The Seventh-day Adventist Theological seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan, is taking its mission to new heights by sending Master of Divinity students to Cuba and engaging them in hands on, boots on the ground, personal and public evangelism work. This annual study tour initiative, now on its fifth year, has changed the lives of more than 100 seminary students, hundreds of pastors and Bible workers in Cuba, and thousands who have heard the good news that Jesus is their “true freedom."
By immersing in the world of the local church, participants are able to learn valuable lessons on evangelism as they rub shoulders with pastors, Bible workers and lay people and see firsthand how they have been successful soul-winners despite the communist system. The entire experience is meant to equip students to obtain an evangelistic mindset and to enlarge their worldview.
Students first take classes at the seminary at Andrews University on personal and public evangelism. Then, during their spring break, the Master of Divinity program organizes a study tour to Cuba to practice what they have learned and completely immerse in a new culture. They live in people’s homes (not in hotels), and then go door-to-door to either invite people to meetings or to give Bible studies to those already prepared by the local Bible workers. In the morning they also receive training from the local pastors before going to the field. This personal contact is what many of our students cherish and they report that this way of making evangelism has revolutionized their lives and ministry.
The “revolution” starts when the team, along with the participating local churches, take a city by storm. Five different key sites are chosen, each one holding their own evangelistic meeting. During our last tour, which took place in Santiago de Cuba, the theme was “New Hope in Christ” because Cubans who have almost nothing receive an incredible amount of hope in listening to the gospel.
Dwight Nelson, pastor of Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews, spoke at one site, and our seminary students led the meetings in the other four. Each site was packed to capacity every night. After each meeting, dozens came forward to altar calls and many decided to accept Jesus as their personal Savior. As a result, 277 people were baptized. Over the last weekend a local convention center was secured and all sites converged for a moving final celebration with about 2,000 in attendance followed by a baptism.
In Cuba we experienced nothing short of a foretaste of the latter rain by a number of “divine appointments.” Here are a few stories, of hundreds, that touched our lives.
Enter Isaac, 17, a Pathfinder leader at his church in Cuba and who gives Bible studies to 16 persons every week. He is a reminder and an inspiration of a life dedicated to soul-winning and a commitment to our mission. When Isaac arrives home from school every day, his priority is his Bible studies, and if there is time, he says, “I’ll do my homework.” He is an A student. But more than anything he is an “A” soul winner.
Another divine appointment was with Miguel, a Cuban veteran, with only one leg and whose house was destroyed by hurricane Sandy in 2012 and who lives under a small shelter. Although he has to walk with a crutch, he came to the meetings every night. When our Andrews students gave him a Bible, he came the next day with the Bible so underlined you would think he had it for months. A veteran for his country, now he has turned into a soldier for Jesus.
We also saw Jesus’ power in Liuska’s mother, who, as a Santera, had many idols in her home. When her daughter tried to give her Bible studies and warn her about her ways, she refused. But our students visited her and befriended her. After a lot of prayer, she decided to give up her witchcraft. She cleaned her house of all idols. No longer afraid of spirits, she is studying the Bible and is in the process of learning how to trust the true living God.
The project goes beyond a tour. It has developed into something “deeper” and “wider” than we ever expected or dreamed of. What started as a trip to equip Andrews students, has transformed into a large-scale project to equip lay people and pastors in Cuba by providing bicycles, computers, tablets, video projectors, horses, church buildings and other resources. This empowers them to spread the gospel like never before. So far, 300 pastors have received much-needed resources.
News of this project in Cuba has spread and we are hearing from people who want to be part of the unique opportunity to make history in Cuba by donating for a bike, a tablet, or a computer for one of our workers so they can boldly proclaim the message to a people who have been in the darkness for 50 years. For more information visit: www.careforcuba.org.
In the meantime, Andrews will continue connecting students with the field, a field that will prepare them for greater and faithful service to their Master.
— L. Fernando Ortiz, D.Min., is director of the Master of Divinity Program and Cuba study tour leader at Andrews Univeristy in Berrien Spring, Michigan.