Tales from the Sea – Cuba Update

Shelly comes from a long line of God fearing and Christ-Like ‘Friesen’s.’ Pastors, Missionaries, and Biblical Scholars abound in her extended families. I have been blessed to have them influence me in many ways over the past (nearly) 30 years.
One of the great storytellers, and influencers, Shelly’s Uncle Al Friesen, passed on to glory recently and left a void in the family, in his community, and globally, that will be felt for a long time. His memorial was beautiful and fitting for him and the impact that he had here on this earth.

It caused, as times like these often do, a time of introspection and reflection. There were and continue to be many child-rearing and marriage building principles that Al gifted to Shelly and me. For these we are forever grateful. Many, if not all, of Shelly’s Uncles and Aunts have Blessed me, Challenged me, and Ministered to me Spiritually, Physically, and Intellectually over the course of our courtship and marriage.

Every time I pen a newsletter, I feel the influence of at least one of these great mentors. Often it is of one Uncle a
little more than the others, the one I probably know the least. This man wears many, many hats and has been, and continues to be used immensely by the Lord. God has gifted him with the beautiful gift of storytelling.
As he recites a story it takes on the life and spirit of the tale. It is not an embellished story but rather, brighter, more colorful, the story comes alive. You can hear in his words the fullness of the situation and at the same time the frustration in knowing language can not do justification in describing some things.

At a family get together he recited to us the story of Adam and Eve. When he told of the love that Adam must have felt for his bride, a gift of God, created from him and for him; he relayed to us a passion that words cannot adequately describe. A beautiful story, brought to life with the depth and passion that goes beyond words and beyond the common spoken language.

Although this Uncle has always lived across the country or across the globe from us, I have had the privilege to hear him tell stories of his experiences as a missionary, a teacher, a preacher, his experiences as a father, and most often his joy in being a husband to his ‘Queen’. All wrapped deeply in his love for God and his desire to introduce and reintroduce others to God.

For 15 years I worked for a Pharmaceutical corporation. I authored, reviewed, and approved 1000’s of documents, reports, investigations. The facts, the stats, the black and white story with no room for color or emotion. AS it should be.
For me, at the time, it was rewarding and fulfilling.

Then God drew me into the mission field, and I started writing newsletters.

Stats and numbers took on a brighter, more colorful meaning. I have no hesitancy to relay with excitement a service where 20 people are baptized. At the same time, the spirit within me draws my attention to the change in countenance of a young man as he comes up out of the water. That same spirit shows me the glimmer of pride in
a pastor’s eyes as he brings that young man up out of the water. Maybe a troubled youth reclaimed by Christ. A shy young man taking a bold step of faith. Or maybe a strong young Christian performing an act of obedience to a God he loves.

Bringing stories to life is such a beautiful gift. A story told truthfully, passionately, colorfully, and gracefully can transform letters and words on a page into an experience shared. I hope and pray that God gifts me with a continued passion to help others experience in Techni-Color what some can only see as printed pages.

If you read my newsletters and want to know more statistics of how many baptisms, conversions, new church plants are occurring in Cuba, I would encourage you to reach out to me and I will gladly provide that information in its purest numerical form. Information and knowledge are powerful and to be appreciated and respected. May I
always strive to be respectful to the Lord as I have the privilege to share His stories.

He who finds a wife finds a good thing And obtains favor from the LORD.
Proverbs 18:22

It is not good for man to be alone…
On one of my last trips to Cuba, we were receiving the report from a pastor on the workings of his church. As he relayed the number of baptisms, new conversions, outreach projects and the like, I happened to notice that every time his wife would pass by, he would very intentionally make eye contact and a twinkle would enter his eye.
When his reporting was done, I told him I had one more question before we could close the meeting and enjoy the feast his wife and others had prepared. I asked him how he had met his wife.

As he began to tell the story it took less than a moment for his young children, the other Cubans present, my Canadian team, and maybe even the animals to grow completely silent and gather tightly round. His wife continued to busily prepare the meal, but you could see her listening in at every opportunity.
We heard and maybe even experienced the joy and the frustration as the words coming off his tongue could not do justice in relaying his love for his wife. We were all locked in silence waiting for the next word to arrive. The evidence of his love for his wife and his love of God were clear. That God would love him so much as to bless him with his wife shone through with every word he spoke.

