False teachers will flood into Cuba soon

Pastor preaching - from LightstockOur ministry really needs a strong base of prayer support for all that we do, especially with the enormous changes that are about to wash over Cuba and the Church there, as the relations between our two countries normalize.

Changes are indeed coming and ACTION Cuba and the Cuban Church in general need your prayer for wisdom. It seems to me that more businessmen and politicians have been to Cuba in the past four weeks than in the past 50 years. Guess who also wants to be part of this new “opening” of Cuba? All the false religions and crackpots you can imagine. Cuba has been so hard to minister in over these years that very few of us have made it our life’s work, and boy, has it been work!

Now that people have the impression it may be easier, I am receiving emails every week from groups that want my help to travel down and teach in Cuba. When I check them out on the internet I find their material to be way far out there — and not in the laid-back John Denver “faaar out” of the 1970’s. No, these groups have dangerous, far-out teachings about God that clash dangerously with His true eternal attributes that are clearly demonstrated to humanity through creation, conscience, and Christ on the cross. These pseudo-Christian groups are headed to Cuba one way or another and I am not sure the Church there is ready for the battle.

Please pray!

Overcoming obstacles in western Cuba — learning how to “flex”

Conference in HavanaTo become a missionary with ACTION, one must complete a number of requirements, including an application, doctrinal statement, Bible quiz, Board interview, and a brief psychological evaluation.

I learned something about myself in that evaluation, which is meant to help missionaries understand their personality better in order to forecast challenges they might experience on the mission field.

One of the aspects evaluated was “rigid vs. flexible” with regards to plans and circumstances. I’ll never forget the counselor showing me my score. Compared to others, I was almost off-the-charts flexible. The little dot representing this aspect of my personality in comparison to other people was way down at the bottom of the “rigid vs. flexible” grid.

All I could say in response was, “Good thing I minister in Latin America.”

Case in point: In November I met with leaders of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba along with my Cuban colleague and official ACTION representative David Gomero. We immediately began planing two Bible Training Workshops for April and very quickly we had two excellent conference speakers agree to travel down and teach.

These were significant plans in that they represented many “firsts” — first conferences with this denomination, first events David would organize on his own without me traveling down, first trip to Cuba by both of the speakers. Many, many hours were dedicated to the plans.

A sad goodbye to darling Helen

Celia y HelenThis week we received the sad news that a sweet little girl we know named Helen lost her battle with cancer. We had visited with Helen and her dad in November and then again in March, so we felt a connection with her. Her passing hit us hard.

Our first visit with her in the provincial hospital of Camaguey was memorable for a couple of reasons. When we handed out some stuffed toys, she was given a purple whale. We asked her if she was going to name her new toy and she said she would give the whale the name of one of the nurses, which provoked a good laugh from all the staff.

Also, when we invited Helen to come out to the common area for ice cream she said she didn’t like ice cream much. Celia asked her, “What do you like?” “Gum,” she replied. It just so happened that Celia had a pack of gum in her purse and Helen’s eyes lit up when it was given to her.

Every indication was that she was going to beat the cancer.

An idol worshiper finds God

Abel cropped

Here is an amazing testimony from someone I met on my March trip:

Abel was an idol worshiper but his mother-in-law gave him a Bible, which he kept because he thought it would bring him good luck.

One day prior to leaving for work he lit a candle on a plate and set the Bible next to it. This was done as a type of offering to his deceased relatives. The candle later tipped over and the whole apartment caught fire.
Everything was ruined except the Bible, which had been right next to the source of the fire!

Abel opened the Bible and to his amazement the first text he read was “I am that I am,” which brought conviction to his heart. He was discipled by ACTION representative David Gomero and continues in the faith.

The Good, the Bad, and the Snuggly

BearsDear Friends of the Church in Cuba,

With apologies to Clint Eastwood fans, let me borrow from one of his movie titles and present to you some prayer requests as I head to Cuba on Friday:

The good:

Please pray for the spiritual impact of the “Seeing God” conference next week. Dr. Gerry McDermott’s teaching is based on the theology of Jonathan Edwards and describes the 12 reliable and 12 unreliable signs of true spirituality. It is a great teaching series for pastors that gives them insightful standards by which to measure their own spiritual growth the spiritual progress of their flock. We are expecting up to 175 pastors and their wives. Each one will receive a copy of Gerry’s book.

