My last time in Cuba was seventeen months ago, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect as far as the people, accommodations, food, and the like. My traveling partner this trip was Gerald Hubbard. It was his first time to touch foreign soil and his first time to fly, so I was excited for him and interested in his fresh-eye perspective.
Our journey was not one of sightseeing but as a Christian mission. The Lord had blessed me with a relationship with a local Cuban pastor, his family, and the local congregation. I am a firm believer in divine appointments and my connection in Cuba began by meeting a Cuban man in the Port-au-Prince, Haiti airport about three years ago. This “chance” meeting was the launching pad for my present relationship with the pastor and congregation in Cuba.
Gerald and I flew from Atlanta to Miami departing the airport at 6:00 am and then from Miami to Holguin International Airport, Cuba arriving around 12 noon. The process of going through immigration and customs was about par for the course for any other Caribbean country. The big difference was a security check-point with a metal detector after the passport control desk. Most countries don’t check you as you leave the airport. It seemed unnecessary to me but just another step in the journey. All the airport and immigration people were nice and helpful.
We left the airport and immediately saw Pastor, his son-in-law, and our interpreter (I am not publishing their names for security reasons). I can’t tell you how many times I have exited a foreign airport and it never gets old seeing a familiar, smiling face in the midst of a throng of strangers. It’s like a sigh of relief.
We literally crammed our bags in the trunk of a rented ten-year-old Peugeot (French made car pronounced [poo-jo] with no air conditioning. Around the airport was a beautiful assortment of American cars of the 50s’ decade. Gerald couldn’t believe his eyes. Along with the ‘57 Chevrolets and such, there were also modern models of foreign cars such as the Chinese made Geely [gee-lee] and Japanese made Mitsubishi. Transportation is a problem in Cuba because most people cannot afford a car and to rent one is about $100 per day. The income for the average Cuban is about $25 or $30 per month; they also receive a food subsidy each month that will feed a family for about ten days.
Our ride to the pastor’s city in Holguin Province was about four hours. Gerald, our interpreter, and I were in the back seat with no room to spare—it was tight. Along the way we made a few stops to stretch our legs and old backs. Arriving in our city, we went first to Pastor’s home to greet his family for a few minutes and then to our Cuban bed and breakfast known as a “Casa Rental” or a “Casa Particular” [rented/private house]. These are private homes that are licensed by the government. It is otherwise illegal for a Cuban to house a foreigner.
Gerald was exhausted from no sleep the night before and the journey, so he skipped dinner and stayed to rest. I went back to Pastor’s home for a great supper of chicken, rice and beans, boiled plantain, shredded cabbage, and a tomato/onion salad. Pastor’s wife is such a sweet lady and great cook. Before dinner, a woman came into the church with a small baby sick with a fever. The baby was restless and fretful. I prayed and laid hands on the baby while the tearful mother held her child. After some time of praying, she looked at me, smiled, and said God had touched her baby as he was now calm. Praise God!
After supper, the congregation had gathered in the church, which is just an extension of the house. I gave a short greeting and then Pastor took me to our B&B so I could get a little rest. My sleep came easy and was sweet.
Sunday morning, I was awake and showered by the time breakfast was ready. Breakfast was in a little cabana in the backyard. I ate with three other Americans staying at the same B&B. We had a tortilla huevos (omelet), Cuban ham and cheese sandwich, papaya fruit, expresso coffee, and yogurt shake—not exactly suffering for Jesus! Remember, the Apostle Paul said he had “learned to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Phil. 4:11 NKJV). It was a wonderful breakfast for only $3; our room was $25 per night. So, this morning I was abounding but traveling to foreign places is not glamorous and not without discomfort; just ask Gerald.
To the last point I just made, Gerald’s system was still wacked, so he stayed in for some more rest. I went to the Sunday morning church meeting and enjoyed some great Cuban style worship complete with keyboard, conga drums, guiro (gourd with notches rubbed with a stick that makes a ratchet sound), tambourines, and a metal block percussion instrument. It is certainly not a stoic, robed choir—honey, they put some moves on when they worship!
After the singing, Pastor announced to the church they would do something a little different; instead of a sermon I was going to have a conversation and testimony with them. They put a bench in the front of the pulpit where my interpreter and I sat. This was to put us in a better legal status with the authorities in case someone was watching. I shared with them my spiritual journey of desiring to be like Jesus and used the scriptures of Philippians 2:7 (NKJV) that spoke of Jesus “taking the form of bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” I spoke to them about serving as Jesus served. The Holy Spirit moved upon all of us. As I was speaking and sharing some of my experiences, my interpreter had tears in his eyes and many in the congregation were crying as well. It was a blessed time I will not soon forget.
With my long conversation ended, it was time to eat. My hearty appetite makes my hosts happy; I ate plenty of the usual Cuban fare along with turkey for the meat. Cuba is a poor country and I know my hosts are eating better than usual because their American guests (Gerald and I) are footing the bill. I prepared Gerald a plate of food and returned to check on my buddy. It was about two o’clock when I returned to rouse Gerald up so he could eat. He had rested up fairly well but not one-hundred percent; he enjoyed the food.
