[SLIDESHOW=39308,39309,39310]EDITOR’S NOTE: This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention was Nov. 30-Dec. 7 with the theme of “One Sacred Effort — Find your place in God’s story” from Matthew 28:19-20 (HCSB). The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches support approximately 4,800 international missionaries in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at imb.org/offering, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year’s goal is $175 million. Carlos and Lily Llambes, the focus of these two stories, are among the featured missionaries in this year’s Week of Prayer.
Please see related feature on women’s ministry in the Dominican Republic below.
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (BP) — When Carlos Llambes was about 7 or 8 years old, he heard a sound he had never heard coming from a church before — laughter. Churches had always seemed so formal and structured to the Cuban boy. Plus, times in the Caribbean island 90 miles south of Miami were somber and uncertain in the late 1960s in the years after the Cuban missile crisis.
So when Carlos walked by Primera Iglesia Bautista (First Baptist Church) in his hometown of San Cristobal, Cuba, on a Wednesday night and heard laughter, the curious youngster peeked inside the doors. Members of the congregation were singing a joyful song and smiling.
“They seemed happy, and I wanted to be a part of that,” Carlos recalled. So he sat down in one of the pews to watch.
A couple noticed the boy and invited him to a group of Royal Ambassadors (a Southern Baptist missions discipleship organization for boys) the man led near the church during the week. The group had to begin meeting in secret because at that time, Christian leaders were subject to imprisonment or being put in reeducation camps. Rumors spread that walls had ears and conversations were monitored.
“Our little group of RAs, of eight or nine boys, we met secretly in a little room, and we spoke quietly,” Carlos recalled. “I brought a little Bible with me that was falling to pieces, but it became precious to me as did those times with that little RA group.”
“The best memories I have of Cuba are at my little church as an RA,” Carlos Llambes, now a Southern Baptist missionary, said. “We used to fellowship with other churches and play baseball and ping pong.”
Those seemingly carefree times were even more precious to the youngster because he was constantly saying goodbye to those he knew. First, his father lost his lucrative business, separated from his mother and left the country. Then, amid the political turmoil of the times, neighbors and friends decided to leave the country. His mother struggled to provide for him on her own, so she, too, decided to make plans to leave the country.
She had sewn him a new outfit to wear during their travels, but it took nearly five years for the paperwork to come through to relocate, so the pants had become several inches too short on him.
But needing something suitable to wear to the RA meetings, Carlos began to wear the outfit — made of wool because his mother thought that any place farther north from the Caribbean would have cold temperatures.
“So there I was, a little boy wearing short wool pants in the tropics,” Carlos laughed.
When he arrived in Miami at age 12, he lost touch with those he had known in Cuba.
But years later when Carlos was an adult with a child of his own, history seemed to repeat itself. When the Llambes began attending Iglesia Bautista Estrella de Belen in Hialeah, Fla., Carlos saw a familiar face — his RA leader.
Despite the passage of time, Pablo Lavina and Carlos recognized each other.
Pablo went home and told his wife, Juana, “You’ll never guess who I saw today. It was Carlito (little Carlos),” recalled Juana.
“It’s so wonderful to know that we’ve helped a child to find his way to what God had in store for him,” Juana said. She had served as a Sunday School teacher at the Cuba church as a young adult. Now in their 60s, she and her husband are active in the Hialeah congregation, with Juana serving as its custodian.
The couple has given Carlos some photos they had brought with them from Cuba of the RA group. Carlos keeps the photos as a reminder of the impact missions and a couple dedicated to missions can make.
“They really took care of us in a very difficult time when Christians weren’t looked at very kindly,” Carlos recalled. “RAs was such a missions seed that was planted in me. It didn’t come to fruition until years later, but it was there, growing inside of me.”
Though he didn’t become a Christian until he was an adult, Carlos points to the missions teachings of RAs as having the biggest influence on his eventually becoming a missionary and focusing on planting churches.
“I learned at a young age, when I was a boy in Cuba, through First Baptist Church, San Cristobal, the love and the difference that a little local church can make. It’s transformational. It makes a difference in communities,” he said.
Today, Carlos is an International Mission Board missionary who served 10 years in the Dominican Republic, starting a church planting institute there with the Dominican Baptist Convention. He and his wife Lilly recently transferred to Mexico City to participate in church planting efforts in the megacity.
“People might think, why bother with a little church?” Carlos said of how he encourages new Christians to form home Bible studies among their family and friends. “You watch what God can do with a little church. I am a product of that. Just give it time.”
Of his RA group of eight or nine boys, he became a missionary and two others grew up to be pastors, says Carlos, adding that’s an impressive ratio that underlines the life-long impact of churches teaching missions to all ages.
See related videos on the Llambes at vimeo.com/95753321, as well as imb.org/lmcovideo.
Helping young women live down ‘fake Christianity,’ live up to potential
By Kate Gregory
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (BP) — Southern Baptist missionary Lily Llambes didn’t have to look far to find women in need of knowing their true worth in Christ.
Aura Maria Gomez had a lot in common with Lily. They both grew up in Colombia, both have worked as accountants, and they attended the same church in the Dominican Republic. But Aura saw something in Lily that was foreign to her — peace with God and herself.
“I thought I was a believer, but I really hadn’t had a conversion experience,” Aura said. “I just had been attending church. I was going through the motions of serving and praying in church, but I had no internal change at all.”
Aura began arriving at Lily’s apartment an hour before a group Bible study each week.
“I was going through a very difficult time in my life,” Aura recalled. “I asked Lily to counsel me. She would refer to her Bible and counsel me based on what the Bible said.
“I’m very grateful that God put Lily in my path. She’s taught me how to walk and grow in my Christian life. Lily has a passion for prayer, that’s her testimony. That and her family, the way they love each other.”
Similarly to Aura, Maia Zavala thought she was a Christian because she went to church. “But at some point, I realized it was just a routine,” she said.
Maia asked herself, “What is it to be a Christian young woman?”
Also attending the same church as the Llambes, Maia observed how Lily and her two teenage daughters behaved.
“They dressed and acted like godly women,” Maia said. “I thought, ‘I want to know what this family is really like.'”
Distraught by a tumultuous relationship, Maia sought refuge at the Llambes. She stayed with them for several days. That would be enough time to find out if they were just putting on an act, Maia thought.
“Staying with them, I saw their lives from the inside, inside their house,” Maia said. “They weren’t putting on a show. They took their Christianity seriously. It wasn’t just like a mask they put on for Sundays.”
After returning home, Maia continued to visit Lily for advice.
“Lily mentored me, always praying with me, reading the Bible with me, encouraging me to do my daily devotionals.
“It took a while, but I have joy in my life again, after all of those years going to church, knowing all about the Bible, but not believing it, not living it. I was disobedient to God, to my parents, to myself.
“It was difficult at first to live down the stigma of having lived as a ‘fake Christian,’ attending church but not behaving like one outside of church. It took a while for people to have faith in me that it was real this time,” Maia said.
“But Lily had hope and knew God could do a work in my life.”
The Peru native now feels called to missions.