Day 4: The Dreams of God for Havana 10/6/18

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From left to right: Paul, pastor Yovanis Cuencas (vice president of ELNAC ministries), Yaima, and Natalie. Paul and Natalie hold pastor Yovanis’ arms up to pray.

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”

-Psalm 126: 1-2

 

Very early in the morning, when the sun had not come up yet, we headed back to Havana. This time, we went to see pastor Yovanis Cuencas, along with many of the pastors from “Empoderando Las Naciones” ministry (Empowering the Nations ministry). We went to minister directly to the hearts of these long suffering and hard working pastors in their pastoral convention at “La Peña de Horeb” house church with pastor Guillermo De Jesús, another wonderful local pastor in Havana under the same ministry.

The church was packed, and the people were expectant of a word from the Lord. Natalie led worship along with Paul, and the whole church sang and praised with true hunger for the presence of God. After a few songs, pastor Yovanis Cuencas preached on the different leaderships found in the Word, and how can we tell who is a mentor in our lives. It was a powerful word that spoke directly to us as missionaries as well. Shortly after that, the part was given to José to preach as well on Genesis 37: 1-6 on the life of Joseph. Through this word, José encouraged the leaders to keep walking even when it does not make sense, and to never stop dreaming the dreams of God.

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At the end of the message, all the pastors and leaders of ELNAC were called to the front. We all had the chance to lay hands upon them. They were all weeping, as they were receiving a personal touch from God. They all hugged each other and their families. Chains were broken in this supernatural time.

 

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Natalie and Paul leading worship in “Peña de Horeb” house church

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Paul ministering to pastor Yovanis Cuencas

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Our team ministering the the leaders and pastors of ELNAC and their families

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Cynthia and Natalie praying for leaders

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Natalie and Yaima (pastor Yovanis’ wife)

 

After this beautiful time of encounter, we spent some time meeting the local pastor and his family in his home, which was upstairs on top of the church space. We were sharing with other leaders from ELNAC about the things they dream and what God has been doing in Cuba. Later in the night, we met at pastor Dariel’s home.

Pastor Dariel Gutiérrez (27) has a beautiful wife, Yanet and 2 kids. They are expecting another baby in December. Since the transportation in Cuba is a complicated situation, we ended up taking taxi motorcycles to get to the region where pastor Dariel lives. We went along with pastor Yovanis to visit him and his family. After a dangerous but fun ride through the night, rain, and broken roads, we arrived to the region where Dariel lives. We quickly  felt the heaviness of the place, and saw a lot of people dressed in white with built altars in their homes. The region was filled with witchcraft. Pastor Yovanis informed us that this whole region has been dedicated to Santeria. This is the place where pastor Dariel, his wife, and his 2 young kids live and minister in.

We got a little bit lost walking through the streets trying to find his house. However, we asked a young man if he knew where Dariel lived. The young man, who is wearing a beaded Santeria necklace, suddenly smiled and said: “Oh yes, the Christians!” And he gave directions to pastor Yovanis. This is a seemingly unimportant event to mention, yet, it is very important to point out that in the midst of the darkness we were walking in, the people of God will always stand out and bring light.

We found his home,made with unfinished concrete bricks, with half the floor in dirt and concrete, with only one small, squared room where they all sleep. But the joy they showed us was beyond any comprehension. They gave us anything they had, while their two little kids played in one very small bed. We had such a wonderful time, it felt like our second home. Not only this, we also discovered Dariel and his wife Yanet have a beautiful, extraordinary singing and song writing talent. They have been writing songs for a long time, and have a God sized dream of releasing their music for the youth in Cuba. The youth in Cuba have a fascination with urban music and rap, and the Gospel message is being received by them through this musical genre. Several Latin Christian artists in the urban movement come to Cuba, and win many souls for Christ through their privately organized concerts. Dariel’s dream is to be able to release the songs the Lord has given him to reach the youth. This dream is an act of faith, since it is overwhelmingly beyond their resources.

