Pastor Tom is in the Middle East. In his absence, Dan VanKeeken, a senior leader at The King's University and a member of Bethel for almost 30 years, has been invited to write the Pastor’s Corner for this week. Dan reflects on his experience on a mission trip in Cuba recently as the representative for the Christian Reformed Churches of our region.
I saw the old guitar on a shelf on the second floor of the tiny Christian Reformed Church in downtown Havana. So I picked it up and started strumming, then quietly singing one of my favorites that we sing at Bethel: Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord. Suddenly I heard other voices, English and Spanish, singing along. I looked up and the dozen other people in the room who had been talking of other things - people from Alberta and Toronto and Grand Rapids and Minnesota and Havana and Jaguey Grande, Cuba - we were all praising God and singing, To see you high and lifted up, shining in the light of your glory.
And the eyes of my heart were opened. God's presence was real in that upper room, in that tiny store-front church that might fit 80 people if some of them were standing, not two blocks from the Cuban capital buildings, in a restrictive, controlled environment among His people here in this communist country. It was just one of many "God is real - God is here" moments in a frenzied week of meetings and visits at many of the 14 urban and rural Christian Reformed churches in small towns and villages not two hours from the tourist beaches of Varadero. The faithfulness of the several thousand CRC members in Cuba was inspiring and humbling: boldly preaching the gospel and worshiping, feeding seniors five days a week, planting house churches, reaching out to youth through music, making do with so much less than we have, riding ancient beat-up bicycles and living humbly in small houses, and food ration cards that run out mid-month.
Yet there is a revival happening in Cuba. Two million of its 11 million inhabitants are professing Christians as members of dozens of different denominations. And they've softened their government's heart toward them because of all the terrific social (diaconal) work they do, without any government support and by simply tithing from their meager $18 per month salaries (400 of their non-tourist pesos) and getting involved personally in Kingdom work. They treasure their relationships with the people and CRC churches of Alberta, relationships we've had since the early 1990’s. And they rely on what goods and money we can send, and other fellow believers from the U.S., from The Netherlands, from Brazil. We hope to fly three of their pastors to Alberta to visit us this fall.
Keep God's people in Cuba in your hearts and prayers - it means so much to them to know they are not forgotten or as isolated as their government tries to keep them. And thank you for the over $4,000 that was raised here at Bethel to replace a condemned, falling down pastor's home in one of the towns (total project $30K). Later this year we'll be sending an entire container of badly needed medical supplies, bicycles, wheel chairs etc. to our brothers and sisters in Cuba. More on that to come.
As the song concludes, and as our prayer for Cuba: Pour out your power and love, as we sing holy, holy, holy.
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