Cuba: July 21- Aug 1, 2018
Post Trip Report
The vision for this trip was conceived several months ago when I stumbled across the Kingdom Culture curriculum by K. D’Arpe. The principles taught in the book were so close to my heart.
For most of my adult life I have been struggling with lies about my personality. I believed them when I was in my late teens when I felt God’s calling on my life. I believed the lies that I had nothing to offer to the Kingdom of God, that I was too broken, too damaged, too untalented, too insignificant and that there were others who were so much better equipped. Unless we know the truth about our identity in Christ it is easy to believe those lies.
When it happens, I fight with the enemy the same way that Jesus fought with the tempter in the desert - with the truth, with God’s Word! God gave us His Word so we could discover who we are in Him.
And that is why several months ago when I was invited to spend some time with the congregation of a newly planted church in Cuba, I knew exactly what I wanted to share with them.
But the weeks immediately leading up to the trip proved to be incredibly difficult, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It felt like there was a war waging in my heart against God’s purposes and plans, with the enemy bombarding me with doubts about my ability to do what God was calling me to do.
In my day to day life I am predominantly confined to my home, my health condition requiring me to take rests hourly with my husband Alex helping me with basic everyday needs. Social activities or any interaction with people are exhausting, and cause my fatigue to flare up. over time I learned to avoid them.
With my human mind it was inconceivable for me to imagine travelling for a week by myself to another country, requiring me to be active every day, interact with people, teach a seminar and preach. But I knew that God was calling me to go. I wish I could say that my faith was stronger and that I had no doubts, but as the man in Mark Chapter 9 was crying out to Jesus: “I believe, help my unbelief” I spent several weeks prior to the trip crying out to God with agonizing doubts.
Now I am thanking God for sending all of you who stood by my side during these weeks, praying for me and with me, counselling me, encouraging me, talking me through the moments of weakness and not allowing me to quit!
This trip indeed proved to be incredibly challenging physically, but God has been so gracious as to allow me to see the glimpses of the fruit of my ministry in Cuba : His powerful presence, His miraculous guidance and provision, the lives touched, the prayers answered. I doubted, but I doubt no more. Looking back on this week in Cuba, I have no doubt in my heart that I am on the right path of obedience to His will.
Construction in Cidra - Update
Part of my work in Cuba is overseeing the construction process of a church in Cidra that my home church in Canada is supporting financially.
The partnership between Kingsview Community Church and church in Cidra began in April 2016 when a team of men from KVCC visited to assist with the building of a water tower for their church. Over the next few years we continued to foster our relationships through correspondence and visits. During hurricane Irma in the fall of 2017, the church building in Cidra (which also serves as a home for its Pastor and his family), suffered significant damage. One month after the hurricane, church roof began to collapse, forcing pastoral family to evacuate. The building had to be demolished (except for a small part of the house consisting of one bedroom and a kitchen). The Pastor continues to live in this part of the building with his wife and two young daughters. When KVCC learned about all the hardships in Cidra a decision was made to partner up with our Cuban brothers and sisters in their efforts to rebuild their church.
Since Kingsview Community Church (Hamilton, Canada) undertook this project , the pastoral family was able to build and to move into a new emergency shelter where they can stay during the construction period unharmed by rains. The front part of the church building is well underway.
(See Before and After pictures bellow)
Kingdom Culture Seminar
I was privileged to hold a three day Kingdom Culture seminar at a newly planted church in the town of Carbonera. As mentioned earlier, the inspiration for this seminar was a Kingdom Culture School of Ministry curriculum by Kristine D’Arpe, which is an activity based approach to discovering and living out God’s truths in our everyday lives. While I was initially planning on strictly sticking to the curriculum I was led by the Holy Spirit to adapt it more closely to the needs of that particular church and to incorporate into it my own life’s testimony. The result was a wonderful God led experience not only for the participants but also for myself.
We started our seminar on Friday night by looking at what it means to live in the Kingdom of God. We also talked about the goodness of God and His creation. I was amazed at the enthusiasm of people when they were asked to draw how they saw God and His character and involvement in their lives. The Holy Spirit was so creative - the pictures they drew and the explanations they shared were so profound, so personal and so encouraging! We continued on Saturday afternoon. Despite the severe rain storm and power outages in the town, everyone showed up promptly on time. We had an amazing time talking about our identity in Christ and “mining” for God’s truths about ourselves through the book of Ephesians.
