Cuba is a country frozen in time, yet it’s always moving. The expansive land includes beautiful cities, hills, and beaches — some of which are a tourism staple and well known through picturesque postcards. Beyond its infamous beauty, our team had the privilege to experience a glimpse of Cuba’s people, culture, and church in their fullness. We learned that Cuba is a country of great passion, amongst great poverty.
Faith and Hope in the Midst of Oppression
We partnered with Proclaim Cuba, an organization that works with local churches and leaders all across the island, in order to reach Cuba for Christ. During our travels, we were accompanied and guided by the executive director of Proclaim Cuba, Carlos Alamino, as well as Pastor Reiner and his wife (who serve a church in Havana). Our team traveled by bus from one end of the island to the other, stopping along the way to spread the love of Christ. We partnered with local congregations across Cuba and served in church ministry, worship, outreach, youth ministry, sports ministry, and even got to lead services.
The Lord worked miracles throughout this trip, even down to the transportation of our team from town to town. In the midst of the challenges we faced, the Lord provided for our team by not only getting us to Cuba, but also providing the fuel necessary for us to minister across the entire island.
Beginning in Santiago de Cuba, we spent the first three days communing with the local people, learning about their culture, and sharing testimonies. Cuba is a communist country with an extensive history of oppression and dictatorship. This is a reality that many of the Cubans we encountered struggle with in their everyday life. Our team heard countless stories of the hardships and trials many of them have faced. This included, but was not limited to, lack of resources, food, and transportation. The limitations alone were described to us as crippling and discouraging. With all of this in mind, it was incredible to hear the passion in their voices and see the hope in their eyes as they praised and spoke of the Lord. The faith and hope in Cuba is compelling.
Pouring into the Children and Youth
While Christianity is not illegal in Cuba, we were informed that the Christian church in Cuba is often oppressed and is not supported by the government. Upon our arrival, our team was asked many questions about what it is like to go to a Christian university, as it is not an option for youth in Cuba. Although it was heartbreaking to hear of the limited access to biblical education, we were encouraged by the local people’s faith and determination to better understand His word.
The church we partnered with in Santiago De Cuba hosted services every morning and evening. At the beginning of each service, the children and young people of the church would lead a drama with a biblical narrative or truth. The dramas did not use words, but rather music, movement, and props to convey the story of God’s love and salvation. Much of our trip was spent translating between the Spanish and English speakers on our teams. However, it was moments like these, during the performances where the language barrier felt nonexistent. Regardless of language, the message here was clear: the Lord came to save, to redeem, and to love us.
Our last day in Santiago De Cuba was spent with the youth of the church. Our team broke out into small groups. Youth, in this context, is a term used loosely to describe young people ranging from middle school age up to their late twenties. In our small groups, we shared testimonies and asked questions that we might have about the Lord. In times like these, our similarities between our team members and the locals seemed to outweigh our differences. We opened up about shared anxieties and fears, but more importantly, how we share the same God and King.
Divine Timing and Meaningful Encounters
Many of the women shared their experiences of following the Lord even among oppression and adversity. Some were forced to leave their families as a result of their faith. We asked them how they cope with that pain. One woman shared that when others taunt her saying, “Where is your God now? I thought you were under his ‘protection?’” she doesn’t take it as ridicule, but rather as a reminder that the Lord is with her. Her response is simply, “You’re right, the Lord is with me; He is my protection.”
That evening, another local church heard that our team was in town and invited us to serve during their missions service. It seemed the Lord worked this out in His perfect timing, as this was the final service of the church’s missions week. During this service, they shared about the importance of missionary work and the statistics of unreached people groups in the world. Following this, our team was invited up to serve in worship. The people here had a supernatural urgency to hear the word of God. The house was packed and those who couldn’t fit inside would crowd the doors and windows. It’s faith like this that can make us sensitive to our own complacency and more aware of moments when we may take fellowship with the body of Christ for granted. What we witnessed at that service mirrored a New Testament church —a true hunger and thirst for the presence of God.
Something special about our time in Cuba was learning how to serve with humility and joy. We witnessed a pure example of a servant’s heart from the locals. No meal, bed, or moment of time given to us by the people of Cuba came without sacrifice. Regardless of sacrifice, or the fact that they had only just met us, the locals hosted our team with such joy and compassion. They truly made us feel like family, because in their eyes, we were.