We had the honor to listen to some of his songs, and they were absolutely powerful, filled with the word, and the message of the Gospel. At the end of our visit, Natalie prayed for the covering of the blood in their home and the victory over the spiritual attacks from the enemy. We were able to bless them financially to provide for Dariel and Yanet’s dream, but there is much more to be done, and ways you can partner with these people of God!

 

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From left to right: Pastor Yovanis, Natalie, Yanet, pastor Dariel and his dad, Emmanuel (pastor Yovanis’ son). In the front: Dariel’s mom and his two kids.

 

“He who goes out weeping,
    bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
    bringing his sheaves with him.”

-Psalm 126: 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 3: Last Day in Pinar Del Río 10/5/18

Today we woke up really early in “Villa Ana” to be served a wonderful breakfast by the owners Tania and Jorge. There, we met again with pastor Yosvel and Leidy to talk with them about the powerful things that happened the night before in the church and to spend time with them for the rest of the day around Pinar Del Río.

The testimonies where countless and specific about the people José prayed for the night before. Yosvel and Leidy were teary while sharing the stories of the individuals in their house church that received prayer. Not only this, but José continued to give them specific words of encouragement about their church during this conversation. Yosvel and Leidy asked us to pray for the members Ezekiel 37; for God to bring life to the dead bones, revive the congregation with passion for prayer, and to personally seek God.

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Some of the church members from Yosvel and Leidy’s home church who were ministered the night before.

After we shared about the church, we spent the rest of the day walking in Pinar Del Río with the pastors, and Yosvel’s brother Yoel. Paul spent the day with his in-laws. We went to museums, craft stores and around the pueblo. We stopped at a craft store, and the owner (Teresa) who was attending us, had the chance to hear the Gospel as well.

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A local bank in Pinar Del Río

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A Natural Sciences Museum “Tranquilino S. De Noda”

We spent the whole afternoon and night with them, and Yosvel’s parents joined us along with his brother Yoel, to eat with us at “El Meson.” The nights at Pinar Del Río are always alive, with a lot of activity, people eating and searching for the designated internet spot in the city to connect with their loved ones.

After we ate at “El Meson,” José Morales could not pass the chance to share the Gospel with our servers in the restaurant, two young ladies of about 21 to 23 years old. They were initially shocked by the fact that a foreigner was talking to them, and although they were busy with tables, they stopped to hear. They did not accept Christ in the moment, but they were very receptive to the message, and also a little bit scared of what was happening. We could not pass the chance to share the gospel with Yosvel’s dad either. At the end of our night, when his parents were about to leave, José gracefully but directly confronted Yosvel’s dad with the Gospel. At the end, we all prayed for him. We were not sure what happened in his heart, but we know the seed was planted, and Yosvel was very grateful and with tears in his eyes. It has been one of his personal prayers to see his dad come to Christ. Please continue to pray for the salvation of these wonderful people with us!

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Yosvel’s dad in the front and center

At the end of the night, the pastors accompanied us to our rooms in “Villa Ana.” There, we spent the last hours before going to sleep sharing with them. It was a Holy moment of prayer. Yosvel prayed for all of us, then we all prayed for them. Natalie felt led to pray specifically for Leidy, kneeling down and laying hands on her feet. The presence, comfort, and strengthening of the Spirit was very strong and tangible in the room, everyone was crying. It was very hard to say goodbye, as we hugged many times before the pastors and Yoel left our rooms.

Partner with us by praying for revival in Cuba, in their home churches, and provision and favor for these ministers of God, faithful servants of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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From left to right: Leidy, Paul, Natalie, Yoel, and Yosvel

“but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.”

