It is June 2000, and missionary Kenneth Eagleton is celebrating his 70th birthday in Cuba. He is leading the first TEAM (teens equipped and active in missions) trip to Cuba. While the high school team members and their Cuban brothers and sisters celebrate his birthday, he reminds them that just 50 years earlier he was a student missionary spending a summer working with Thomas and Mabel Willey. He was not the only Free Will Baptist student who served in Cuba. Students like Chuck Snow, Mark Vandivort, and Dave Franks served and learned from the Willeys Sr., the Willeys Jr., the Phenicies, Lucy Wisehart, and others. However, from the Cuban revolution in 1959 until the summer of 2000, no other Free Will Baptist students had been able to serve with the Cuban Free Will Baptist Convention.
Envision now March 2005 and 10 Free Will Baptist Bible College students traveling to Cuba to revive a working tradition that will continue in the coming years. In the group are pastoral, mission, business, Christian education, and teacher education students.
The students have raised support from their churches and friends and, as Spring Break begins, the group flies to Miami and then to Havana.
The flight takes about an hour. From Havana the group travels west by bus to Pinar del Río. They have only eight days on the island, and the Cuban Free Will Baptist Convention has planned an itinerary that will give the group maximum exposure to the two main provinces of La Habana and Pinar del Río where the majority of the Free Will Baptist churches are located. Several of the Cuban pastors are becoming proficient in English and serve as translators for the group as they sing, witness, teach Sunday school, and preach. However, the students are primarily visiting the Cuban Convention to learn from brothers and sisters who have been faithful to Christ and have seen their denomination more than double during the past 10 years.
Students are seeing for themselves what the Lord of Harvest is reaping among the cities and villages of the "Pearl of the Antilles." Close, personal contact with Cuban brothers and sisters provides the students with an opportunity to begin to understand how the Gospel affects people in another culture. The joy of the Cuban Christians is infectious, and laughter is never far away from the group as it moves, via bus and truck, across the two western provinces of Cuba.
On the western end of the island, the group is shown some of the hurricane damage (2004) done to the churches of La Fe and Las Martinas, but already repairs are being made. These two congregations continue to meet and reach into their communities. On Monday night, an important chapel service is held on the campus of the Free Will Baptist seminary as a group of Cuban students and those from FWBBC share testimonies of what the Lord Jesus has done and is doing for and in each one.
The second half of the week—one that has gone by all too fast—is spent in the La Habana province with the Jaruco and Jibacoa churches. The last full day is spent visiting the Free Will Baptist church of Matanzas and the surrounding area.
With songs sung, sermons preached, and children taught, the group says its good-byes to new friends at the José Marti Airport. The 10 students now wait for the short flight back to Miami. What is in their minds, their hearts? Are they just thinking how glad they are to be finished with meals of rice and beans, and how they can't wait for a hamburger at Miami International? Or perhaps their thoughts are with the Cuban brothers and sisters with whom they just spent the last 192 hours? Are they ready to leave, or do they want to stay?
I am writing this article in January, almost 45 days before the trip just described. The places mentioned are the ones we will visit. But am I guilty of falsifying the story? Why don't you contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out? Maybe I'll have been mistaken. Maybe, but I don't think so. I believe that without exception every student in the group will tell you that being among the Christians of Cuba is a life-changing experience. These 10 students are part of a FWBBC student body of whom more than 50 percent have been involved in mission trips— trips that are not a "spring break or summer thing," but represent a genuine desire to know God's will and to serve Him wherever He may lead them.
Ronald Callaway is the Chairman of the International Missions Department at Free Will Baptist Bible College in Nashville, TN.