Back in the midfield again

The changing nature of our ministry

20170127_172503_resizedI took the picture as I was leaving the soccer field after 2 hours and 20 minutes of playing 4 vs 4 with a group of guys young enough to be my children. My legs were sore for three days afterward, but I scored a couple of goals and consoled myself with the fact that I was 22 years older than the next youngest person on the field.

I enjoyed playing competitive soccer for 17 years, from the age of six until my first son was born. I always played as a midfielder. In the midfield, you’re not only looking to make a quick pass forward in order to send one of the strikers in on goal, but you’re always moving into open spaces in order to support those forwards in case they get into trouble and need to pass the ball backwards to you. I remember always scanning the field in front me to see whether I should push up or stay back. Above all I needed to be constantly moving into an open position so that if anyone needed to find me with a pass I would be available to help and then move the ball forward myself.

Right now, after 16 years in Cuba and 53 trips, I would describe my ministry position with regards to Pastoral Leadership Development as being back in the midfield. There is a lot going on in the field these days and I am scanning the position of all the other players so that I can move into the spot that is most advantageous for my team.

What I mean by that is that in the year 2000 when I made my first trip, I arrived in cities where I was one of the first American visitors to the church in many years. The church had been isolated for decades and it was clear to me that we should host very large conferences in order to respond to their needs and desires. The majority of the conferences and discipleship camps we did in the early part of our ministry were for between 300 and 500 people. ACTION had a crucial role to play in those years when it took great perseverance and effort to arrange such large and edifying events for a church hungry for theological training.

After 16 years, though, the church has received a great deal of theological training and now I am seeing many large groups, primarily from United States, rushing into Cuba in order to host the same sort of very large conferences that we were doing 16 years ago. As I look over the field and see what position our team should be in to be the best support possible, I definitely feel that as other groups are going large we should be going small.

Our strategy has definitely changed over the years, especially as we have developed very strong relationships with many groups. Most often we are now holding interactive training sessions for between 20 and 75 pastors and leaders. We are reaching fewer people but for a greater length of time and having a deeper impact. And our event budgets have dropped from perhaps an average of $5000 to closer to $900.

I must admit that I am quite concerned that many large groups are flooding into Cuba and loading all the denominations up it with all sorts of programs and projects. It is very hard for the Cuban church to say “no,” but American involvement in the Cuban church may be quickly reaching a point of saturation in some areas of ministry. And every one of these projects comes with the American church’s logo and the American church’s songs and the American church’s curriculum. Perhaps there is a lack of recognition for the history of the Cuban church and what their actual needs are at the present moment.

I praise God that most of my best friends live in Cuba and there’s plenty to do alongside them and their valuable ministries. But ACTION Cuba has definitely have moved from a large work to a smaller and deeper type of ministry.

On my most recent trip, we had 75 students at the Elim Bible Institute and 23 students at the new one-year Leadership degree program. Then we had 60 university students for a weekend discipleship retreat, about 65 pastors for a three-day conference, and 26 chaplains for a two-day workshop.

This is our team’s game plan for victory and I’m glad to be wearing the captain’s armband and patrolling the midfield to see how I can best support our team. Thank you so much for not staying on the sidelines but being right here with us so that we can give the practical and needed help that these very godly men and women leading the Cuban church have requested. Trust me, if God gave you the privilege of knowing them like I do, you would do whatever was in your power to take care of them. Since you haven’t met them, I thank you for being willing to proceed by faith through me and the ACTION Cuba team.

— Brian Stewart, Director

PS. Speaking of soccer: God blessed me in an amazing way by allowing me to meet Spanish soccer great David Villa in the Miami airport on my way home. David was very nice and even had the patience to show me how to take a selfie; this was my first ever!

With David Villa in the Miami airport

With David Villa in the Miami airport