‘You can see the fruits of your labor’ — N.C. Baptists travel to Cuba

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 29, 2016

By Susan Shinn For the Salisbury Post

During the first two weeks of September, two groups from N.C. Baptists on Mission participated in visioning trips to Cuba. Two staff members, Tom Beam and Paul Langston, led both groups.

The main purpose of these two visits was to learn about plans for a new seminary in Santa Clara. N.C. Baptists on Mission works closely with the Eastern Baptist Convention. Because there are more churches in Eastern Cuba than pastors available, the need for a seminary to train church leaders has grown.

The Eastern Baptist Convention has some 590 church buildings — none have been built since 1959 — and more than 5,000 house churches.

In 2002, the Baptist World Alliance helped N.C. Baptists on Mission to identify work to be done in Cuba. At that time, mission groups were beginning to be allowed to work in Cuba. Its first big project was the construction of a retirement home for pastors in Santiago. Now, North Carolina Baptists are ready to tackle the seminary construction.

According to Paul Langston, mission consultant for N.C. Baptists on Mission, goals for late 2016 through spring 2017 for Santa Clara camp include:

• construct a two-story house for nurses, pharmacy, and residence hall

• expand the current dining hall and kitchen to accommodate a larger number of people

• participate in evangelism and other community ministries alongside Cuban believers

• assist in the development of the seminary from the ground up, which could later include teaching.

“We wanted to do what it would take to bring students here quickly,” Beam said. “We anticipate six teams to finish the first building.”

Each team will contribute $3,000 with N.C. Baptists on Mission — formerly N.C. Baptist Men — sending another $2,000. Additionally, the projects will employ Cubans who will continue the work after teams leave, Beam said. This is a critical part of the project as the average monthly wage of Cubans in $30. Physicians make $50 a month, Beam said, while teachers are paid $35 a month.

Because of that reason, Beam explained, the black market is a way of life in Cuba, as rationing is woefully inadequate. The teams are concentrating their efforts in central Cuba — where the seminary is being built — because that is the most unchurched area of the country, he said.

Those who visited Cuba in September included the first group (Sept. 1-6): Andy Wakefield, Richard Weeks, Tammy Weeks, Gary Holland, Tom Nahlen, Maria Nahlen, Brandon Breedlove, Michael Maragelis, Faith Beam, Gerald Williams, Greg Moore, and Edith Holland.

The second group (Sept. 8-13) included Brandon Powell, Dale Fisher, Glen Walker, Stephen Daniel, Thane Kendall, David With, Jim Turner, Nathan Morton, Dr. Ron Cottle, and John Rogers.

During the trips, group members toured the camp, and learned the specifics of projects available there. Beam also explained the nuts and bolts of leading a tour group, recruiting team members, when to apply for passports and visas, and more. Beam estimates the trip costs to Santa Clara to be about $1,700 per person, but that amount may decrease as commercial and direct flights to Cuba increase.

Not only are work trips available, Beam says, but there are also opportunities for youth teams to lead camps, with activities similar to Vacation Bible School and sports camps.

Traveling to a Communist country, Beam admitted, is not easy. “There are some challenges we face in Cuba that we don’t have in other places. But we do try, within the parameters we are given, to offer a ministry in Cuba.”

He added, “Sometimes Americans say, ‘There’s a better way.’ Not in Cuba. You do it the Cuban way. We’re not gonna push the envelope. That would close the door on religious visas.”

Despite the challenges, Beam said, he returns to Cuba, “because people come to know the Lord. If I reacted to frustrating moments, I would have been done in Cuba a longtime ago. People are being discipled and truly living for the Lord, and that makes a difference.

In Cuba, you can see the fruits of your labor.”

Langston returned to Cuba in mid-October in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. The area around Santa Clara was not affected, but areas in far eastern Cuba were. In fact, the church on the back of the yellow T-shirt of the N.C. Baptist Partnership worn by both travel groups, First Baptist Church Baracoa, was destroyed.

Langston and his group saw about 20 damaged churches, house churches and pastors’ homes in Baracoa and Maisi. They distributed 200 bag water filters to pastors to distribute in their communities. They trained on two types of water filtration systems donated by North Carolina and Texas for Cuban churches to use in communities hardest hit by the hurricane, and they took three small generations to run the water filtration systems.

Even though hurricane relief efforts will continue during the next several months, Langston said, the plans for the new seminary will not be affected.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury. 

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