By Mandy Cloninger
The flurries of excitement are really building as the departure for our team to Havana, Cuba, is nearing! Tonight we weighed our many bags and packed it all up for the drive to Miami tomorrow.
I had the pleasure this spring at Hyde Park to hear both Pastor Diaz and Bishop Pareira from Cuba speak and preach about how the Lord is working in Cuba. I left with a hungry heart ready to serve on the Cuba mission team. Something Pastor Diaz shared really stuck with me. He quoted from Ezekial 47, and said there's a river of living water within each of us but that even with the dynamite of the Holy Spirit, sometimes we just stand there in the water, and the Lord has to come along with His thorns and poke us (he likened it to birds getting too comfortable in their nests). That sometimes we're too comfortable, so He comes and shakes it up. He described the Christian movement in Cuba, its youth and vibrancy thriving in small groups and how the Holy Spirit is moving. How when the government felt that they had too many, they would continue to persevere, move it out of the church, and into houses and the spread of the Word continued to multiply. He described the Holy Spirit grabbing hold and taking action! Take my house, take my job, take my husband, take my business, take my children, take my family. He said the church is supplying the true needs of the people, the living water, through Jesus Christ.
I said count me in. This mission appealed to me on so many levels that I felt with a certainty that I was called to go. In this period of anticipation and finally preparations for the journey, I have really leaned on the following scripture, which I love from the Message translation, “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He's the one who will keep you on track” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
I’ve had several people ask me this week if I’m scared to go to Cuba particularly because of the history of political tension with the U.S. and the nature of its communist government, and I have responded with a very clear no. These things do not concern me, that’s not why I’m going. I find comfort and am not afraid because I know that the Lord goes with me, and He will not forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6). Cuba is only about 220 miles from Miami, yet they are miles apart indeed.
Angeligue Muller (her mom, Drema, is leading our team) and I’ve been reading a dissident blogger, Yoani Sanchez’s book, Havana Real, and her postings from Cuba with her perspective on daily life in Havana. I have been taken aback by how when you’re only supplied rations, you long and covet food, even dream about it. I’ve never been truly hungry before, but in Cuba, only if you’re under 7 or over 70, are you provided a daily ration of milk. I offered up my thanks this week as I enjoyed my milk with my cereal, a simple staple, that is not widely available under their system.
Similarly Sanchez describes how when you’re in a hospital, you bring everything, including cleaning supplies, a pillow, bed sheets, a fan, and more importantly, sutures, gauze, cotton and even syringes. “I have obtained some needles appropriate for the IV, because the one in her arm is very thick and causes pain. I also bought some gauze and cotton on the black market. The most difficult – which cost me days and an incredible series of swaps – is suture thread for the surgery they will do tomorrow. I also brought a box of disposable syringes since she yells to high heaven when the nurse approaches her with a glass one.” Walking around our award-winning hospital at Tampa General this week, I gave thanks for the medical advances, supplies and world-class healthcare that we have available in abundance. These are the things that break your heart for the Cuban people.
The freedom, the living water that Pastor Diaz and Bishop Pareira described when they visited here to share the work of the Methodist Church in Cuba, is the true freedom that comes from God. And our purpose is simple to make God’s love real and be in relationship with the Cuban people. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear " (I John 4:18).
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Our team will be residing and serving at the Evangelical Methodist Seminary, located in the historic section of downtown Havana. I found it on a map, and was super excited to pinpoint the location! Our primary project will be construction within the seminary on the third floor, which will be outfitted to house visiting professors who will be teaching at the seminary and eventually may house retired pastors. We will also be in ministry making God's love real with the people and children of Cuba. Thanks to generous donations from various individuals and organizations, we will be taking face painting supplies, hula hoops, baseball gloves, balls, clothing and more to share God's love with the children of Havana and medicines and personal hygiene products for the adults.
Please lift up our team in your prayers as we travel to Miami on Friday and depart for Cuba early Saturday morning. Team Leader: Drema Muller; Team members: Jack & Linda Brown, Mandy Cloninger, Jeanne Compitello, Mike Burgamy, Pat Hannon, Dan Hegeman, Bruce McIntosh, Rebecca McLarty, Angelique Muller, Belinda Paisley, Slater Taylor.
Adios y vaya con Dios mis amigos! We go with God, because wherever God is, there is love, and where we share love, we share God.