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June 19, 2014

Press Photo

BCF Christian Counseling Major Melle Chambers and Missions Major Laura Root work together to complete a window frame for the church renovation in Cuba.

It is not so unusual anymore for Florida Baptists to be involved in ministry in Cuba. With a longtime partnership between conventions, more and more churches are sending teams, and more and more believers are having the opportunity to see God's hand at work in this island nation.

This summer marked the third opportunity for students from The Baptist College of Florida (BCF) in Graceville, Fla., to participate in the ongoing ministry there. "We are excited to be a part of what God is doing in Cuba," remarked BCF President Thomas A. Kinchen. "It's a model partnership between BCF, the Florida Baptist Convention, and the Baptist convention in Cuba. Everybody wins, and no one more than the Cuban people who are impacted."

While it may not be unusual for BCF to send a team, this particular group included some pretty unique participants. "No one knows what kind of group you will get when a trip is announced," explained BCF Missions Professor Rich Elligson. "We know we can always count on energetic, enthusiastic students who are well qualified, well prepared, and eager to serve. But with the unity, there always comes diversity, and I am never quite sure what to expect," he added. This year's team included everything from an 18-year-old Spanish speaking Missionary Kid (MK), to an 81-year-old widow who served with her husband in Mexico. Jim Womble and Bill Brown, both of whom take classes online, joined with the on campus students from Graceville. There was a Cuban American whose parents immigrated to the United States as children, and a visually impaired student. Beyond the vast differences in backgrounds, several courses of study were represented as well, including students majoring in Missions, Missions with a concentration in Aviation, Christian Counseling, Christian Studies, History/Social Studies, and Leadership/Christian Education.

That's not surprising according to Kinchen, "The Baptist College of Florida has never wavered in our commitment to 'Changing the World Through the Unchanging Word®.' The solid biblical foundation our students receive produces tangible ministry results. Regardless of the students' majors, they are out there getting the work done."

And getting the work done is exactly what the BCF team did in Cuba. Mornings were spent in renovation of a church building--a project that has been in the works for the past 8 years. The concrete wall covering the original block had to be chipped away to allow for resurfacing. It was slow grueling work with a hammer in one hand and a chisel in the other. Even Melle Chambers, who is legally blind, took a turn, feeling her way along the wall with hand and chisel. "It's not as hard as you might think," she quipped. "A moving target would present some challenges, but fortunately the wall stayed put," she added.

While walls were being chipped away in one room, 81-year-old Laura Root was busy painting metal window frames just outside. "I'd hurt somebody if I had to swing a hammer," she warned. "But I can handle a paintbrush, just as long as nobody cares if I dribble a little paint along the way. Oops...I got some on my shirt already."

Afternoons were scheduled for children's Vacation Bible School, organized and directed by BCF Junior History/Social Studies Major Alainna Davis. "Children are precious everywhere you find them, but these kids are so special. We all wanted to pack them up and take them home," she said with a smile.

Evenings were reserved for a Bible conference on the Sermon on the Mount, taught by Elligson. "The Baptist Church in Cuba is strong, and getting stronger," Elligson explained. "This church was deeply interested in Bible doctrine. They were very engaged, took notes, and asked great questions. They are very serious about their faith." When Elligson offered to leave his study notes with them, the Cuban translator was thrilled. "I will translate them into Spanish and distribute copies all over Cuba," he said. "By the end of the year the whole island will be preaching the Sermon on the Mount," he laughed.

As usual, everyone pitched in on the work and everyone participated in the ministry. Beyond that, students mixed well with their Cuban hosts. This was immediately noticed by Dana Hardee, the Florida Baptist Convention volunteer team leader and Idlewild church member who led the group. "I was so impressed with this team from BCF," Hardee commented. "They were well organized and so spiritually mature. They built relationships everywhere they went. Whether they were working with the church ladies in the kitchen, practicing songs with them for the worship time, or relaxing around the domino table late at night, these students were keenly aware of the Cubans they were working among and utterly engaged in their lives. Dr. Elligson predicted there would be lots of tears when the final goodbye was said, and he was right. Friends were made and tears were shed."