Venice-based Agape Flights, a Christian missionary program that sends charitable goods to many foreign lands, is partnering with the 43 United Methodist churches in Florida’s Southwest District to provide desperately needed water filtration units for Cuban churches.
|Water filtration units are all loaded and the flight is ready to go.|
Gloria a Dios!!!!
Glory to God!!!!
The Southwest District promptly scheduled another Agape flight to Cuba—this time to deliver thousands of Bibles.
“The Methodist Church is very vital and very vibrant in Cuba—probably among the most vibrant church communities I have seen anywhere,’’ said Allen Speer, chief executive officer of Agape Flights, who has nearly three decades of experience with humanitarian missions to Cuba. “There is a growing sense of good that is sweeping through the people. I liken it to the Book of Acts, only you are seeing it in living color.
“It’s amazing to see the cooperation and fellowship generated by the Methodist church in Florida and the Methodist church in Cuba. They not only adopt them but pay for the water-filtration systems to be built for them. They might be set up at the church or the pastor’s house, but numerous people in the community can use them for clean water. Water is life. It’s a ministry tool.’’
And that’s the idea behind Agape Flights.
Agape is a Greek word, meaning “God’s unconditional love.’’
In 1981, Midwestern farmers Keith and Clara Starkey retired to Bradenton. After being moved deeply by a mission trip to Haiti, they took out a second mortgage on their home and purchased a plane, which they couldn’t fly or maintain.
|Allen Speer is the CEO of Agape Flights.|
“But they believed God was involved and God called them to supply the needs of the saints, the missionaries,’’ Speer said. “In time, God supplied pilots and mechanics. The company grew into what it is now. The mission has remained the same.’’
Agape Flights serves seven locations, including Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and now Cuba.
How was such a relationship established?
Speer, who joined Agape Flights in 2011, made his first ministry trip to Cuba in 1992 and believed it to be a one-time experience. He has since traveled to Cuba more than 100 times, forging bonds with religious officials and the Cuban government.
“The work of President Obama opened the door for organizations like ours, and we really got busy,’’ Speer said. “I was told we would never get the permission of Cuban officials (for missionary flights), but we got that done and the U.S. officials followed suit.
“There are a lot of hoops to jump through when traveling to Cuba on a private aircraft with cargo that has all been donated. But through the grace of God, we are doing this.’’
Dan Christopherson, the Cuba coordinator for the Southwest District, has been a valuable liaison.
He, too, has extensive experience with missionary work in Cuba and has served as the go-between with Water One, Inc., which provided the water-filtration systems.
|Dan Christopherson, right, helps load water filtration systems bound for Cuba on an Agape flight.|
The systems purify the water to the highest standards through ultraviolet light that kills all bacteria. The systems cost $2,400 each, which includes freight, Cuba taxes, ground transportation and installation.
“You get a lump in your throat to see what this is doing for the people,’’ Christopherson said. “You hear stories of people saying, ‘My son is in the hospital with parasites he got from drinking contaminated water’ and you know it shouldn’t be that way. We are acting on the problem, and it is very satisfying for all of us to help them.
“If you have nothing, anything is an incredible blessing. We might bring a trinket, something that would cost a few dollars, and the Cuban people would think you just gave them a new Mercedes-Benz. ‘This is for me?’ Clean water is more than just a trinket. It’s a significant life-changing moment. The satisfaction is immense and amazing.’’
Christopherson said he is amazed—and humbled—by the growth of the Methodist Church in Cuba.
“It has become a powerful force, growing at a rate of about 10 percent per year,’’ Christopherson said. “The services are so enthusiastic. They might last three hours, but the people leave looking for more. The Methodist Church—and all of Christianity—is changing lives.
“It will take a while. Life is not easy. Christianity is not easy. Yet it is thriving, and it is growing. There is less known about Cuba by people living in the U.S. and it’s 90 miles from Miami. But we have created a brotherhood and a sisterhood brought together by the love of Jesus Christ. The connection has been made. Once you come to Cuba, you leave your heart there.’’
The Water One water-filtration systems, along with 64 boxes of Tender Mercies food packets donated by Midwest Food Bank, are tangible reminders of the work provided by Agape Flights and the Florida Conference.
|Agape pilot Jeff Yannucciello.|
Even the significance of Agape Flights becoming the first non-profit organization to deliver cargo to Cuba in the modern era really doesn’t tell the full story of the fellowship that has been created and sustained.
“In the moment, maybe it seems like a typical job,’’ Agape Flights pilot Jeff Yannucciello said. “Landing a plane on an airstrip 10,000 feet long is no big deal. Unloading boxes is the same in Cuba as in Haiti.
“But when you think about it, the real meaning is we’re following Christ’s model. We’re reaching the physical needs of the people and that’s how we can reach them spiritually. That same cup of water given by a pastor will allow the cup of life to be shared. We have found favor to be able to do this. There might be political differences, but these are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are so blessed to be able to do these things for people.’’
--Joey Johnston is a freelance writer based in Tampa.