On March 9th about 450 college-age Christians from all over the island will arrive at Camp Canaán in central Cuba for ACTION’s 4-day Next Generation Leadership Retreat. Our time together will feature 20 hours of Bible teaching, morning devotions and worship, evening services, and even some recreational time. Please pray that no trucks will break down and that everyone who has been invited will make it to the event. Please pray that the Lord will use this retreat to give some of these young Christians a vision for how He would have them use their time and talent. These leaders are truly the ones who will take the church through the changes that are coming in Cuba.

One more request: this Friday morning I have a meeting in Miami with the owner of a property in Cuba that our team wishes to purchase and convert into our headquarters, guest home, training center and perhaps even future residence for our family. Please pray for the negotiations and God’s provision, both of which are going well but are not yet complete.

The bad:

We are lacking several thousand dollars for the upcoming events. Perhaps you would like to “go ahead, make my day” by donating through one of the links at the bottom of this email. Please pray God’s will be done and that in the middle of this stress our team can conduct ourselves in a way that demonstrates both faith and wisdom.

And the snuggly:

March 16th I will be returning to the provincial hospital in Camaguey to  minister to the children in the cancer ward. I am taking down these cute stuffed bears to give away to the kids. Last trip I didn’t take down individual gifts and I really regretted it. We hope to also have two new Bible activity books printed by that time, to give out to some of the older kids. Please pray that many of the children and the moms will be uplifted by the Gospel. Please pray for healing; all the children in the ward are either currently receiving chemotherapy or are recovering from recent cancer surgery.

Thank you for praying!

Brian Stewart

Twenty years in missions, thanks to a miracle of God!

DSC_0414Today is my 20th anniversary with ACTION and I thought I would share with you what brought me here.

There are many reasons why I continue to serve with ACTION, including the interdenominational approach to missions work, the family atmosphere, and the passion, dedication and godly living that I see in my ministry colleagues. But those are not the reasons why I initially came.

I began my service to ACTION due to a miracle of God that involved a pack of gum and the Lynnwood Public Library.

Let me tell you the story. It’s a long story, but I think you will get a kick out of it.

In 1994 I was on staff at Skyline Community Church in downtown Seattle. Half of our congregation came from the student body of Seattle Pacific University and half came from the local missions for the homeless. It was an interesting mix! I think our two young sons were the only toddlers in the entire church.

During my time there I begin to sense an interest in missions. It was not a calling at that point, just an interest, and one day at the church office I found a brochure from ACTION on a bookshelf. I decided that I would visit their office and see if I could volunteer a couple of hours every week to “do my part” for global missions.

Ministering to children with cancer

HopeOfLifeThank you for praying for our trip to Cuba last month. It was amazing.

Spending time with each of the three families that serve full-time with ACTION Cuba was extremely important. Since we formalized our team just one year ago, God has blessed us with new connections, new projects, and a host of new invitations for future ministry. It has been a whirlwind year and it was necessary to sit down in the quiet of their homes, debrief, and plan for 2015.

Celia and I also had the privilege of spending time with some of our key colleagues from the Eastern Baptist Convention, the Christian Pentecostal Church of Cuba, and the Christian University Students Group, as well as meet new partners from the Western Baptists. Our time really flew by.

The highlight of the trip was accompanying our Hope of Life team that ministers to the children in the pediatric cancer ward of the provincial hospital in Camaguey. We met an 18-month-old boy, Rodelky, who was successfully recovering from testicular cancer. We met darling Helen (8), whose hair was just growing back when she needed to come in again for more chemo for her abdominal cancer. We also met Yasmini (13), who has lost her sight and has a misshapen head due to a cerebral tumor.

I honestly don’t want to write about all the other kids because I don’t want to start crying. Though the hospital staff is loving, dedicated, and self-sacrificial, 40% of the kids don’t survive their cancer. Pastor Yoan, the founder of this monthly outreach (the hospital won’t let them come more frequently) asked me to pray for each kid as we made the rounds. I did okay, but got a bit tongue-tied at times due to the importance of the moment. And I just couldn’t pray for Yasmini. I didn’t want her to hear me crying. So Pastor Yoan helped me out. Yoan has made 22 visits; he prays with great faith and hope.

If you gave, if you prayed, let me tell you: this trip was worth your investment. Thank you so much.

Bible Training Workshops

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(Click logo to donate to this project)

In October of 2013 we launched a new conference series based on the results of our many years of organizing leadership training events in Cuba.

In English the name of this new conference ministry is Bible Training Workshops (Talleres de Entrenamiento Bíblico) and these events have the following characteristics:

• Three-day conferences with a total of at least 15 teaching hours

• Attendance in the range of 75 to 125 pastors, church-planters and other leaders.

