By Ken Camp
The world focused on Cuba in recent days, gauging the impact of restored diplomatic relations with the United States after more than 50 years. But for a volunteer team from Texas, a trek to Cuba was business as usual.
Texas Baptist Men agreed in 2012 to enter a ministry partnership with the Western Baptist Convention of Cuba. It includes building and remodeling projects, disaster-relief training, water purification, Royal Ambassador training and church renewal. TBM also has provided scholarships for students at the Baptist seminary in Havana, which has educated ministers in Cuba more than a century.
L.M. and Dora Lynn Dyson from First Baptist Church of Woodway in Waco, Texas, have traveled to Cuba at least 40 times since 1999. The Dysons work in partnership with Cuban Baptists, primarily by facilitating procurement and delivery of shipping containers filled with a wide variety of ministry supplies.
Dyson, who served 35 years on the faculty at Baylor University, handles the logistics and works with multiple partners to fill the containers — at least two dozen in 15 years.
“It takes so many people touching one container to get it to the right place,” Dyson said.
Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, working through the Texas Baptist Missions Foundation, provided funds for shipping the container that cleared customs in Havana Jan. 21.
TBM volunteers filled the 50-foot container at the Dixon Missions Equipping Center in east Dallas. Contents included durable medical equipment — wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and other items — collected by Woman’s Missionary Union of Texas; assorted other medical supplies, including crates of masks and latex gloves; disaster-relief supplies and equipment for Cuban Baptists; and a washer and dryer for an elder care facility operated by the Western Baptist Convention of Cuba, donated by senior adults at First Baptist Church of Woodway.
“It’s always a joint effort with many people and many organizations,” Dora Lynn Dyson said. “When people find out you are helping others, they want to be part of that.”
The container included three rolls of artificial turf from Baylor University, provided to the Havana Industriales baseball team for their practice facility. The Baylor baseball team developed a relationship with the Cuban professional team during a sports evangelism mission trip a few years ago. At least five Industriales team members have professed faith in Jesus Christ and now are members of Iglesia Bautista El Calvario in Havana.
The container also included lumber, tools and other construction supplies for a half-dozen TBM volunteers to use to repair and resurface the floor of a gymnasium at El Calvario. The church uses the facility for a youth Sunday school class and various weekday ministries, as well as sports outreach and discipleship.
“We have learned an important lesson from Texas Baptist Men. We want to demonstrate the love of God through more than words,” said Juan Carlos Rojas, pastor of El Calvario. The church, which attracts about 1,200 to worship services at its downtown Havana facility, reaches an equal or greater number each week through 114 house churches.
A TBM missions team unloaded most of the container at the Cuban Baptist elder care home on the outskirts of Havana. Volunteers from El Calvario unloaded the lumber and construction supplies at their church facility — including materials a future TBM mission team will use to rebuild risers in the 113-year-old congregation’s sanctuary balcony.
While the missions team served in Cuba, another shipping container filled with food left the port of Houston bound for Havana. TBM, First Baptist Church of Woodway, Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, Lakeside Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and others partnered to provide that shipment to supply meals for participants at the annual meeting of the Western Baptist Convention of Cuba, scheduled in March at El Calvario, and for the seminary in Havana.
In addition to ministries in Havana, several team members also delivered ministry supplies to a seminary in Santa Clara and a pastor in Vueltas who works with indigenous missionaries who serve about 100 sites in Central Cuba.
The volunteers also delivered equipment and supplies to the pastor of a church in Santa Clara who lives with his pregnant wife and their daughter on a demonstration farm launched through the efforts of First Baptist Church of Woodway and Pastor Mike Toby, who died Dec. 29, 2012. Toby envisioned a farm that not only would become self-sustaining, but also would serve as a nursery and breeding facility to start plants and raise livestock that could be given to others to begin farms as ministry outposts.
In less than three years, Pastor Yoan Ramos has cleared more than 30 acres and planted guava, banana, yucca, lemon, peanuts and sweet potatoes, as well as raising cattle, horses, goats, rabbits, turkeys, chickens and guineas.
One TBM volunteer, Ron Wingard from Mimosa Lane Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas, also delivered two duffels to Cuba, filled with children’s shoes provided by Buckner International as part of its Shoes for Orphan Souls ministry.
He presented one shoe-filled bag to Cavidad Arteaga Acosto, administrator of the benevolence program and women’s ministries at El Calvario in Havana. She explained the church’s benevolence ministry not only meets needs among its own congregation and in downtown Havana, but also ministers throughout western Cuba.
After learning about the scope of the ministry and depth of need, Wingard told her he had another duffel filled with shoes he had planned to deliver to the Baptist seminary in Havana the next day. He offered to bring the shoes to her, instead.
“Oh, no,” she said. “Take them to the seminary. Share with them. There are so many pastors’ children who don’t have shoes. They have needs, too.”