Cuba trip

Summer Camp Memories

Just the words “summer camp” will bring smiles to many of our faces.  To me, it was a time to get away from my mom, dad, and two brothers and make some new friends and just have fun. The church camp I went to was about fifty miles from home, and that was a long way from home. It was a peaceful oasis on the edge of a city. You would drive back the narrow winding road through a wooded setting.  It was a place you could be at peace with nature.  To me, the trails would open your imagination of what was around the next corner.  The inclines were not that steep, and the ravines were not that deep, but it still echoes through my mind “walk do not run.” Of course, being a boy, you already know what I did the most…. run! I always reached the destination too soon and enviably there was the highlight at the end. After your first year, you knew where ever path took you, this one went to the lake, and this one went to the outside chapel. 

The lake always provided us with so much fun, but my fondest memories were at the outside chapel. Evening vespers by the campfire on the shore of the lake watching the sunset over the lake; those visions are embedded in my mind.  

As I write this article, I have seven youth and chaperones in the Miami airport to be boarding a flight to Cuba for summer camp!  This is my favorite trip of the year, but it also causes me the most anxiety.  The youth have no idea what lies ahead of them and honestly, as much as we prepare them for what they are about to encounter we do not touch the tip of the iceberg.  It’s Cuba; in most cases, no one in their family has any experience with traveling to this county “so close but a world away.”  Mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa all watch the news and nothing good comes out of Cuba.

The Southwest District Mission Program, Inc. sent their first youth trip to Cuba in 2012.  Since that first trip, we have sent 43 youth to Camp Canaan in Santa Carla, Cuba.   These students have come from Pensacola, Tallahassee, Hollywood, Miami, Charlotte and Sarasota County, and on this trip youth from Pennsylvania and Texas. 

I can tell you the student that returns from eight days of worship and fellowship in Cuba is not the same student you sent to Cuba.  I have watched students in front of congregations choking up, with tears in their eyes talking about what they saw and felt during worship services at camp. We have one student that left for camp a “pre-med “ major and came back and spoke with his pastor and changed his major to theology and is now a student pastor.  His long-term goal is to do missionary work in underprivileged countries. 

On their return, all students are required to write me a one-page report on their experience. Here are just a few snippets from reports students that have written about Summer Camp Memories of Cuba:  

  • This trip to Cuba has changed me in many ways. It has bought me closer to God but also has made me realize how materialistic we can be here in America. -- Alexandra McKenize
  • Being able to go and see small, underprivileged churches overflowing with the love of God changes your perspective.  It helps you realize the meaning of all of this. -- Conor Peters
  • One week in Cuba changed my perspective on living out my faith and taught me to trust God in new ways. He used our team to bless the people of Cuba and also blessed our team through the people we met. God is doing amazing things in Cuba, and I believe that He will use the people there to glorify His name more and more until the whole nation hears his name.  -- Elizabeth Haley

Does your church have a youth that would be interested in going to Cuba next summer?  It is not too soon to start thinking about getting one of your youth on the list of travelers. This is a life-changing trip!

Dan Christopherson

Faith, Real Faith!

Hebrews 11: 1  What is Faith?  It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen.  Faith gives us hope.  

There is a saying that in my opinion is so true but then again everyone has an opinion and many of them I do not care to hear.  Christians are like tea bags. You never know what you got until you put them in hot water.

I am sorry when I hear the testimony; I turned my life over to Jesus Christ when I was seven years old, and from that day forward my life has been perfect.  In my opinion and again remember everyone is entitled to an opinion if your faith has never been tested how do you know how deep your faith is?  It’s all perfect. It’s easy.  

Now to me, Job is the example of a remarkably faithful man; it was all perfect until Satan started to test him. The loss of all his family, the loss of all his worldly possessions. Losing one child is difficult but losing your entire family, I do not know how you handle that.  I think of the Sandy Hook School shooting, first and second-grade children killed. How do a mother and father handle that without faith? And a lot of faith.

Three weeks ago, I was in the Ciego de Avila District in Cuba.  Last September they were devastated by Hurricane Irma, and much of that destruction was still visible.  Just a month ago the same area was inundated with flood waters from another storm.

I visited fifteen churches in the district and one of the first ones, the parsonage did not have a roof on it because of Irma. As we walked through the house signs of mold was everywhere and the air wreaked with the smell of decay.  From there we walked to the backyard to a shack the size of tiny yard shed where a family of five people were living.  The ceiling was so low I could hardly stand up straight.  The heat from the Cuban sun made the place stifling hot. 

There sat the Pastor’s family and shared a table filled with pineapple, bananas, and mangos.  They were laughing and happy, and they mentioned they were so blessed that I was there with them.  The pastor talked about his church, how it was growing, and they would be putting on a new roof soon.  We conversed for about twenty minutes, and I prayed with and for them and then we departed.  Now that is faith! Faith was giving them hope.

This district is sugar cane country, destitute churches, impoverished farm workers and challenging conditions under normal circumstances.  Then top this with hurricane damage and flood damage, with no money to do anything about their situation. Driving on mud roads with water standing everywhere you look.  Humble shacks with dirt floors, cloth draped front doors, every so often the home had given away to the elements. There was nothing more than a pile of rotten wood where once a family with dreams had lived.  This is a tough situation.  Yes, my eyes tear up writing about their conditions they live in every day. 

We arrive at another humble church full of patiently waiting brothers and sisters in Christ.   As I am speaking, I see the faces of these people many very somber yet leaning forward listening to every word I speak. I try to encourage and be inspirational at every location.  I see the big brown eyes of children watching this strange big white-haired man telling them Bible stories.  

I always carry Beaning Babies “stuffed animals” everywhere I go, and, in this location, I could not leave without opening my belief case to unload them all.  There is always the initial hesitation to accept something from me, but with a little encouragement, they yield to the temptation.  They hug and smell the small treasure they have just received.  As I tell them, “God loves you, and so do I.” The smile on their face and the twinkle in their eyes is payment to me. 

I am not one to say goodbye. I would rather say, “until we meet again.”  Either way, I am leaving, and I cannot help but think; how do they do it? 

Faith gives them hope, hope for a better life, hope for a better tomorrow and hope the price being paid now will provide the next generation of Cubans a better life. 

Why can we not have that kind of Faith?
Dan Christopherson
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