For me it was a new learning curve of learning to listen to the Holy Spirit closely as I teach. I was amazed at the way God chose to teach me. As I was teaching I could clearly (almost physically) feel when I was veering away from the right path and was starting to talk with my own wisdom even though I was speaking the truth of God; I was able to correct myself and move in sync with the Holy Spirit. How uncomfortable and awkward I felt when I was not speaking from my heart, when I was not speaking what God ordained me to speak. As soon as I corrected myself and allowed the Holy Spirit to redirect me, an incredible relief came and the words flowed freely. I did not have to think so hard; I just needed speak out of the passion that God put into my heart.
(Click on on the images below to enlarge them)
The Holy Spirit showed up so powerfully yet so tenderly during our Saturday evening session. The entire evening was dedicated to spending time in God’s presence, ministering to each other with intercessory prayer, moving in the gift of the Spirit, releasing to God our burdens and receiving from Him new anointing. It was incredible to see God move, but one of the biggest highlights of this evening for me were the children who attended the seminar. No older than ten or eleven years old they were touched so strongly by the Holy Spirit, kneeling and praying for each other, crying out to God. “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:13
It was incredible! By the end of the night I was spent, spiritually and physically but I was happy - fulfilled and ultimately and completely happy! As the pastor was saying closing words and ready to dismiss everyone, some of the people who attended the seminar asked if they could say something. What happened after took me by surprise, took me aback. My body was covered with goosebumps because I knew that God was talking to me. Not just one, not two, I don't know how many, but one by one people just started to declare God’s word over me prophesying about my ministry. When one stopped the other would continue and it lasted for some time. One of the ladies said that she sensed God telling her that I had doubts about my ministry (How did she know? I never shared it during the seminar!) “Don’t doubt your ministry! God granted you a ministry of restoration, He will use you to restore hearts. He will send you to specific places where you are needed.” Another lady prayed “The enemy will continue to fight with you, but you should not be afraid of him because he is afraid of you and of what you do.”
These are just a couple of things I remember, but I know that they were just speaking and speaking over me, one after another and as they spoke I knew that this is how God was answering my prayer and confirming my ministry. It was simple and beautiful and powerful. It was God pouring His love over me, showering me with His presence, with His Holy Spirit.
And then there was Savanilla - a small church plant deep in the country where I was invited to preach on Monday, my last day of ministry. We drove there in a bad thunderstorm. We drove through the darkness with only lightning piercing the sky and illuminating the swerving dirt road. My interpreter Lisandra got car sick; I felt the onset of one of my panic attacks that I get from overexertion after several busy days. I was praying for strength and safety and for the will of God to be done. When we arrived, the storm was still raging and apart from the pastor’s family there were only two ladies at the church. I told God before this trip that it really did not matter to how many people I would minister to. And here God was asking me to prove that I really meant it. So I thought; “I guess there's a reason we drove to this place for these two ladies”. The pastor wanted to wait and see if someone else would come. There were power outages all over the village and he was not sure.
So we waited. I was tired and could not stand for more than a couple of minutes. My knees were just buckling under me so I sat down on the bench and was resting with my eyes closed. And this is when fears started to creep into my heart. I caught myself thinking that I had no idea how I would be able to preach if I can't even stand. My interpreter was sitting on the bench beside me and I could see in her face that she was still sick from the car ride. But for whatever reason I was not worried. Some Spanish worship music was playing in the background. I didn't understand the words in Spanish but I felt such a strong presence of God. I just rested in God and His incredible presence.
The service was scheduled for 7:30 pm. It had now been an hour since we arrived and there were still just two ladies in the church with us. And then an incredible thing happened: almost two hours after the scheduled start of the service one by one people started to come in. I could not believe my eyes as they were showing up after walking in the rain. They quietly entered the church, sat on the bench and started praying. I just smiled and I knew God was smiling too.
I shared my message propping myself on the wooden pulpit for balance as I was still weak. My heart was racing. It was hard to concentrate and find the right words. But as I pressed in, God gave strength. Lisandra was beside me and I knew God was sustaining her strength as well. I was preaching about the cost of following Christ, such a fitting topic for this evening.
People responded! God did what He needed to do in their hearts and in mine as well. That afternoon, just before coming to Savanilla, I was discussing with the presbyter, Pastor Toni, where he wanted me to teach the next Kingdom Culture seminar in December. At the end of the service in Savanilla I knew: THAT was the church. When I told about it to Pastor Toni, who accompanied us this evening, he smiled with a mysterious smile, almost as if he had known.
