Over the years, various pastors in Sovereign Grace Ministries have visited Cuba to teach and build relationships with a group of churches (Sovereign Grace Pentecostal churches) that are led by our friend, Manolito, and his son, Ruben. This Sovereign Grace work is led by Al Pino, Senior Pastor of Palm Vista Community Church in Miami Lakes, Florida. On May 8–10, Corey Schmatjen and Bentley Crawford visited Cuba to teach a group of 17 pastors how to conduct an inductive Bible study so they might be better equipped to do the same in their churches.
To get a glimpse into what the trip was like, read this excerpt from the update Corey Schmatjen shared with Palm Vista Community Church:
We basically went there to give them what we call “The Grow Course,” an inductive Bible study on Ephesians that we did at Palm Vista Community Church in 2010–11 (charts and all). But instead of doing it over ten months, we did it in three days. Intense.
There was Ernesto who had traveled 16 hours by bus with severe back pain to get to Matanzas. There was Omar with his bloodshot eyes and smile. We spent hours sitting on hard, wooden pew benches and no AC, pouring over God’s Word. We gave them notebooks, we gave them charts, we gave them highlighters, and they gave us hours of focused attention, study, and interaction.
Bentley and I weren’t the first to come along and teach these pastors. In fact, we came in a long line of Sovereign Grace pastors like us who have been traveling to Cuba over the past many years. But what was most rewarding was not just teaching them, but studying the Bible inductively with them; seeing how God was giving them eyes to see Scripture more and more for themselves, building their faith to observe God’s Word and properly interpret it.
But something else was also clear from our time in Cuba. Our mission is not just to teach, but to relate; to give not just our money or our teaching, but our lives.
The first night, Manolito’s wife, Blanquita, fixed us one of her amazing meals, capped off with her flan and mango marmalade. Ruben and his wife, Ruth, along with their two children, Claudia and Gabriel, were gathered with us.
The whole extended family was there, telling riddles, laughing, and enjoying one another. Not only were Bentley and I present but we were with a man named Felipe, a Dominican brother. Felipe was our interpreter for the week. He is also an elder from the same church which Rolando Espinal (current Pastors College student) came from (Iglesia Bautistia Internacional) of which Miguel Núñez is the lead pastor.
Felipe saw the family laughing and lovingly relating to their children, and he said, “This isn’t normal. I so rarely see this, not only in the DR, but in my trips to Cuba as well.”
Ruben was quick to tell Felipe that this wasn’t always how it was with his children. His family has been changed. Changed by the gospel. Changed by the lives he had seen. He was quick to thank Al Pino, not out of obligation, but as a matter of integrity (as he would say). Al’s many trips and the trips many of you from Palm Vista Community Church have made, including the youth, have made a huge impact on this one family—and are having a trickle-down effect to others in their churches.
There was discernible hope for the church and for the future as we spent time with our friends in Cuba.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of that hope is that they’re still dreaming and still planning of doing great things and exploits for the Lord. Our first full day, we traveled to see the 80-plus acres of land we and Sovereign Grace have helped the Sovereign Grace Pentecostal Churches of Cuba purchase on the outskirts of Matanzas.
This is farmland with a deep river that runs through it for irrigation. They are currently growing corn on the land to feed the 100 pigs they are about to acquire along with the fourteen cattle already on the property. But this farm is just a means to a greater end: to one day be able to build a large campsite (what we would call a conference center) and even a Pastors College on this land.
And they are quite serious. Ruben brought out the 3-D architectural plan on his laptop of this conference facility. Of course being the numbers guy that I am, I asked Manolito what he thought the cost would be. Without batting an eye, he said, about a million dollars. Then Ruben quietly told me, “that’s just for phase one.” Church, that is faith, sanctified dreaming that I believe pleases the Lord.
And that inspires me. They have few resources monetarily, yet there is a faith fueled by a godly ambition to teach people God’s Word and train up pastors—and do whatever it takes.
Not only are plans being made, but new relationships are also being forged as we look to the future. Remember Felipe, our interpreter? He was able to personally invite Ruben and Ruth to the next Por Su Causa Conference in the Dominican Republic this September. This was the conference that Al attended this past year at which C.J. Mahaney, Dave Harvey, and Jeff Purswell of Sovereign Grace Ministries spoke. This conference is hosted by Felipe’s church. And Ruben and Ruth will be staying at Felipe’s home. Wow. And were they excited. If you could have seen Ruben and Ruth’s eyes brighten!
Church, this is our mission: proclaiming the gospel with our teaching and with our lives as we live out the gospel in community.
As a ministry, we’re grateful for the partnership we share with Manolito, Ruben, and the churches in Cuba, and for the way we are able to work together in accomplishing the mission that we both value. To learn more about our work in Cuba in the past, watch last year’s Mission Video.