Youth continue to build bridges to Moravian Christians in Cuba

¡Saludos a mis hermanos y hermanas en Cristo! It was such a joy and privilege to be part of this year’s Camp Mission Experience to Camaguey, Cuba. Three young adults from the Eastern District and two from the Western District journeyed to Cuba to participate in this year’s Summer Youth Camp and Youth Ministries. Over the course of our mission experience, the team networked with and enhanced our relationships with more than 60 young people in Cuba. The Eastern District of the Moravian Church Northern Province, in partnership with the Board of World Mission, was involved in this cross-cultural, leadership training, camp ministry, and relational community ministry outreach.

This year’s camp was supposed to be planned and led by the youth leaders and clergy from Holgin which is located in the Eastern part of Cuba, but due to leadership issues and lack of scheduling the camp was held in Camaguey for the third time since 2017. The theme for this year’s camp was entitled ¡No Escondas Tu Luz! which means “Don’t Hide Your Light!” Matthew 5:14-16 was the base scripture text for the camp and from where the theme was derived. Once we landed in Camaguey, Cuba, we were greeted and welcomed by Pastor Barbara Gonzalez along with Pastor Aldo her dad and her family.

During the camp, we shared in worship, devotions, games, program and the Bible Olympics. We were also given guidelines on how to become an effective servant leaders. Some of these traits include following Jesus, humility, satisfying the needs of yourself for others, enthusiasm and being able to delegate others to serve.

We were told that the church is just a building, but it takes the individuals within the church to have a yearning desire to share and proclaim the word of God and make disciples of all nations. Out of all the Bible passages that were discussed about being a servant leader, the scripture that resonated with me was taken from Luke 14:7-11 known as The Parable of the Wedding Feast.

Jesus informed a wealthy Pharisee about the importance of consuming meals not only with those who are in the same class as you but those who are less fortunate as well. Luke 14:11 says “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Regardless of your socioeconomic status or faith journey, everyone is on the same playing field in the eyes of Jesus Christ. Four members of our team shareD their experiences:

Kendra Browne – Trinity Moravian Church

If I could summarize my Moravian Cuba experience in one word, it would be humility or humildad. Over the nine-day mission, hearing the stories and observing the Cuban culture and way of life, gave me a new sense of being thankful for the life I have in the U.S. I was a stranger in a foreign land but the outpouring of love that I felt from the Cuban people is a testament of Christ’s love.

Secondly, the people that I met at Campamento Cuba are bold for Christ. This is evident in how they worship (we were always singing and clapping) and share testimonies of how God provides for them and continues to do so even when circumstances are not promising.

Because of this experience, I will never forget to say thank you by seizing the opportunities afforded to me and choosing joy because I have witnessed people living on a fraction of what I do and are truly happy.

Kyra Tessmann – BWM Intern

The people of Cuba amazed me with their hospitality and positivity. Every person we came in contact with, including everyone at the Moravian camp, our hosts, our driver, workers at various establishments, and especially our translator, welcomed us with open arms and made us feel like we belonged in Cuba. I never felt like an outsider, but rather, an honored guest. Whenever we arrived at camp for the day, we were greeted with smiles, hugs and kisses from the leaders and from a lot of the kids as well.

I was amazed daily by the optimism and tenacity of the camp leaders because they handled everything with the grace and strength of God. Pastor Barbara and her father, Pastor Aldo, managed to secure a camp location at the last minute due to complications with the original location, and they found us lodging and transportation as well. Every day started with worship and devotions led by a different group, and all of the songs were sung with gusto and enthusiastic accompaniment. I loved seeing people run to grab tambourines whenever there was a hint of singing, and whoever didn’t have an instrument made do with their hands.

My favorite part of the mission experience was growing relationships with everyone at camp. It was beautiful to see the impact that we made on their lives just by being there and bringing some toiletries and other supplies from the U.S. The most memorable moment for me happened just after we competed in their annual Bible Olympics. Stress levels were high for everyone as we strained to remember details about biblical passages and wondered if our next question might have anything to do with what size shoe Jesus wore. With the help of the fabulous Lucy, our translator, our U.S. team managed to secure third place, but that meant that the super competitive group from Guantanamo got pushed to the fourth and last place. We decided to give our third place prize bags of toiletries to the Guantanamo group because, after all, we had brought the supplies to share and not to keep. I handed mine over to Talia, the tiniest and smartest ten-year-old girl you will ever meet, and she gave me the biggest hug ever. Seeing her gratitude for such a simple gift solidified our growing bond and will stay with me forever.

Coming back home to the U.S., I strive to emulate the Cuban people in their love for community and communion. I hope I can be as understanding as they are when roadblocks appear throughout the day, and I am thankful for all the memories I have now to remind me that God is every place I go and in every person I meet.

Nahum Pradhan – Moravian College 
Student – College Hill Moravian Church

With the amount of resources we were given and with a small group of five people, I personally feel that we did a good job executing our mission in Cuba and plans for the Moravian Camp.

I had no idea what to expect when going to Cuba, or what it was even going to be like. I kept that mindset on purpose so that I would be prepared for anything that we were to encounter once we were in Cuba. To my surprise, when we stepped off the plane and looked around, it was as if I had returned back home to Nepal. I was so shocked to see how similar the roads, buildings, vehicles and the infrastructure was compared to Nepal. The people also in terms of skin color looked the same, but as I saw more people I realized how much more diverse it was and started seeing the differences. It was very beautiful to see how everyone is so different in terms of genealogy and heritage. Cuba is a big melting pot of so many different cultures and there was something new we saw or learned every day.

