In recent years, I have had the opportunity to travel overseas a few times. I have traveled to Bucharest, Romania, where I taught “Foundations of the New Testament” to rural Gypsy pastors. As a doctor of ministry student, I traveled to multiple cities in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and learned first-hand how Christians navigated living in a primarily Buddhist country. I have also taught self-care to pastors and leaders in Guatemala.
Each time that I have visited a foreign land, I have returned to the United States with a renewed confidence in the formation of God’s Kingdom in the here and now and how God consistently works through people who simply make themselves available to God’s presence. This was true during my recent travels to Santiago de Cuba with Gary Snowden, missional collaboration team leader for Churchnet, and members representing First Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit, Mo., and First Baptist Church in Farmington, Mo.
While traveling in Cuba, I was blessed to meet multiple pastors and leaders who, although they lived in small towns and villages without the technology or amenities that I am used to, are leading ministries that are making a tremendous impact within their local communities.
Pastors like Joey, who serves the Sixth Baptist Church of Santiago. Pastor Joey is young and full of energy. He smiles at everyone he passes and greets them with a hearty handshake. If you did not know him, you would think that he was running for a political office. Pastor Joey’s church meets in a concrete building that is smaller than some of the classrooms at the seminary where I work. There is no air conditioning and when more than 50 people are in the space, there is no leg room to stretch out. Yet, most Sundays, 125 people show up to worship together. Those who get there early can find a seat. Everyone else sits or stands outside the entrance to the building and joyfully participates. The members and visitors to the church are simply happy to have a place to worship.
And pastors like Néstor, who serves the Baptist Church of El Christo. Pastor Néstor is older and more reserved. He carries himself in a very serious manner. This may be due to the fact that during the early years of serving in ministry, he was imprisoned and forced into hard labor in the sugar cane fields because it was illegal to be a pastor. He was separated from his family for months at a time because he would not turn his back on his faith or calling. His congregation meets in a traditional church building that is spacious, but has a dirt floor. The ruggedness of the building has not deterred people from calling the church their home. As a matter of fact, during the Vacation Bible School that my traveling companions led, over 90 kids from the local community participated each day.
Did I mention that these pastors and others are making such tremendous impacts in their communities while facing multiple challenges? Problems like having out-of-date technology or no technology at all, a lack of consistent access to research resources, a lack of reliable Internet service, only having two-to-three people leading praise and worship and, all the while, they and the members of their congregations earn less than $25 each a month? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. How many of us have had to face these kinds of difficulties?
Despite the multiple challenges they face, these leaders have big dreams for how God can use them in building the Kingdom. They each have visions of ministry that are much bigger than simply preaching to a crowd in their local church building. They each are hungry to better understand God’s word and share it. They seek to be in consistent fellowship with each other.
As has happened before, I left this trip having received more than I had given. I was reminded of the endless ways that God’s Kingdom is already visible through people who may not be as well off as I am and that their love and compassion can serve as examples for all of us to follow.
Terrell Carter is assistant professor and director of contextualized learning at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas, and pastor of Webster Groves Baptist Church in Webster Groves, Mo.