During the week of March 18-25, a team of professors, students, and friends of B. H. Carroll Theological Institute traveled to Camagüey, Cuba, to equip church leaders through the Buddy Rees School of Ministry which is housed in Primera Iglesia Bautista. Thirty students, who began last September as a new cohort of students in the Master of Arts in Theology degree program, traveled from all parts of the island to study for a week of intensive courses.
Dr. Adlin Cotto, Director of Master’s Degree Programs and Hispanic Studies at Carroll, facilitated the trip along with her husband Robert. Two Carroll Resident Fellows, Drs. Bill Bryan and Justin Tollison, were the faculty for the week. Dr. Bryan taught Old Testament III, and Dr. Tollison taught Christian Heritage I. This was Dr. Tollison’s first time to teach in Cuba.
Cuba was a great, eye-opening experience. I have never seen such a hunger for theological education. I truly believe Cuba is a land of promise because God is obviously doing something remarkable there. I am certain that God will continue to do wondrous things in and through His people in this great country!
Textbooks for the Old Testament III course and electronic copies for the Christian Heritage I course in Spanish, as well as the students’ copies of all lectures and other teaching materials in Spanish, were brought in by the Carroll team.
Dr. Bryan also preached during the Sunday worship service at Primera Iglesia Bautista, and Dr. Tollison preached during the Tuesday Prayer Service. Dr. Bryan commented about his return to Cuba:
It was my joy to return to Cuba seven years after my first teaching experience there in 2010. It was good to be back at Iglesia Bautista de Camagüey, to see the church’s farm again, and to enjoy the new air-conditioned classroom at the church. However, the sweetest part of my return was re-connecting with Pastor Abel, his wife Lillian, and their three children. Pastor Abel’s English had improved much, much more than my Spanish. In talking with him about the challenges his church faces, such as an aging congregation, single parent families, and youth distracted by an increasingly electronic and disconnected world, I was amazed that these challenges were the same ones I face in my church in the US. It was amazing to learn from one another about what God is doing to empower us to overcome these challenges as we work in the places God has planted us. Cuba, Iglesia Bautista de Camaguey, and Pastor Abel and his family will continue to have a special place in my heart and my prayers.
Jennifer Cranford, a Master of Arts in Counseling student, traveled with the Carroll group and took the intensive courses alongside the Cuban students.
The highlight of the trip, without a doubt, was worshiping with the Cuban Christians. Their faith was completely raw and on display, as the church leaders of the home churches gathered to praise God and receive instruction from the Living Word of God. Each person who came up to the pulpit to read the Bible, read it LOUDLY, as if their very lives depended on it. They read it with fervor and passion, punctuating every other phrase. It was as if they couldn’t help but shout the truth to their brothers and sisters in Christ, and they wanted to convince them of the Truth. But their brothers and sisters didn’t need convincing. They also got up and shouted the Truth. Their prayers (also long and loud) were no different. One night I wrote down a few of the phrases they said and when I went to reread the page, I was struck again with the overwhelming perpetual praise in the midst of difficult circumstances. Each word had been saturated with their unceasing praise that grew in decibel.God you are bigger than our problems. You are bigger than our fears. Lord, here are our hands. Use us for your service. Change us. Change our city. We claim our city for you, God. We proclaim your power over our city and our families and our illnesses. God, we praise you. God we love you. You are so powerful. You are worthy of praise…
This sense of authentic faith also covered every class. One of the students, an older gentleman, Samuel, had finally returned to get his seminary training. Decades before, he had it in his heart to get his theological degree. At the time, the political climate was openly hostile toward Christians, and he was put into a forced labor camp. Years later (which he knew to the month, week, and hour), he was released. Now, decades later he was finally able to return in a morefavorablepolitical environment.
Our classes were filled with students that, like Samuel, were hungry for the Word of God. Not only were they full of questions, but it was clear they consumed the Word of God regularly and were well acquainted with the stories we studied. During one lecture on the book of Habakkuk, the students spontaneously broke out into song about Habakkuk 3:17-18, a passage they were studying in this book. There was no need for musical instruments as they each sang a different pitch in harmony while a few played percussion on the table. Their spontaneous praise was infectious!
Jennifer’s husband, Greg, and Mrs. Gloria Jaynes were guests who accompanied the team. Mrs. Jaynes, along with her deceased husband Bob, have been longtime friends and supporters of Carroll Institute. She described her impressions of her visit to Cuba:
We don’t realize how fortunate we are to live in America until we go to another country, God has blessed us so much. We take for granted the smallest things like hand-soap, toilet paper, pencil sharpeners, and grocery stores with so many choices.
Our Cuban brethren were so happy to receive even the simplest gifts. For example, Dr. Bill Bryan gave Pastor Abel Gonzalez a book, and you could tell it was a special treasure. I was amazed how excited the people were for the Word. The music was wonderful, and even though I don’t speak Spanish, I knew a few familiar praise songs which were accompanied with a Cuban beat. The church was packed and people were outside the windows listening. Pastor Abel said that the Good News is spreading like a virus. They have 170 home churches that are growing. The only time the home churches get together is at Easter and Christmas. They meet at the church’s farm with more than 2,000 people gathered. They travel from long distances on their bikes since very few have cars. Others come in wagons pulled by horses so that they can carry more to the farm. Wow!
I have not been on a mission trip in a long time, so Carroll’s teaching trip was a blessing to my heart. I am so thankful I was able to go. Adlin and Robert do an outstanding job and have such giving hearts. I enjoyed sitting in the classes and fellowshipping with the Cuban students as well as others from our team. Everyone was so sweet and friendly. We had a great time taking a tour of Camagüey on the back of a bike.
It is hoped that more students and friends of Carroll will make this trip in the future. The next teaching trip to Cuba is scheduled for the week of September 23-30, 2017.
Teaching trips to Cuba are made possible by donations to the Buddy Rees School of Ministry and through a partnership with Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas. Park Cities provides funds for the Cuban students’ travel, housing and food, while expenses for Carroll staff who travel to serve and teach the students are provided by donors to the Carroll Cuba program.