Old Clothes and Lobster

Our friends, Tom and Bonnie Hearon and we watched with nervous anticipation as the clock ticked.  We had been told that it might take as much as three hours to get thru the immigration into Cuba, but in fact it was just a matter of having the correct paperwork, being polite and waltzing thru with no problems.  We were well ahead of our meeting time, so first we had a very long cup of coffee, sitting in the plaza like Hemingway.  Then we began to pace. We had been anticipating this meeting for months, and, as the time arrived and then passed, we hoped that it wouldn’t come to naught.

Finally, about 20 minutes later, as Tom and Tony strolled in ever increasing circles, wondering about every single Latino man who might meet our idea of a Seminary President, Tony noticed a small girl holding a penciled sign that said “Tony Woods”.

We jumped in the van with her and her husband. Victor is the full time seminary driver and they were late because of course there was no parking.

We left the dock and drove more or less directly to the Baptist Seminary that sat perched high on a hill overlooking the entire city of Havana.  We were impressed on many levels.  The campus was quite well kept and the buildings were also well maintained and pretty.  We were told later that while the seminary was begun by Southern Baptist Missionaries in 1906, the present building was built in 1950. Tom and I agreed that we were also “built in 1950” and consider ourselves fairly well maintained as well.

We were met by the president, Pastor Barbaro, who delighted us for several hours talking about Baptists in Cuba, accepted Tony’s Bible study material and promising to spread it around to see if we can get it into Spanish.  He told us, perhaps politely, that this is just what the churches need.  Please pray with us that it gets used.

We were humbled and amazed at the history of this far flung little place that few of us have ever even thought of.

Pastor Barbaro is currently working on his Phd at Southwestern Seminary, his thesis is examining the fact that the Baptists, since work began by our missionaries in 1906, have never really changed their theology.  He outlined the “Big 4” denominations and how over the years they have changed, either radically to the left or to the more Charismatic.  Only Baptists remain.  Now this could be seen as a bad thing, except that the denomination is growing and the seminary now has over 200 students and in addition to the main campus, has 8 satellites throughout Cuba.

We so enjoyed the deep conviction of this wonderful servant leader (who was actually moving house and carved out enough the time to see us) and came away in awe. We’d love to go back and help somehow.

Later talking together, the 4 of us came to realize that even though we’d served as missionaries in about a combined 7 or 8 countries, this was the first time we saw first hand a country where to be a Christian was not only at some times dangerous, (the seminary dropped to ONE student during all the turbulent revolution years, but somehow remained open), but on a day to day basis was and continues to be very deprived of what we have always considered ‘normal’.

For example, these folks can’t travel freely, they can’t access materials or even internet.  In today’s world, these things seem to us like normal ‘human rights’.  We were talking about Tony’s Bible study materials, and realized that the Cubans cannot access them unless someone physically takes the thumb drive with the files on them. Even then, they would have trouble printing the books, but would have to rely on reading them on the seminary’s private computers. They (don’t laugh) cannot access Amazon……that is a shock to us these days!  They cannot get packages in the mail.  Again, unbelievable.

And yet the denomination grows.  On Sunday we took ourselves by a lovely stroll to the “First Baptist Church” called “Calvary”,  It was founded in 1898 and is housed in a former theatre, so it was literally ‘church in the round’. There were over 600 in attendance, we were ushered into the balcony and sat on very flimsy plastic chairs.  Some of my prayer time that morning was that I wouldn’t drop to the floor with a distracting explosion.

No one spoke even a smattering of English but we were welcomed with open arms.  Tom and Bonnie were comfortable as they speak Spanish but we just hung on to their shirt tails as we sang and listened to the 45 minute sermon delivered by a passionate seminary student.

Afterward, a deacon who’d studied medicine many years ago in South Africa, gave us a tour of church, while they were ALL in Sunday school. He mentioned that the music was not his liking (full band, etc),  and I pointed to him and said “Old” and we all had a good laugh.

To sum it up, Cuba was a huge blessing to us.  Not only were the people wonderful, everything we saw from “cleaned up around the port area as to give a good impression to the Cruise guests” to get down and dirty poverty in the outskirts, was clean and beautiful.

Oh, and the Old Clothes and Lobster?  After church we went to a Cuban restaurant recommended to us by the Seminary.  It was where Obama had eaten on his ‘tour of Havana”.  Apparently he loved the dish they call  “Old Clothes.”  We did too. (although we pointed out to the waiter that was about the only point we agreed on with Obama).   It’s basically pulled pork, which Pastor Barbaro says is delicious because the pork is “grown naturally”.  And the lobster?  Tom ordered that as it was only $12!   This place could grow on us!!

I’m sending this late because of our inability to find reliable internet.  Probably next Sunday your inbox will be empty again, but we’ll catch you when we can.  We’re in London now getting bundled up to head north to Finland and hopefully the Northern lights!

Till next post, Marsha

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