When I reflect on that meeting, I can recall the great work of this pastor in his community, but I cannot forget his desire to be the best husband possible to honour God and to provide his wife the husband she deserves.

‘La Pastora’, (the Pastor’s wife), has a critical role in spreading the gospel throughout Cuba (as I am sure is true in the rest of the world also).
In many if not most of the small home churches in Cuba, ‘la Pastora’ runs the home, making sure all the household duties are complete. She also becomes the unofficial social committee leader, family ministries coordinator, benevolence ministry leader, prayer coordinator, children’s ministry leader and so many more roles that I dare not try to name them all.

Pastors can be gone from home for evenings or even multiple days a week as they minister to missions that are under the care of their church and needing spiritual and physical guidance.
‘La Pastora’ supports and strengthens the Pastor, the church, and the ministry from before sunrise until long after sunset. Often this is all done while she still holds down a secular job so there is income entering the household.

I thank God for my bride and the burdens she willingly carries for me, for our family, for our ministry and for our
Lord.

I remember vividly one such Pastora who was recovering from breast cancer. She’d had a breast removed and had followed up with radiation, or chemotherapy.
I don’t remember which medical treatment it was, but I do remember my conversation with her when I asked her permission to speak on this very personal issue in front of our group. It deeply impacted my life and my ministry.
She recounted in detail, about her struggles physically and emotionally and then she said something I would never forget, “What a blessing that God would entrust me to carry this illness.” What? Maybe I heard wrong? I asked for another interpretation. Something must have been lost in translation here? Not at all. She repeated, “A blessing to know that, like Job in the old testament, God knew I would be able to carry this cancer even to death without wavering in my faith.” Now did she want Cancer? Absolutely NOT. But she knew in her heart that if this was hers to carry, she would carry it praising God.

When a burden falls in front of me, am I willing to pick up that burden and praise God for the opportunity to show Him a fraction of my love for Him? Or will I step over it, avoid it, and pretend I never saw it? It is a tough decision. God, please find me faithful in the tasks you set before me. Unwavering in my faith.

 

COVID-19: Travel restrictions within the island have tightened once again. Tourism has been restricted or blocked completely as I pen this letter. Cuba, being a small densely populated island is quickly overrun when control over the virus is lost. Cuba has developed several vaccines. The population size of Cuba does not provide enough statistics to allow proper testing and results, so a few European and middle eastern countries are performing trials of these vaccines for Cuba. So far, the success rates seem to be very favourable, and Cuba expects to release the vaccine to the public in the next month or two.

Cuban Economy: With the lack of tourism Cuba struggles greatly with its global finances. Tourism is one of the highest incomes for Cuba. Canadians being one of the largest people groups vacationing in Cuba. A number of countries that had been exporting items to Cuba will now only export with CASH payment.

Cuban Church: The church is under great pressure to assist their communities with food and supplies. Although this is a great burden God provides and directs. The Good News is alive and well. The Light shines through the darkness. In a recent message from the Eastern Baptist Convention, they shared how the mountain churches of Maisi had gathered truckloads of bananas and delivered them to the retirement home in Santiago.

My Ministry -In Canada and CUBA I continue to plan for an extended trip to Cuba. God seems to open doors as needed to move forward. Right now the largest obstacles in front of me are COVID-19 and travel restrictions. I suspect I will need to receive a vaccination before I am allowed on a plane. Pray that Canada would receive and administer vaccinations to those who desire speedily. I am grateful that my health is such that I am not on any priority list. Sometimes waiting is a blessing. There also needs to be planes that are flying out of Canada and into Cuba. Pray for travel availability both internationally and within Cuba. Pray for a clearly directed itinerary of which churches and pastors to visit and encourage, and the length of my stay. Currently I am considering an 8–12-week trip or longer.

Pray for finances. Although I would prefer to rent a car, the costs of this would be more than I could afford and so I suspect I will be travelling in Cuban fashion by bus, train, or by thumb! Some funds for this specific request have started rolling in. PTL!

Pray for Shelly According to the doctors, Shelly has made a FULL physical recovery. She still tires more easily than before, but she has returned to work full-time. We are so very thankful that God answered prayers miraculously. With COVID-19 still mutating and causing havoc globally, Shelly is back in the midst of the storm. Pray she will not only endure these trying times but be a beacon of light in the midst of them.

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