EDITORS’ NOTE: Willie Hill Jr. recently traveled to Cuba with a group of construction volunteers from Sheridan Hills Baptist Church, Hollywood, Fla., where he is a deacon.
HAVANA, Cuba (BP)–Two days into the construction work at the Hogar Bautista (Baptist nursing home) in Havana, Cuba, one morning I saw a 4- or 5-year-old boy standing across the street, observing us tearing the roof off a building. The boy’s right arm was in a cast. I waved at him and said, “Good morning,” in Spanish. But he shyly turned away.
At break I ran to my room and grabbed a handful of sweet treats and gave them to him. He flashed a smile, grabbed the goodies and ran through the gate to his house.
After lunch he was standing in the same place, except with his brother and sister and two women. At the moment, I did not know that one of the women was Barbara Rodriguez. I had prepared a granola bar and a ball cap to give to the boy. I crossed the street, placed the hat on the boy and divided the bar into five pieces. I asked the women their names, but had difficulty understanding because they spoke only Spanish. I told the women my name, shook their hands and returned to work.
The following morning, right after our devotional time before work, Mr. Garcia (one of the nursing home patients who became one of my best friends — and a great translator) grabbed me by the hand and took me over to the front gate of the nursing home. Mrs. Rodriguez was there asking for a hat. I gave her one, along with a gift of hair combs and a Spanish evangelistic tract. Minutes later, I saw her inside her yard, reading the tract. I prayed that she would understand the plan of salvation and accept Jesus as a result of reading the booklet. She continued to read as several people came by and greeted her. This showed me she was deeply interested in what she was reading.
The next morning I took Mr. Garcia along to translate so I could ask her if she understood what she had read. I invited her to church that night, and she promised that she would come. I noticed that she already had a different aura and smile about her.
That night, I met her at the church door, gave her a paperback Spanish Bible and escorted her inside, along with two of the children who had received the candy.
One by one, the seven men from our mission team gave their testimonies. While Joe Helms, our team leader, was praying the invitation prayer, I held Mrs. Rodriguez’s hand and squeezed it, trying to encourage her that this was a special time of decision. As part of the decision time, I had to leave her and go up front to receive those who made decisions. No one came forward — not even Mrs. Rodriguez.
As Joe said a closing prayer of appeal, from the front I looked up and saw that Mrs. Rodriguez was looking at me and crying. When I returned to my seat beside her, I asked her in the best Spanish I knew if she wanted to talk to the pastor and Jesus. She said, “Si.”
After the service, we went to talk to the pastor. This time, she was holding onto my hand and leading me. At the front, the pastor spoke with her and at that moment she prayed the prayer to receive Christ. As she and I stood there, we both shed tears of joy, and finally God gave me an answer to something I had done in preparation for the trip.
While packing, I’d come across a chain with a cross on it that was given to me after a men’s retreat. I’d received that gift more than 10 years ago, but I never wore it. When I saw it, though, a small voice told me to put it on and wear it the entire time I was in Cuba. At the moment Mrs. Rodriguez accepted Jesus, that same voice told me to place the cross around her neck. Her eyes flashed as I was removing the cross from around my neck, and she broke into sobs as I placed it around her neck.
Through my own tears, I told her in Spanish that Jesus loved her as I pointed to heaven. We walked outside and joined the other folks who were singing praise songs. I noticed as we sang that Mrs. Rodriguez held tightly to the small Bible I had given her. Her face shown as an angel.