Christmas came late for a Brethren In Christ (BIC) church in rural Cuba – but when it finally arrived, a wish 15 years in the making came true.
In February, 19 members of North Kildonan MB Church, Winnipeg, delivered four complete sets of baseball gear to a small church in the hamlet of La Guarapeta, located an hour’s drive from Havana.
Participants in the week-long solidarity trip created connections with the Cuban church, visited projects, and personally delivered funds raised for infrastructure improvement.
Ramon Castillo, the pastor of the 70-member BIC church, has been praying and dreaming for more than a decade to see a dedicated baseball ministry come to fruition in his community.
“Ramon and the other people of the church were crying, thanking us a million times,” says 14-year-old Aly Clark who participated in the trip. “You could see the relief on their faces. Prayers were answered; it was awesome.”
Castillo pastors one of 140 BIC churches in Cuba. The BIC are an Anabaptist denomination affiliated worldwide with Mennonite World Conference, with more than 3,000 members in Cuba alone.
He has run baseball tournaments as a tool for outreach in the community for many years already, but was always limited by poor equipment.
“They were using hand-carved bats, and now they have titanium ones,” says Clark.
But the trip also served a greater purpose – to encourage, reinvigorate, and stand in solidarity with the Cuban church, oft-hindered by a restrictive government, extremely low wages, and a dependence on a ration-card system.
Chuck Penner, an economic researcher by trade and one of the trip’s participants, says the trip forged a strong, encouraging friendship.
“The Cuban church in some ways feels isolated and cut off. For them it was important to see a connection with others beyond their borders,” he says.
“The people we came across were the most thankful people we ever met, bar none. And yet they had the very least of anyone we had ever met.”
And Penner says the trip paid off: two weeks after the new baseball gear was first put into use, more than 20 people in the community had come to faith, according to an email from Castillo.