up Next Week…
Chris, Wellspring UMC, Tampa
Through growing up in a church, the disciple says he knew a lot about going to church, but not much about having a personal relationship with Jesus. He shares about how he believes he is an example of how Jesus is healing every day and how his church is a place of peace for him.
The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church
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Lakeland, FL 33815
(863) 688-5563 or toll free (800) 282-8011