Isaiah 40: 31

 

 

Second Day: The Providence of God in Pinar Del Río 10/4/18

Our first day in Havana was already a victory! Today we are heading to Pinar Del Río, 2 hours away from Havana approximately to visit our friends and pastors Yosvel and Leydi Rodríguez. They have pastored in Pinar Del Río for 3 years. They left the comfort of an owned home and steady jobs to pastor a tiny house church situated in an area called “14 de Luís Lázaro,” which is an area high in the mountains, in the countryside. It is a house church because in Cuba the construction of churches is not allowed. What pastors and ministers have to do is build the church inside their homes. The measurements for these churches cannot exceed the size of the house. It is preferable that these house churches are not even mentioned, or called a church. The pastors rather call it a “meeting place.”

We headed out to Pinar Del Río in the morning, but not before Bertha and Fidel served us the most wonderful breakfast they could find:

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From top to bottom: banana, guayaba, and papaya. Not shown in the picture is the Cuban coffee, and the toasted bread!

We needed to take a bus called “Viazul” to get to Pinar Del Río. The bus time was set back by some hours but José did not waste time. He started sharing the gospel to two young men named Phillip (23) from Czechoslovakia , and Tony (28) from Russia, while we waited for the bus. Tony is a Buddhist, and Phillip is an atheist. Surprisingly, Phillip had never heard the Gospel before. Neither of them accepted Christ in the moment, but both accepted a prayer by José, and it was a special moment. Meanwhile, the rest of us where honestly scared and praying for the covering of the blood of Jesus, because we never know who is watching from the government, and they tend to infiltrate public spaces and house churches to inform. Nevertheless, the Gospel was preached with love and truth, and it was not hindered.

We arrived to Pinar Del Río at about 1:30, some hours later than it was expected, and because of that, different transportation arrangements had to be made. However, we were joyfully received by pastor Yosvel and Leydi. We sat in a corner just meeting each other, laughing, and sharing the experiences we had so far. Their enthusiasm and love was spilled all over us like if we were already family of many years. They took us to our rent room called “Villa Ana” and then went into a city spot where WiFi connection is possible. In order to get connected, we had to buy a 1 hour connection card, then find a specific city spot or park, and connect to the WiFi, hoping it works because we were surrounded by 40 other people using the same WiFi. Thankfully, some of us could connect and contact our loved ones!

Meanwhile, Natalie and Leydi were sharing their testimonies of how the Lord called them. Leydi opened her heart about many things, including the way she left everything she had to follow the Lord. Leydi is a licensed recovery physical therapist, and had a wonderful, stable job in Pinar Del Río for 10 years. Her patients loved her, as well as her coworkers. They also had a fully owned house (it is a luxury to own any property or house in Cuba and it takes years to achieve). These things and “comforts,” within the cultural context, did not stop Yosvel and Leydi to follow God and His plan. Leydi said to Natalie: “I only want to do His will, that is where my happiness is. If I have or don’t have… God is my reward.”

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From left to right: Cynthia, Leydi, and Natalie in front of an old museum in Pinar Del Río city.

After a day well spent with the pastors, we went back to “Villa Ana” to get ready to minister in their house church in the night. But we needed new transportation arrangements due to the fact that all our arrival schedule was set back. The original taxi drivers were not able to take us anymore. That is when we met our two new taxi drivers: Reymiel (39) and Yosmani (27). José shared the gospel with Reymiel on the way to the church, and Paul and Cynthia shared with Yosmani as well.

We finally arrived at the house church located in “14 de Luís Lázaro.” This is also Yosvel and Leydi’s house. They invited us in, and made a home cooked meal out of the very best ingredients they had, and they also welcomed the two taxi drivers in to eat with us. This gesture of kindness from the pastors was already shocking to Reymiel and Yosmani, our taxi drivers.

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From left to right: José, Natalie, Yosvel, Cynthia, and Paul standing in front of the house church in street “14 de Luís Lázaro.” Leydi is in the back wearing the orange dress, hugging a neighbor.

