Since I was a child, I have always been about prayer. I remember praying specifically at a very young age for hurting and orphaned children. I recall praying for neighbors, friends, and even people I never knew.
Praise God prayer got me through college, and soon after I was praying for my husband and children.
There was a time though when I hit a wall, and I found myself praying for me. These prayers became holy ground, connecting me and God. A place to be honest and pour my soul onto his feet. I learned God too loves me as much as “the least of these.”
A couple years ago, I began to pray things for myself like, “Lord, I’ll do anything for you.” “Dear God, give me passion and give me truth.” “Dear Lord, I want to share stories of your people.” And “Lord, take me to the people who need to see you.”
I am also a dreamer. I tend to think quite wildly and quickly about missions and learning about people. I can’t escape my dreams or push them to the side. I have concluded, that this is something God has set inside of me, to possibly be a beacon for someone or something. Maybe, it’s the Lord’s will and the Lord’s way to use my “dreams and visions” for good and purpose.
I often wonder why. ‘Why do I dream so big? Why do I have no hesitation? Why am I so eager to get up and go on mission? Am I blind? Or am I just willing?’
And so, with prayers and dreams, I ended up in Cuba. It’s no coincidence at all, not even odd. It was mapped out from the beginning.
I was asked to go to Cuba by a non-profit organization, Third Lens Ministries.
The mission of Third Lens is to design and build environments of healing, empowerment and redemption. They bridge ministry with construction and design.
Third Lens is a community of contractors, architects, engineers and real estate professionals who work on projects that have an eternal value.
They take on projects locally, and all over the world in places such as Kenya, Honduras, Haiti, Uganda, Ecuador and Cuba.
The Executive Director of Third Lens Ministries is Auburn native, Brian O’Neil. Brian saw a small disconnect between the stories and impact Third Lens is having around the world, and the donors and volunteers that support and serve its mission.
My goal was to walk the path of impact that Third Lens Ministries is carrying out in Cuba, and then to tell the stories of the lives and people it touches.
So Without hesitation, and with my husband along as my escort, we boarded a plane bound for Havana, Cuba.
The people I met, the things my eyes got to see and the voices of the Cuban people will tell stories through me for years to come. I feel I could write an entire book. But I will start in one central place, a pastor, in a village, on a tiny island, sitting with me on the wobbly, wooden pews of his church.
His name is Pastor Enrique’ Perez. He is an ordained Methodist pastor and is leading people in Patria and Gerona, Cuba to a fuller way of life. He is a jolly and happy man. He laughs a lot and has a fun demeanor about him that’s attractive to the locals, those searching for something better.
With the assistance of Third Lens, his congregation has a brand-new church that celebrated its first anniversary this past Sunday. The church from ground up cost around $60,000 USD.
It is full every Sunday. Overflowing, actually. Its members are passionate and full of life.
Almost all of these people get to church by foot, bicycle or a horse drawn buggy. There are children, elderly, teenagers, young adults and parents. They smile, and they sing with joy in a way that is not often visible here in the U.S.
They hold nothing back. Their filling of the Holy Spirit is clear. No need to wonder if they are Christians. You see it on them.
The way their eyes light up and the way they hug and kiss one another. The way they pray with humble and earnest hearts out loud. There is no covering of faith here, it is open for all the world to see.
The children are in the front row, hands raised and dancing in honor and praise of what is before them. Smiles and laughter and the most precious Spanish speaking voices one can hear.
It is nothing like church in Lee County, yet it is the same. A gathering of people, in a holy place to worship the one who holds their life.
When I sat down for the last time with Pastor Enrique before leaving the Island, I asked of him, “What is it you need that we can help you with?”
His small team of members looked at one another, trying to figure out how to answer. I was thinking to myself, it must be something big or extravagant.
The Pastor replies, “We need a hot glue gun. We need crayons and a little paint for the children. We need maybe a nice book to give our newly-weds about love and faith. We need needles and thread for the sewing machine for our senior women’s class.”
“Do you have crafting supplies?” he asks.“We have a children’s curriculum but nothing for them to do.”
I quickly ask if they have any children’s bibles or picture bibles. The Pastor asks the same question in Spanish to the Children’s director. She looks at me and smiles with bright brown eyes. “No,” she says. “The children sure would love that.”
I am in awe in my seat, on the verge of tears. Everyday, simple items. Yet unattainable with nowhere to get them here in Patria, Cuba.
It occurred to me that their goal and mission is worship and prayer and loving people. The extra to-do to serve and love others with things and activities is on their back burner. They love and serve face to face. With passion and a realness that’s hard to find. I found it there, and I saw it.
We have anything and everything at our fingertips, yet it is never enough. They have little to nothing, yet they have it all.
The last thing they asked for was the purchase of the building next door with the hopes of using it for a children’s school and maybe other Sunday School classes. I asked him to give me a dollar amount.
“It is for sale for 6,000 CUC,” he says. “It has been for sale for over a year.”
I calculate this to American money; the building would cost just under $7,000 in US currency.
Seven thousand dollars can buy an entire Sunday School building devoted to children.
These requests are small, mindless endeavors to American people, but in Cuba, it’s out of reach.
Simplicity. Smallness. Faith and goodness pouring from Cuban hearts. All in joy and gratitude. Expecting nothing but hope for their future.
I know for certain that God is in all things, and God goes before all things.
I see a future of a children’s Sunday School in Patria. I see it and believe it. I see them painting pictures of Jesus in watercolor, and I see them reading Spanish picture bibles, giggling and smiling and asking questions, just as my little boy does at our home in the evening.
This is Cuba. A Pastor loving his people and reaching out to better serve those who need to be loved.
This is Third Lens Ministries, connecting those that have much to pour their gifts and talents into those that can use a little more.
About the author
Bradley Robertson is a local mother, wife and creative. She’s an Auburn University graduate, loves good food and getting outside with her family. Bradley enjoys feature writing, as well as southern culture and lifestyle writing. To see more of Bradley’s work, please check out her blog, Passion and Truth