We both returned late evening for dinner and church. In the service, Gerald shared his testimony of God’s healing power and deliverance in his own life. When we finished the service, Pastor wanting to keep things legal, dismissed the service yet encouraged anyone needing prayer to linger behind.
Brother Gerald has an extraordinary compassion for the sick and anointing for healing. It is amazing to watch this usually quiet and unassuming man be used by God in powerful ways. We began praying for the sick around 9:30 pm and ministered to midnight. Gerald was so patient and spent lots of time with each person just allowing them to soak in the Holy Spirit. Toward the end, he was so exhausted he almost collapsed but soldiered on. I believe we ministered to about forty individuals and everyone was touched by the Holy Spirit in a powerful way.
The next morning, we were a little later than usual waking up because we were just drained after the long night of ministry. As I was in the shower, the B&B proprietor yelled though the door wanting to know if we wanted “desayuno” [breakfast]. I yelled through the water and soap, “No, solamente cafe!” [No, coffee only!] Of course, I was hungry, but I knew Pastor’s wife would have a sizeable lunch for us in just a couple of hours and I did not want to disappoint her by nibbling. She did, and I did not disappoint her!
Just let me tell you what happened after lunch! We went to a home of a lady in the barrio [neighborhood]. She had a stroke twenty years ago and since then she basically had no use of her left arm. It was not limp but held at an angle parallel with her waist and close to her body. Her grown granddaughter was visiting with her and we confirmed everything with her as we ministered. She told us what had happened and that her arm was not usable for anything. We shared some things to encourage her faith in God and then began to pray for her.
After some time of praying for her, we asked her again about her arm. I asked her, had she been able to hold anything in her left hand. She answered no. I pulled my water bottle out of my backpack and asked her to take it. To her amazement (her face lit up), she was able to hold the bottle. We asked her to raise her arm with the bottle in her hand and she raised it about four inches. With some encouragement she raised it higher until it was over her head. Then Gerald asked her to roll her arms and hands like pedaling a bicycle which she did without any difficulty. This big smile came on her face as she rejoiced in the healing power of Jesus, all the while twirling her two arms in the bicycle movement. Her granddaughter was amazed. We all rejoiced together! We give God all the glory!
One day we visited the home of a church leader who oversees a number of churches in his denomination. Their denomination was a little different from us but we agree on the basics (Ephesians 4:4-6 NKJV, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”) We were a little cautious as we entered his home yet he was very gracious and welcomed us in with a big smile. We had a nice visit.
Our purpose for the visit was not to just to talk but his wife had been sick for some time and we wanted to pray for her. She had a number of issues including diabetes and a painful sore that would not heal, continually oozing pus and blood. When we ministered to her we did not mention the sore but focused on the diabetes. She was very cordial to us but her church background was not one that is typically known for healing ministry so we were not too sure where her faith level was to receive this type of ministry—that was our perspective anyway. Once we returned home, we received a report via email telling us the day after our prayer with her, the sore popped out a core and the bleeding and pus stopped, resulting in her sleeping well. So there you have it—God can do what He wants! In hearing the news, we rejoiced in God’s healing touch on her and our lesson learned; never dismiss what God may do contrary to your past experience or understanding. We ministered to everyone in the minister’s home.
Our translator was such a blessing. He was a wonderful translator; being a pastor himself, he stayed in good tempo with our prayers and ministry. During the week, he expressed how important it was for him to observe and learn from us. Gerald and I both agreed God led us to Cuba for our translator as well.
Concerning evangelism, we had a few people who accepted Christ but with the situation in Cuba, an American cannot go out passing out tracts or other overt evangelism tactics. Most of the people in the church meetings were Christian. I did bring an evangelism tool into Cuba, it was a projector that had the capacity to play mp4 video from a USB flash drive. I downloaded the Jesus Film in Spanish onto a flash drive so they could use it in evangelistic outreaches in their area. I also gave them a bluetooth speaker and an assortment of HDMI, audio, USB chargers, and such. They were so excited for the projector and the electronics I brought them.
We had many more experiences but wanted to share some of the highlights of Jesus touching the lives of our Cuban brothers and sisters. The people in Pastor’s church were so welcoming and encouraging to us. The love of Jesus just pours from them. They all wanted pictures with us and each one hugged and kissed us (the Cuban cheek kiss). One day they roasted a whole pig for us, taking a half day in preparation and a half day of pit roasting on a big skewer turned by hand. Gerald was gracious and let me have the whole tongue to eat (haha!)—you may be surprised but it is wonderfully good! The golden roasted skin of the pig was so good, just like eating brittle. I ate a little tenderloin too!
Gerald and I left Cuba with hearts full of joy of what God had done and an even deeper love for the Cuban people. We came to encourage and bless our brethren in a foreign land yet we left encouraged and blessed. While there I had this realization; even though our two countries have had this adversarial relationship, the two peoples are just ordinary folks trying to get through life in one piece. They have concerns for their children just like us. We all labor each day to feed, clothe, and shelter our families. But most of all, our spiritual lives are the same; we are all seeking the God of Heaven through His Son, Jesus Christ, in a true and eternal relationship that transcends anything of earth. They live under a different flag but their hearts and lives are touched by the same Savior.
Harry L. Whitt