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I recently listened in on a conversation with members of the Central Florida MAG group the week after they returned from a joint trip to Holguin, Cuba. I share this story in hopes that the exciting energy from that conversation will serve as a witness to our ECO movement.
It all started after a full day of fellowship and worship at the first Central Florida Mission Affinity Group meeting. Before closing for the day, the question was asked, “What could we do together?” Jeff Winter, Pastor at Haines City Presbyterian Church, stood and somewhat spontaneously remarked that he thought they should do global mission together, and offered to coordinate a trip to Cuba where his church has a mission partner. Before the meeting had ended, a few people were ready to sign up for the trip that wasn’t even planned yet! There was a clear sense of the Spirit stirring amidst the group.
Just a few months later, some pastors and elders from ECO churches in Haines City, Plant City, and Bartow, Florida (plus a few others) traveled to Holguin, Cuba for a short 3-day vision trip. They spent time in worship and fellowship with a network of churches, seeing and experiencing how God is at work. They visited with churches, prayed with pastors, and spent time serving at a local rehabilitation clinic. The trip was like an extension of their MAG group, welcoming these churches in Cuba into their fellowship.
As the group convened to share about the highlights of the experience, the conversation was energizing! “Mission became real” said Pastor Dave Delph of First Presbyterian Plant City, “Not just a brochure, but I could see and hear it for myself.” Amidst the challenges of poverty in Cuba, they had experienced warm hospitality, joyful worship, and true fellowship in the Spirit. They had bonded with Pastor Julio “Jimmy” Freeman, the Cuban pastor who hosted their visit. They had learned from the experience of pastors in Cuba, and they had discovered new friendships with each other.
The experience of traveling and serving together in a different culture created a space and opportunity for genuine fellowship. Though the trip participants did not know each other before arriving at the airport for their flight, they had plenty of opportunities during travel and meals to bond. They admitted that the shared experience of giving up some of their creature comforts for those few days gave them space to bond as they shared protein bars in the back of the van between visits and helped a member of the team with physical limitations. The relationships that formed as a result of their trust in Jeff’s leadership to coordinate the trip, and then as a result, the trust in Pastor Jimmy, their Cuban host, who guided and cared for them during their visit.
When asked about the significance of the experience, Jeff Winter remarked, “It was my first sense in ECO that there was ministry happening together outside of the local church. And that to me is very significant. Where it goes, I don’t know. But at that time, for three days it was very, very rich for me to have the body of Christ represented together in Holguin.”
“Yes, together is better,” Yvette Fox, elder from Haines City commented, and the others nodded in agreement. She went on to say, “Because you can see the unity of the Body of Christ come together…..And we know that it’s pleasing to Him. And that’s just an overwhelming feeling.”
At the end of the conversation, there was a shared agreement that this kind of collaborative mission initiative to Cuba should continue. Each of the three ECO churches committed to discerning a next step for involvement in Holguin, Cuba, but there was also a desire to continue to collaborate across their churches for potential shared projects and to invite others to join. How this will happen is yet to be determined, but hopefully will be a topic of conversation at their next MAG group meeting.
In a later conversation, Jim Hatch, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Bartow remarked, “Do not under-estimate the power of conversation time.” Gospel ministry is about relationships, and relationships take time. Simply being together with one another and with the pastors in Cuba for several days with lots of time to talk and pray was so meaningful.
If you would like to learn more or explore potential MAG mission opportunities, feel free to get in touch with Jen Haddox, Director of Global Engagement. To learn more about the church in Holguin, Cuba contact Jeff Winter.