From the moment we met Pastor Barbara, Kenny, Pastor Aldo and Arisbela, we were taken in with open arms and kisses on our cheeks, which I learned was a common greeting people in Latin American countries and in Europe. The dynamics of their family reminded me quite of bit of my own back home. Kenny and Barbara were just like my parents, and Aldo and his wife were like my grandparents, and they seemed so excited and happy to have us. Seeing them so happy made us want to put all of our time and efforts in to contributing however we could to this mission trip.

Being in a third-world country, we had to keep in mind that not everything will always follow the intended plan. The whole concept of time-sensitive plans is not something of relevance to the people there. Things will happen at an approximate time so we always need to be prepared with a plan B, C and sometimes even D. Our days started off with us playing in the pool with the kids for five hours and then eating a late lunch. We would then go back to the camp, rest or play games and socialize followed by dinner and bible study or activities.

One of the biggest problems I faced was the language barrier. The people were so loving and friendly that there was no sense of hostility or awkwardness. So many people would not hesitate to ask us questions and things about ourselves. There was so much that I wanted to say and do, but my inability to speak Spanish proficiently had me lost for words. So I had to use hand gestures and action to show what I wanted to say, or call our translator or Kyra and Kendra. But despite the barrier I was able to connect with the people there through playing the guitar, singing and playing sports. I found it quite amazing how, where words fail to communicate, music prevailed and worked as a common denominator in both contexts. During worship we would play and sing in English as they would sing in Spanish and it was so beautiful. Playing games like soccer, football and monkey in the middle also allowed us to open up a lot with campers, and they with us, too.

The word that I got out of this trip was “Gratitude.” One of the nights when we were at the beach at around midnight, I was leading devotion and talked from a verse in 2 Timothy. As I spoke, I felt led to speak about gratitude and realization of how the secret to happy living is simply being thankful for all that we have, have been through and are going through. I led some group activities with the six of us that were mentally powerful then finished with sending everyone off to have a moment of prayer and solitude with God. The atmosphere then was so amazing and we were all just so moved by the spirit. I’m most grateful for what happened there that night on the beach. I’m grateful for the happiness that we were able to bring to the children and people of Cuba and for the new Moravian brothers and sisters we formed relationships with.

Jill Kolodziej – Director of Mission Service for the Board of World Mission

For a time, I have been hearing about relationships with Moravians from Cuba that have been fostered through the Board of World Mission, the Southern Province and Eastern District of the Moravian Church, as well as a number of friends in Cuba. From August 5-14, I was afforded the opportunity to put names with the many faces that I had become familiar with from pictures and conversations about the Moravian church in Cuba. Camp Cuba was the connection.

Camp Cuba is offered to the young people of Cuba as part of their youth ministry activities. Pastor Cynthia Rader Geyer, Youth and Young Adult Ministries Director of the Eastern District, has been accompanying young people from the United States to Cuba in order to develop relationships and participate with the Cuba Moravian leadership and young people from Camaguey, Guantanamo, and Holguin during the camp week. This year she was unable to travel so I served in her place.

The relationships that I initially developed as part of this visit were with the team that I accompanied to Cuba. They included Kendra Browne of Maryland, Nahum Pradhan of Nepal, Tory of Reid of New York, and Kyra Tessman of Indiana. I would describe these fine young people with the term “dream team.” They each brought their unique gifts, values, laughter, and personalities to the group during our online training and preparation prior to departure, during travel, and as they interacted with the wide variety of people we met. Aldo Gonzalez Pantoja, Pastor of the Camaguey Santayana Moravian Church and one of our hosts, recognized the spirit of our team. He described it as a “quimica” or chemistry between us. I agreed. The young people truly represent the way we are called to live together as followers of Christ.

We so enjoyed our time with the campers and staff. The leaders’ enthusiasm was infectious and set the tone for the week. Campers were actively involved with the variety of aspects of the camp. The main leaders—Barbara Gonzales Escalona, Keny Estrada Abreu, Arisbel Escalona Ramos, Pastor Aldo, and Pastor Yoennis Suarez Fernandez-—were filled with energy and passion as they led our program time, as we played interactive games, socialized while playing dominos, cards, baseball, and volleyball; swimming at the pool; or simply visiting together. Their leadership enabled our large group of about 40 campers and staff to become better acquainted with each other. The theme for this year’s camp encouraged the campers, “Don’t hide your light.” Live boldly for Jesus.

The opportunity to be part of Camp Cuba was such a gift in so many ways, especially with regard to the relationships that developed. With the use of WhatsApp, Facebook, Google Translate, and email we can continue to connect with each other, share memories of our time together as well as maintain contact as our lives go forward. Even though our daily routines vary it was a privilege to experience the greater Moravian Church through our shared faith and ministries. One of the posts on Facebook sums up my sentiments, “Gracias Dios por esta linda oportunidad.” Thank God for this beautiful opportunity.

Ultimately, if your presence doesn’t make an impact to those around you, then your absence won’t make a difference, either. The great and effective leader Nelson Mandela’s quote sums up our main purpose for building healthy relationships with our Cuban brothers and sisters: “If you want the cooperation of humans around you, you must make them feel they are important – and you do that by being genuine and humble.”

I encourage all of us to let our light shine so that they would be able to glorify our Father in heaven. ¡No Escondas Tu Luz! n

Thanks to Tory Reid, John Hus Moravian Church, for compiling this article. Photos by the Camp Cuba 2019 team