HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (BP)–Six Florida volunteers working in Cuba helped pave the way for a goodwill visit of their pastor and others in an entourage of Southern Baptists led by Foreign Mission Board President Jerry Rankin.
Bill Billingsley, pastor of Sheridan Hills Baptist Church, Hollywood, Fla., felt he was treated like a hero because he was pastor of the church that had sent the volunteer team. “Those men are 10 feet tall in Cuba,” he said. The team flew home the afternoon Billingsley and the others arrived.
Officials of the Western Baptist Convention of Cuba invited the Baptist groups to visit their island nation. They entered Cuba on religious visas and with permission from the U.S. government.
“It’s been wonderful for awakening, for the refreshing of the (church’s) world consciousness,” said Billingsley, speaking of the trip to Cuba. “There’s a compassion that reaches across the Florida straits … a long hand that reaches out from the Christians of south Florida.”
The volunteers worked alongside Cuban Baptists for a week in a Havana suburb, helping to enlarge the Baptist Home for the Elderly.
“The lives of those touched by this trip will never be the same,” declared Randy Killian, a Dade County paramedic who was part of the team.
In addition to their construction work, the volunteers played key roles in worship services in the Villa Rosa and Gethsemane Baptist churches in Havana.
“I can’t begin to tell you how much I was impacted,” said volunteer Allen Rice, who said his call to go to seminary was confirmed by his experiences in Cuba. Rice was especially impressed by one Cuban pastor — a medical doctor attending the Baptist seminary in Havana.
“We came to bring the love of God but we received more from the Cubans,” said volunteer Cal Wallace. “We went as Americans and they as Cubans, but we found we were brothers in Christ. Their focus is on God. They loved us as much as we loved them; we were one in Christ.”
Added volunteer Clell Coleman, associate pastor at Sheridan Hills: “When I preached and looked out across this 100-plus people and saw the children and the middle-aged and the old, I was impressed that the work of God in the hearts of people goes on across the face of the earth, no matter the circumstance. God is there, working in the hearts of people.”