Cuba Trip (August 22nd to September 1st):
I am glad I had the opportunity to go to Cuba for around 10 days, although I must say it was a "difficult" trip. It was tough physically and emotionally. Even though it was not too long of a trip, it was the first time I had spent a number of days away from my family, plus, in Cuba there is no wi-fi or internet, so I was without connection and the ability to communicate freely for the entire time I was there. The times of teaching were also tough, as it very hot, with no A/C, standing and speaking for large periods of time (more on our teaching days later). It will be impossible to give all the details and anecdotes of the trip here, but I will try to give a summary. Please send me and email with any other specific questions if you have them.
The day we left, on Saturday August 22nd, we had to be at the airport in Miami at 4 am for an 8 am flight. My friend, Dr. Bill Victor, who does work with university students at the University of Missouri and was also one of my professors at Liberty Seminary, went along with me. We heard news of the formation of hurricane Danny, with a possible path towards Cuba during the week. At our check-in, there was a problem with our visas, and we were charged 100 Dollars extra each, plus additional baggage fees we were not aware of. The flight from Miami to Havana is not even 1 hour long, and when we landed we had to wait for a while before going through immigration due to the mixup with our visas, plus we were told that the pastor who was supposed to pick us up did not make it to the airport because the public bus he was on broke down. All in all, these were just minor hiccups, and we were welcomed by another pastor who picked us up and after lunch at his place we were able to take advantage of the afternoon touring around Havana.
For the trip on a whole, were able to accomplish 2 things we had set out to do: 1) give an intense course on Hermeneutics (sound principles for interpreting the Bible correctly) and 2) to better understand the situation of our students in Cuba and help in organizing them.
On Sunday and Monday we were in the capital, Havana. Sunday morning I spoke at one church and after that we visited another. At night we participated in a home church meeting, I gave a talk on leadership. On Monday we had our first course, we taught a group of pastors in Havana from 9 am till 4 pm (with a few breaks obviously!). From Havana we worked our way east, crossing just about the whole country in our time there. I did not realize how big Cuba was! After a long day Monday of teaching, we traveled a couple of hours at night to a city called Colon, where we taught our course again all-day Tuesday. Wednesday was a travel day, we traveled to Placetas, a few hours from Colon. Since we had a little time to spare, we stopped by a beach, Varadero, for a couple of hours, which was a good break since Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday were quite busy. On Thursday we gave our course in a town called Caibarien, which was about a 45 minute drive from where we were staying in Placetas. This was the HOTTEST day of the trip, it felt like it was over 100 degrees, with 90% humidity and no A/C. For our times of teaching, me and Bill split up the sessions between us, so each day of teaching was really equivalent to about a half day for each of us. However, Bill is not fluent in Spanish, so we had to find interpreters for him. In Caibarien I not only taught all of my sessions but also interpreted all of Bill`s sessions, so it was the day of most work for me. Friday was another long travel day, we spent many hours in the car and after a long trip made it to Velasco, near a large city named Holguin in the east of Cuba. Saturday was a day off, and we heard on the news that tropical storm Erika had caused over 30 deaths in the nearby Dominican Republic, and that it was headed straight our way. We prepared to spend a day riding out a storm, however, the next day a couple of drops fell, and that was it, nothing more. We didn't know what happened to the storm, it definitely didn't affect us at all. On Sunday we preached at a gathering where various churches met together and then on Monday we had our last day of teaching in Velasco. Tuesday we flew back to Miami and I was able to spend 2 quick days in Dallas before going back to Cordoba.
I was surprised by how many churches there were in Cuba. None of them were very big, most of them are sort of like house churches, built on house property with the size to hold 30 to 50 people. It is very hard to get authorization from the government to build a church on its own property, so mostly there are these small house churches. Big churches, with people coming from all over town like we sometimes see in the USA would not really work anyway in Cuba, because hardly anyone has a car or the ability to go to a place far away, so mostly churches are smaller and target the neighborhood, or the blocks surrounding them. In all the cities where we taught (Havana, Colon, Caibarien, and Velasco) I met several of our students at Seminary Carey. Because they have no internet and therefore cannot do our online program, we send them the materials in physical and digital format. We have over 100 students in Cuba, and there is a big desire there to get a good theological education, even if it is just a certificate level. Our main contact in Cuba is pastor Jatniel Perez, and he oversees the different areas and churches where we have groups of students. Many pastors are not allowed to work and are dependent upon outside help for support, mostly from the USA. However, there are some downsides to this: 1) some pastors have "fought" over contacts from the USA, 2) some pastors "overcharge" the people that come in to help, leaving them with more gain, and 3) some poor young men may strive to become pastor just for the sake of the possibility of having help from the outside. The economical and religious environment is definitely quite complex and at times difficult to understand.