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The meal Yosvel and Leydis prepared for us, on the table in their home. The table shown here was recently acquired by Yosvel. Neither Yosvel or Leydi are used to sit on their own table. They grew accustomed to eat standing for many years because they did not have a table. Instead, they reserved the table for us.

Yosvel and Leydi took us around the house church, and showed us the beginning of the expansion in the back. Leydi has been breaking stones from the mountain behind their house, in order to expand it into a eating space for the church members. They have kept going faithfully, but they are struggling with the resources, funding, and the government. There is a terrible shortage of concrete in Cuba, and the little concrete available the government sells it for triple the cost. Yet they both set their hope on the Lord, continually.

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In the picture: The beginning of the expansion of the house church, situated in the back left side of the house.

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In the picture: Yosvel and Leydi’s house church from the front. Paul and Natalie rehearsing their worship songs for the service.

The service began at about 7:30 p.m. and the congregation began to arrive little by little. About 15 people, all filled with joy. They were eager to hug us, talk to us, and receive what we had to share with them. Pastor Yosvel passed to the front, read a scripture, and proceeded to welcome us with a very heartfelt gratefulness. Paul and Natalie led worship, with a simple piano. They began singing the song “A Dios Sea la Gloria” (“To God be the Glory” in Spanish), and the presence of the Lord invaded that little space, while the congregation sang loudly. It felt like the whole vicinity could hear our praises. José shared a very direct and seasoned word on Ezekiel 37 “The Valley of Dry Bones” as an encouragement and a challenge to declare life in the midst of spiritual death and dryness. At the end, José made an open invitation to be prayed for or to be saved and reconciled with the Lord. All the church passed to the front for prayer, and the Spirit of God was felt very strongly. The people and the pastors were ministered in such a personal way. Two women reconciled with the Lord, and our two taxi drivers, Reymiel and Yosmani accepted the Lord.

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In the picture: Natalie and Paul singing.

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In the picture: José starting his message on Ezekiel 37.

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In the picture: Yosvel and Leydi’s congregation after a victorious service. In the far right, Reymiel (39) and Yosmani (27), our two taxi drivers who just accepted Jesus.

On our way back to “Villa Ana” rent room, the taxi drivers opened up to us, especially Yosmani. Yosmani was driving Cynthia and Paul, and they began having a conversation about what that night meant for Yosmani. He began to share that two days ago, he started driving to nowhere on his taxi car out of desperation. He needed to escape. He arrived at a beach, and he laid down on the back chairs. He began to cry desperately and hopelessly, and started to question his life. He has a 4 year old daughter, and is married. He felt he was losing them, and that nothing was working in his life. He was frustrated and tired because he was fighting to achieve, but couldn’t get anywhere in life. He felt thirsty and defeated. Paul then shared the story about the woman in the well in John 4, and how she was thirsty like him, and that Jesus has the water of life he needed. Cynthia also began to minister directly to his heart and said: “You know that when you went to drive your car two days ago, and laid in the back crying, God heard you. We are here tonight talking to you because He is answering your prayer…” Yosmani was so impacted by these words and was receiving it all. He told them that he now felt like he was able to breath again, and he testified about how he felt a “cold rush” throughout his body when José prayed for him earlier in the church for salvation. Cynthia explained to him that it was the Holy Spirit, and that he can talk to God and grow in a church, and above all, he was not alone. Those words were water to his soul, because “alone” was exactly how he felt all his life.

We all became quickly aware when we went back to our rooms that the whole setback of time, and the bus not arriving in the morning, and having to find new taxi drivers, was all an act of providence from God just to get us to share the Gospel with Yosmiel and Yosmani.

 

 

 

The Journey Begins: Day 10/3/18

It is a beautiful Wednesday morning! And our team has already seen the hand of the Lord providing and touching people’s hearts to make this trip possible! After a while of going to several churches, brothers, friends, family, and coworkers, the Lord provided the finances and the prayer partners that we needed! It is the day we part to Havana, Cuba to serve our brothers and sisters in their ministry. We arrived to the RDU airport at 6:30 a.m. and were encouraged by the presence of our Raleigh First Assembly’s Mission Director, Jason Cole, and dear friend Billy Melanson. They both came in representation of our home church to pray for us and send us off to our flight to Atlanta Airport, then to Havana Cuba!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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The Cuba Team from left to right: José Morales, Natalie Morales, Paul Massie, and Cynthia Marquéz.