The Power of Worship and Praise
With full hearts, we said goodbye to our friends in Santiago De Cuba, loaded the bus, and hit the road to the next stop in our adventure with the Lord. We drove for four hours to reach a church in Camaguey.
We spent two days in Camaguey. While there, our team served at a local church service, sharing testimonies and stories of the Lord’s faithfulness. This service was filled with excitement, worship, and dancing. The next day, our team helped clean and paint dorms at a local Christian camp. This was an incredible opportunity to help prepare the campground for incoming students. Soon after we left, the camp would be full of young people growing closer to the Lord. In between coats of paint, we ate mangoes off the trees, observed the wildlife, and had fellowship with the campground staff.
Worship was a major aspect of our ministry on the island. The worship ministry in Cuba can be described in one word: passionate. People of all ages could be seen jumping, dancing, and shouting the name of the Lord. Our team helped serve by leading worship for many of the services and were even invited to sing alongside the Cuban worship teams. This was a beautiful learning curve for our team as the Spanish speakers on our mission team helped teach the Spanish lyrics to the English speakers. Seeing people of different backgrounds and languages praise the Lord in one accord was a beautiful glimpse into the reason we do missions at all, which is to see every tribe and every tongue praising the King of kings together.
Praying Over Havana
After Camaguey, we returned to Havana. Havana differed from the other cities in that it seemed bigger and busier than both Camaguey and Santiago De Cuba. We partnered with Pastor Reiner’s church to lead a service the evening of our arrival. It was a joy to be around the pastor’s family and meet their children.
Our day off was spent exploring the city. Although we did not have any planned ministry on the calendar that day, we started the day praying for the Lord to open doors to serve those around us. As we explored the city we noticed subtle signs of witchcraft activity and learned some of the extensive initiation processes, which in some areas includes animal sacrifices. Later that evening, when we returned to our hostel, something felt different. The streets were flooded with yelling, music, and the sound of an initiation beginning across the street.
The spiritual warfare was heavy. Our whole team could feel it, no matter how far we were from the sound, or how hard we tried to ignore it. Within minutes, we came out of our rooms, gathered around the piano in our living room, and started praising the Lord. It was our only response in a moment like this. We worshiped and interceded for the people around us, those participating in the witchcraft, as well as those affected by it. The room we were in, once choked by spiritual warfare, began to be relieved by the spirit of the Lord present with us.
Later, we felt the Lord leading us to walk around the block and pray over the community. Half of our team led worship and prayer at the hostel, while the other half left to pray in the community. When we invited the hostel manager to join us on our walk, he asked us to stop at his house and pray over his home and family. His home was decorated wall to wall with idolatry, which was required by their landlord who practiced witchcraft. He explained how discouraging and difficult it was to live in this environment. After praying over his home with his family, we continued to prayer walk until we reached our hostel again.
That day in Havana was the perfect reminder that the Lord is always working, even when we don’t expect it. The Lord heard our prayer that morning, pleading for him to open doors for ministry, and He answered with opportunity. When our team debriefed at the end of the night, we started to piece together confirmation after confirmation of the Lord’s voice and fingerprints in everything we encountered that day.
He Is With Us in the Highs and Lows
We came to find that Cuba, though a land of great poverty, was wealthy in other ways. The passion, faith, and endurance found in the Cuban people is unmatched. This mission trip taught our team so much, but above all else, that the Lord truly sees His people in our highs and lows. When two or more are gathered in His name, the presence of the Lord is there, and the presence of the Lord is working in Cuba. If you are reading this far, we’d ask that you continue to pray for revival in Cuba, pray for revival to endure in the Lord’s people across the island, even amongst adversity and hardship.
Thank you to Carlos Alamino, Proclaim Cuba, Pastor Reiner’s family, and the local churches who continue to care for and serve the Cuban people. Thank you for inviting us in on a small glimpse of what the Lord is doing in Cuba. And thank you to the Lord, who cared for and guided our team across the island. Gloria a Dios!
Written by Isabel Hertz, SEU Student
Edited by Mia Golding & Emma Stern, Student Writers
About SEU Missions
Hundreds of students, faculty, and staff travel the globe each year through SEU Missions. Each student-led mission trip has a specific purpose with one overall goal — to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth.