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Construction volunteers in Cuba to undergird evangelism, missions

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (BP)–At least 80 Southern Baptist construction volunteers are expected to undergird the evangelistic and mission work of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba during 1998.
Their tasks — which begin with a team headed to Cuba March 1 — may not sound all that spiritual. Some will finish remodeling bathrooms and help rebuild a kitchen at the Baptist camp near Matanzas, Cuba. Others will remodel Baptist church buildings in desperate need of repairs.
But their work will help western Cuban Baptists better accomplish their main goals, reaching “Cuba for Christ Now” — the convention’s current theme — and taking the gospel beyond the island’s shores. The volunteers will improve facilities that play a key role in training Cuban Baptists for missions and evangelism, explained Kurt Urbanek, the Southern Baptist International Mission Board’s liaison for Cuba.
“Our role in Cuba is not to try to tell Cuban Baptist what to do but to facilitate the work that God is already doing through them,” said Urbanek, based in Coral Springs, Fla. “We don’t want to do anything to get in the way of the movement of the Spirit.”
But that doesn’t mean the volunteers won’t have opportunities to share their faith. During a construction project last December, volunteer Eddy Williams preached in a Baptist church and had many chances to talk about his relationship with Jesus Christ in one-on-one conversations with Cubans.
“Everybody I talked to — from taxi cab drivers to others I met during the trip — wanted to discuss faith and a relationship to God,” said Williams, a former IMB missionary who now is minister of education at First Baptist Church, Brandon, Fla. “I really had thought that people in Cuba would be more anti-God and anti-spiritual. But they’re not. There’s a spiritual hunger there. I think God is preparing the Cuban people for a great harvest.”
Williams also was impressed with Cuban Christians he met, especially two men who worked with his team of five other Florida Baptist volunteers remodeling part of the Baptist camp. “These fellows had an incredible amount of faith,” Williams said of the Cubans. “They had almost nothing, but trusted God to care for them and provide for their every need.
“I came back from the trip a changed person, especially in the area of the importance of prayer in my own life,” he added. “I serve in a big church, with 1,300 in Sunday school. But I’ve realized that doesn’t really mean anything to God. I’ve realized God wants to do his work in a supernatural way, like what I saw happening in Cuba. Ever since this trip, I’ve been asking God to do things, asking him to work in people’s lives, instead of my just doing things myself.”
“These trips really make an impact on volunteers,” added missionary John Seale, who coordinates IMB volunteer projects in Cuba. “Several volunteers said they really didn’t understand the deep level of commitment Baptists had in Cuba until they made this trip. And volunteers bring home a renewed sense of commitment to the work in their own churches.”
Volunteer teams for this year’s project are expected to come from Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Florida. About 50 percent of the volunteers will be recruited by the Florida Baptist Convention, which has a partnership agreement for working in Cuba through the IMB and the western convention.
There are a very limited number of volunteer requests, according to IMB leaders.
Last year about 50 Southern Baptist volunteers worked in Cuba through the IMB. At the Baptist Home for the Elderly in Havana, volunteers built a new wing which will house 18 more residents. At the Baptist camp, they did electrical work, installed a water pump, re-roofed the dining hall and remodeled rest rooms.
The projects provided opportunities to build relationships with Cuban Baptists and non-Christian Cubans who helped with labor. Seale, a contractor before becoming a missionary, told of a Cuban construction worker who accepted Christ through the volunteers’ influence.
“He came to me and said he couldn’t make his decision public, but he wanted me to know that the team had really made him think more about his life,” Seale recalled. “He said, ‘I just wanted you to know I gave my life to Christ and it was because of you guys who have been working here.'”

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  • Mary E. Speidel