We arrived at Havana, Cuba at 1:35 p.m. We had some issues with the bags passing through the “Aduanas;” but once we passed through, we saw pastor Yovanis Cuencas and pastor Dariel A. Gutiérrez. They received us with one of the most genuine smiles we have seen in our lives. The weather was perfect. The heat was strong, but not scorching, and accompanied by a gentle Caribbean breeze. The day was bright, the colors where vivid, and we quickly knew we stepped into another place that felt more like a dream. Old Chevys and vans from the 40’s and 50’s were lined up in the airport parking, and the pastors helped us carry all our bags, and drove us to our rent room in Havana where we were received by Bertha and Fidel–the people who rented the space for us to stay.

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In the picture form left to right: Fidel, Bertha, and José.

Once we were situated on our rent room, we went to meet with Pastor Yovanis’ family at their apartment. We only had to walk from our rent room, to the apartment complex they live in. When we arrived to the 9th floor of the apartment complex, we were welcomed by Yaima, Yovanis’ wife, and his 3 kids Emmanuel (17), Chailyn (12), and Daniel (11). Yaima made a wonderful meal for us, including her special flan dessert, topped with chocolate and sprinkles. And we sat down with the family, hearing the testimonies of the provision and faithfulness of the Lord, especially in the ministry “Casa de Luz” or house of light. Yaima has a rare, golden heart for children in Cuba. She can take trash found on the ground and turn it into beautiful toys, or props to give bible lessons to children. The Lord brought “Casa de Luz” ministry to Yaima’s heart, when she saw the need of the children in a little corner of Havana, where the poorest people live. Usually the people who have lost their homes, and have lost everything are the ones who live there. And it has continued to be that way for many years in that area. Every Wednesday night, she goes to the little kids in this place, sings to them, dances with them, and shares the word of God with them! What a woman of faith and passion! The childrens’ faces turned with joy like a beaming light when they saw Yaima coming tonight. And we joined her! The kids immediately jumped to hug us and ask us: “¿Eres una yuma?” We didn’t know what that meant. They explained to us, it is the way they ask if we are foreigners.

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In the picture: Children in “Casa de Luz” praying their closing prayer before they erupt in a praise party.

Yaima gave them a powerful lesson about the creation story in Genesis, and showed them pictures and numbers. The tiny little 4 walls concrete room was full, while more people of all ages waited on the outside. The kids were squeezed in, and they could not hold their excitement, their singing, their laughing, and their hunger to hear what Yaima was teaching them about God. After the lesson, Natalie Morales sang a rap song that speaks about the love of God to them. The kids and youth in Cuba love rap music, and it was a blessing. At the end of the night, we all had a dance and praise party with the kids!

When we were about to leave Casa de Luz, one of the children’s mom comes to us with a specific need. Her name is Arasai, and she asked us to pray for her spinal chord injuries. José (Natalie’s dad), respectfully reminded her that we would pray for her back injuries, but more than she needed that healing, she needed Jesus in her life. José quickly, but powerfully shared the gospel with Arasai, and she gave her life to the Lord that night. Pastor Yovanis was there, and we connected her to him so she would be discipled.

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Pastor Yovanis Cuencas is on the far left, and Arasai is on the center.

“Casa de Luz” ministry has had a tremendous community outreach impact. So much so, that Yaima and Yovanis have gained the respect of the people and the authorities. The efforts and community events they have done have impacted the whole region. But there is still more left to do, and many ways we can help. The love shown to us from day 1, even with the scarce resources they have, has been supernatural in every way!