Making the Cuba Connection

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Hannah Elzinga, 20, and Jennifer Vanden Akker, 19, found exuberant faith among youths in Cuba when they attended a two-week youth retreat there in July. “They show an amazing, obvious passion for Christ,” Vanden Akker said.

LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Mich., sent the pair, both fluent in Spanish, through its Henry Beets Mission Society, which helps Christians in Cuba.

Elzinga, a member of LaGrave, and Vanden Akker of Beckwith Hills CRC in Grand Rapids, described their Cuban counterparts as warm, joyful people with solid Bible knowledge and a faith that spilled over during worship.

“They dance through the pews, and everyone is willing and loves to pray. They taught us that we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ,” Vanden Akker said.

LaGrave’s relationship with Cuba started in the 1950s, when it supported missionary Bessie Vander Valk there and sent its pastor, Rev. Jacob Eppinga, to preach.

Eppinga’s son Richard, a Mission Society member, described the time after Castro took control. “Thousands of Cubans were killed. We thought the church was extinguished.”

To everyone’s astonishment, years later a letter arrived from Orelio Martinez, who had heard Eppinga’s messages. Martinez had become a minister and said Cuban churches had blossomed.

According to Rev. Luis Pellecer, the Latin America regional director for Christian Reformed World Missions, there are 14 Christian Reformed churches in Cuba and about 125 house churches, led by five ordained pastors and eight lay pastors.

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