But there's more! Our driver, Gonzalo, who is not a believer, was absolutely incredible with me and Lisandra all week. He would open the door of his car for us, carry our heavy bags and hold an umbrella over our heads during the rain (it rained and stormed every day). During the week he would normally drop us off at the location, leave, and then pick us up at the appointed time. He never stayed for the service or ministry sessions. On the last day of our ministry in Carbonera when our driver came to pick us up we all got caught by the storm and had to wait it out in the church. The pastor struck up a conversation with him as we were waiting and from the little Spanish I know I could understand that the pastor was talking to the driver Gonzalo about Jesus and faith. It stormed for a while and they kept talking. At some point the driver started to sound frustrated and Listandra explained to me that he was getting angry. Luckily the rain was over soon after and we could leave. I didn't want him to be turned off to the things of God by an overzealous pastor, but I was happy he got to hear the message of salvation.
That day in Savanilla, because of the storm and the remoteness of the location the driver Gonzalo had to stay with us. He did not come into the church even though he was invited. After the service Lisandra told me that she saw him standing outside the church in front of the window and listening. I was glad to hear that, as I was praying throughout the week for God to start working in his heart.
The drive home was long - back onto the swerving dirt road, but this time without the storm. But it didn't matter - my heart was full! We dropped off Pastor Toni, his wife Marta and Lisandra in Matanzas. We said our goodbyes and I set out to Varadero alone with the driver. He did not said a word on our way there. When we arrived, he helped me to carry my bags as ususual to the gate of the rented house, took the keys from me and helped me to open the gate (he knew I always struggled with it). And then he say something that just pierced my heart. As I was ready to walk into the gate he held me back by my shoulder and said in his very broken English: “Listen to me, I was listening to you in Savanilla and you have a very good story. God bless you and your husband and your family.” He gave me a big hug and drove away. As I was walking from the gate towards the house what just happened slowly started to sink in. My heart was overwhelmed with a feeling that I cannot even describe. We are serving an incredible God who hears our prayers, who orchestrates every single detail of our lives, who is seeking out each one of us in such a unique way. A God who sends a rainfall and a storm to give someone a chance to hear about His love, who can use such a weak vessel as myself for His glory, who can redeem our past for the sake of His Kingdom. We are serving an incredible God!!!
Lisandra and Plans for the Future
And finally Lisandra - my lovely, precious, indispensable interpreter! When I asked Lisandra to Interpret for me I had no idea God would give me so much more in her than a translator. Being from Havana (two hours away from the region where we were ministering), Lisandra shared a room with me in the rented house which gave us an incredible opportunity to get to know each other. How much in common we discovered about each other is beyond any coincidence. With God there is no such a thing anyway. I learned that Lisandra is suffering from a chronic genetic condition that is very similar in its symptoms to mine. Her health has improved significantly over the years which was such a great encouragement for me. More than that, knowing what it’s like to be in pain and experience extreme fatigue, Lisandra turned out to be a perfect roommate for me, who could read my mind about my need to rest, who took such good care of me when I was tired, reheating food for me and and bringing me things in bed when I could not get them myself. God is so faithful to send me His angel in disguise to take care of my physical needs.
But God had more than just that in mind concerning Lisandra. Listandra serves as an assistant Pastor at a large church in Havana and is a skilled and experienced preacher. She also works as a professional psychologist for the Ministry of Labor and is currently finishing her Masters Degree. After one of our Kingdom Culture sessions, Lisandra shared with me how touched she was by the teaching and how closely it related to the Bible based psychological counselling classes that she was teaching at her church. As we continued talking, we discovered that we are both passionate about teaching the truth about who we are in Christ and the importance of standing strong on this truth in the face of the lies from the enemy, about our God-given identity and the way He can use our unique personalities and experiences for the advancement of His Kingdom.
Out of our conversations a vision was birthed to combine our efforts and passions and to endeavor to do a joint ministry in which we will incorporate Kingdom Culture materials and my own teaching with Lisandra’s lectures on Christian phsycology of change. We are currently working together (via e-mail and online chat) on putting together a new seminar that we will teach together in December. Over the past few years Lisandra has been invited to teach at several churches all across Cuba. However, due to economical restraints only larger churches can afford to invite her and cover her travel expenses. Christian psychological counselling is greatly needed but extremely rare in Cuba. I am thrilled to be able to help bring this valuable tool to some rural Cuban churches who otherwise would not be able to afford it.
But more about our plans later :) Our dreams are big but God’s dreams are bigger!!!