For Raidel Leon, the pastor of Chandler (Minn.) Christian Reformed Church, a July mission trip to Cuba was a return home.
Six Minnesota-area churches representing the CRC and Reformed Church in America sent 29 people to Cuba, led by Leon and several others, to help renovate Torriente CRC and to host a basketball clinic for area youth.
“This was truly a God thing,” Leon said, describing people’s enthusiasm for the trip. “From the beginning of the planning stages to the moment they crossed Cuban customs back to the U.S., [there were] smiles on their faces and some tears in their eyes.”
While Leon felt the pressure of being the only bilingual person, he also felt God’s leading hand daily. “God kept reminding me that there was much more than my responsibility taking place.”
Volunteers installed new windows at Torriente CRC, improved interior and sanctuary walls, added a fresh coat of paint, and began initial reconstruction work on the bathrooms.
About seven miles down the road, in the city of Jaguey Grande, the basketball clinic also proved successful despite muggy conditions. “The kids had so much fun learning, and they kept returning day after day,” said Leon’s wife, Marcy.
Some group members drew a sidewalk chalk picture on the basketball courts to depict as much: a cross with the Cuban flag on one side and the American flag on the other. The team signed their names underneath, attesting to their goal of mirroring Christ “in how we treat each other and by just being open culturally.”
The end result of the trip was more than Leon could have imagined. “Bringing together two cultures I love so much, two peoples I call my own and two worlds that are separated beyond 90 miles on account of politics . . . was a sight of God’s might at work,” he said.
Cubans and Americans developed lasting relationships through their shared work on the church, basketball games, car rides (in the 1950s models prevalent there), meals, and faith in Jesus Christ.
The team is planning a return trip for the end of next year.