• The events are local, not regional or national like some of our other conferences. This keeps our costs low, as we move the teaching team from city to city instead of moving the pastors to where we are.

• $10 per attendee is the maximum budget, so a conference for 100 pastors is only $1000.

• A hearty lunch is provided, as well as coffee breaks.

• A set of Bible study books is distributed at the end.

We are grateful that after 13 years of ministry our reputation with Cuban pastors is excellent and our conference teams are viewed as reliable Bible teachers. As one pastor wrote me after the October event:

“The ministry model of having city-wide conferences like you did in Santiago is fantastic, especially given the expense of other types of events. The attendance was exceptional, and part of that is due to the prestige that ACTION has earned after so many years. Many times the larger, more established churches avoid interdenominational conferences but that was certainly not the case at the ACTION workshops.”

Another pastor wrote about the same conference:

“Though I had to travel unexpectedly, I sent my leadership team and our church-planters to the event with David Waters and Gamaliel Canul. All of them loved the teaching sessions, which were very contextualized for the reality we live in here. God ministered to them during this event!”

Earlier this year a pastor emailed this:

“The conference couldn’t have been better. The topics taught were very timely, and met real needs in the Cuban churches. I trust the teaching has been assimilated well and will now be taught in the congregations. Our leadership is now thinking outside the four walls of the church, but we still have a long way to go.”

The teaching topics vary, depending on the speakers, but some training topics have been:

Preaching basic Christianity: Grace
How do we define ministry success?
Having a Christ-centered ministry
The profile of a “great” church
Biblical principles of family life
How to maintain purity in doctrine
Keys to servant leadership
Pastoral counseling
How to get men more involved in church
From believer to disciple
Reliable signs of true spirituality
Seven vital qualities of a kingdom leader

Our desire and plan is to organize at least eight Bible Training Workshops each year.

If you would like to partner with us, please visit our online donation page on the Action International Ministries website.

 

God’s protection as tires blow out

David GomeroDavid Gomero is our official representative in western Cuba and he celebrated his birthday on the November 5th. I had arranged for David’s wife and daughters to spend that day with him at the famous Varadero beach along with ACTION missionaries Keith & Marilyn Kaynor. This was their one off-day between conferences and we rented a car so that the family could be together.

David later sent me the following message:

“When Yaíma and the girls were being driven home, one of the rear tires exploded while they were on a dangerous curve. The driver was able to stop the car and put on the spare. Not much time had passed when one of the front tires blew out, when they were on another dangerous curve. They no longer had a spare tire, so they thought they were stuck.

“Miraculously, someone stopped and gave them a spare tire. We see the hand of God in this. No one in Cuba lets a stranger have their spare tire; they are simply too valuable. God protected them and saved them, avoiding a disaster on my birthday.”

Not “give and take” but give and give

DSC_0414Dear Friends of the Church in Cuba,

Ministry is not an exchange. It is not a transaction. The people being ministered to do not — and cannot — contribute toward the cost of the blessings that are provided.

One example: our book sets that are handed out at each conference. A five-book set costs between $10 and $15 for us to produce. That’s pretty inexpensive! In the US just one book can cost more than that. For a pastor or church-planter making as little as $12 per month, though, it is an investment in his theological education and devotional life that he cannot afford to make.

The same arithmetic applies to everything we do in Cuba. Our new strategy for pastoral leadership development, which we call Bible Training Workshops, is both meaningful and inexpensive. It is a lot of “bang for the buck” as they say. Nonetheless, the pastors who attend could not afford to cover the cost of $9 per person. It would be a week’s salary for even the highest paid pastor I know. (I do not know of any pastor from any denomination who is paid more than $27 per month by his church.)

So, you see this is not a “give and take” endeavor by any means. It is simply “give and give” (followed by step two, which is to repeat step one). It reminds me of when the Lord washed the disciples’ feet but nobody washed His. No one even offered. He gave, He served, and there was no immediate reciprocity.

That is the ministry you and I are called to. If it were “give and take” we would have our reward in full, here and now. In contrast “give and give” sets up an account for you with the Master of the ones who have received. The Master will repay you, in time. And, oh! how He will repay!

Thank you for making our “give and give” ministry possible in Cuba. The people we reach can only repay us with smiles and grateful hugs. It is your financial support that makes possible this fulfillment of the Lord’s words in Luke 14:12-14:

When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your… relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor… and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Thank you for supporting world missions!