PAA Students Share Jesus in Cuba
Portland Adventist Academy (PAA) students from Portland, Ore., were honored to join Andrews University (AU), located in Berrien Springs, Mich., for evangelistic outreach to Cuba to help continue the growth of the Adventist Church, despite five decades of government restriction on religion.
PAA students supported a larger evangelistic series implemented by Care for Cuba (CFC), an organization established by the Andrews University Master of Divinity (M.Div.) department. CFC supports Cuban pastors and Bible workers with much-needed resources while training graduate students in evangelism.
“It really was a miracle we were invited to come," says Rita Barrett, PAA Spanish teacher and group leader for the PAA student missionaries. “It builds my faith to see how God puts a desire in us to do His work and then works out the details. He brought together the students with a passion for evangelism and the opportunity to do it.”
"My first reaction was, 'It is not possible,’” says Fernando Ortiz, the director of AU’s M.Div. program and founder of CFC. “We had never done it, our trip was full to capacity, and it was mainly for master-level students.”
“But as we prayed,” he continues, “the Lord impressed upon my heart that we should give it a try and work together on this endeavor. As a result we ended up adding another evangelistic venue targeting youth, young adults and university students, and it was a huge success. To God be the glory!"
The opportunity was not taken for granted. PAA students spent the entire school year preparing. They held each other accountable to early morning devotions. They attended conferences about service work, kept journals, preplanned children’s programs and practiced skits. They also studied Cuba's language, culture and customs.
Once in Cuba, PAA students experienced palpable excitement from Cubans who have had limited contact with U.S. citizens. "People were so friendly and open with us," says Adoniah Smith, a PAA junior. "We were able to invite so many people to the meetings just simply by hanging out in the plaza, playing Frisbee and making friends with strangers."
“A few years ago, it was unthinkable to do religious services in a public arena,” says Ortiz. Even now, Bibles are shared between families and often become so worn out they can’t be read. Most people do not own cars. If a pastor doesn’t have a bike, it can take him hours to get to the people he serves.
“Cuba has felt forgotten by the world, even the Adventist world,” says Ortiz. “We could not go there or send money for decades, and now it is time to recoup what we haven’t been able to do for 50 years.”
That’s why CFC doesn’t just come and go each spring. Every year, CFC distributes bicycles to pastors as well as laptops and tablets loaded with hundreds of books and ministerial resources.
“The children’s ministry leader told me she had never ever imagined [this blessing],” says Barrett. “She had just been told her husband would receive a bicycle and that she would be getting a laptop. She presents her seminars using just her phone, and it it’s so difficult. She said the laptop will make her job so much easier.”
As the trip came to a close, PAA students witnessed 222 baptisms. Since 2013, more than 800 new members have been baptized. “Indeed, the Adventist Church in Cuba is lively,” says Ortiz. “We bring the inspiration, the tools and the materials. It’s an avalanche of help to empower people who are passionate for God and solid Adventists who need a boost to be equipped to do more effective ministry.”