A team of MDiv students and their sponsors journeyed to Holguin, Cuba, in March for an evangelistic study tour, a trip that proved more difficult, yet more fruitful, than any before.
“I’ve been taking students to Cuba for 15 years, and in no other trip has the enemy tried so hard to stop the work from going forward,” said Fernando Ortiz, Master of Divinity (MDiv) program director and Care for Cuba study tour leader. “But in no other trip have we seen the hand of God intervene in such mighty ways.”
The difficulties began when plane tickets for the 26-member group was cancelled just three months before they were to leave for Cuba, causing them to scramble, hoping to find tickets on the same flight. Flights were found, but the group paid more for the tickets than on any previous trip. Then, just nine days before the students were to fly to Cuba, Aubrey Toup, an MDiv student coordinating the vacation Bible school (VBS) programs for her team, broke her ankle.
“I laid on the floor and cried out, ‘Why?’” said Aubrey. “Of all the times to break my ankle, why did it happen now, when I’ve prepared so much for the trip?”
A wheelchair was purchased for her, and although she was not able to attend every meeting in Cuba, she was able to coordinate VBS for more than 150 children, triple the amount expected.
But the blessing didn’t end there. On an earlier trip, Dr. Ortiz had met an amputee who asked for a new wheelchair. “Dr. Ortiz didn’t know how he’d do that,” said Aubrey, “but then I broke my ankle, and we were able to bring a wheelchair to him! God took a broken mess and turned it into a message.”
During the trip, the students witnessed God’s power through the challenges they faced. When Karina Sheldon, MDiv student, was sent to bed with heatstroke the day she was scheduled to preach, she heard the Holy Spirit say to her, “There is one. You have to go.” She understood this to mean that there was at least one person who needed to hear her message. Her ankles were too swollen for her to stand, so she preached sitting down.
“At the end of my talk, one lady came to me and asked, ‘What do I need to do to be baptized?’” remembered Karina. “She wouldn’t have been comfortable talking in a larger setting. I learned the importance of listening to the Holy Spirit that night.”
All throughout the week, students employed creative evangelism techniques, such as the “free bus of salvation,” in which they rented a city bus and gave Cubans free rides throughout the city. During the ride, they sang songs and shared the message of salvation with the riders and invited them to the evening evangelistic series.
Students also went door-to-door sharing the gospel, organized a health fair, took family pictures for the community, conducted VBS programs and held evangelistic series in five sites throughout the city of Holguin, where people packed the churches each night.
However, the most highly anticipated event was the Sabbath service, in which thousands of people from all five sites were to gather at a sports arena in the middle of the city for a final gathering and a mass baptism in the swimming pool.
“We requested the venue six months in advance, and it was approved,” said Fernando. “But two days before we were to have our meeting, they cancelled it!”
Despite this setback, the team was able to reserve the soccer field adjacent to the gym for the program, which still gave them access to the swimming pool for the baptisms. However, when city officials saw them setting up speakers and equipment, they cut electricity to the venue completely, rendering them unable to be heard by the 2,000 people gathered that day.
“By this time, we were so used to the enemy throwing roadblocks at us that when we faced this, the biggest challenge of the week, we gathered to pray and said, ‘Lord, we know You are going to do something great in the midst of this setback. We are just expecting it!’ and He came through, beyond what we expected,” said Fernando.
At the last minute, a neighboring family agreed to allow the team to run an extension cord from their home to the speakers on the soccer field, enabling the team to be heard not only by the 2,000 people who attended the meeting, but by all in a three-block radius.
“People came out on their balconies to see what was going on, and they stayed to hear God’s message — hundreds of people, in addition to the two thousand who attended,” marveled Fernando.
That week, 526 people responded to the gospel and were baptized, including individuals who had been in contact with local churches throughout the year and had planned to be baptized at the end of the evangelistic series.
The team also brought 100 bicycles, 22 computers, 13 tablets and 13 cell phones for the local Cuban ministers, many of whom had no transportation or access to ministry resources.
“We saw God working in such mighty ways,” declared Fernando. “Every step of the way, there were big-time spiritual battles, but every step of the way the students saw the Lord deliver them.”
Care for Cuba, a ministry of the MDiv program, has equipped hundreds of pastors and churches in Cuba with ministry resources and sent more than 150 MDiv students for ten-day evangelistic campaigns since its start in 2013. To learn more about the program and how you can help, visit CareforCuba.org.