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🇺🇸 Here we are again to first of all greet the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and our brothers and sisters with grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (2nd Timothy 1:2).
So this is the post most of you had been expecting and all of us have been eager to share, but which took us quite a while to finally publish. We have so much to share we sometimes struggle as to where to begin with.
Let me go back and say that we had an amazing trip heading south from Ragged Island (in the south of the Bahamas) to Vita (in the northeast of Cuba). It took us no more than 11:30 hours to get there, and the weather was nice from beginning to end (except for the very first 25 minutes when it was dark and cloudy and rain was seen approaching, though it never reached us). We could sail most of the way, sometimes with the help of the engine to make it faster and, more importantly, possible for us to arrive while we still had sunlight. We could fish a bit; and were quite intrigued when we caught a fish that was, while being reeled into the boat, bitten by what seemed to be a quite bigger fish, and had part of its body severed from the rest. We felt a bit of a disappointment for a while because it was really a big fish. Some of us had wanted so much to get a big one… But we eventually realized God will always give us the exact amount of food we need!!! He is our only provider and will never fail us. We didn’t need a big fish then, and He knew it. We needed fish just for that meal… that day – and that’s what we were given!! So, we gratefully went on enjoying that tasty lunch the LORD had so graciously provided!
While still heading South, for quite some time we could use most of our sails, and that is how we got to Vita. Just a little before entering the canal, we decided to put all the sails down and finish the trip with the engine alone. Everything went on smoothly and we praised God in so many occasions we feel over-blessed when bringing it back to mind!
I look back and I recall in my heart that I prayed to God asking Him for rain. I specifically yearned for a rain shower which could literally wash out all the sand and salt on the deck… but I also desired that said rain to come after anchoring, for obvious reasons. I lack words to express how loved I felt when, needles to say, the rain shower I had anticipated in my heart finally came and washed the boat clean on the outside, just after we had anchored. God is amazing! We rested that evening and were ready to go through all customs and immigration procedures the next morning.
(click on each picture to see the caption)
Everything is very bureaucratic in Cuba. The extreme orient even more so due to its proximity to the “Windward Passage” (a strait which is between the easternmost region of Cuba and the northwest of Haiti). We received the very same visits we did the last time we docked in Cuba (April 2017), which also included the visit of the search party with its search dogs. All this was no news to us. We were expecting it; and it went on smoothly… till the moment when one of the dogs, after waiting out in the heat for the procedures to be over, and having no water to refresh itself for that while, started barking at something in the boat. If I go on explaining in details all that happened that morning it’ll make this post even longer and more tiring. So I’ll cut short and just say we had to disassemble part of the ceiling inside the boat so they could search more thoroughly, making sure the dogs hadn’t missed anything while searching inside… and finally coming to the conclusion, after an hour or so, that there wasn’t really anything to worry about at all, and allowing us to go ashore. This much ado, of course, brought over to the boat the visit of their special squad… all along though, we knew where God was leading us to, and we just waited patiently and prayed for the lives of those who were inside the boat that very moment.
Why? Let me tell you something you may not know about us: one of the things we understand God wants from us ever since we started sailing as missionaries is that we need to pray for the life of whoever He brings our way or into His boat (which we were granted the blessing to use while serving Him), and share with every single soul while onboard, whether willing to hear or not, the good news of Jesus Christ. Not a single soul has left the boat without having been introduced to, or heard more about Jesus. Of course, I have to add also that the results of this sharing varie and we are not always granted the blessing of seeing how God’s Word works its way into the person’s life, through His Holy Spirit.
People sometimes have the false impression that they hold control over things when they do not. None of us have control over anything, to make myself clearer. We may think we do. We may even believe what we think… but the truth is: we do not. What we do know is that God is sovereign over everything and that in Him all things are held together (Colossians 1:15-17). Also, we know for sure His plans are always for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28. Read also Jeremiah 29:11-13). I’m telling you this because what happened afterwards could have made us a little disappointed and discouraged, if it weren’t for HIS promises – which we brought to mind and held fast to. We were told none of the things we had brought to help the community in Vita (that is the water pump some of you helped us get and which would help the community clean their very own drinking water; the water filter, toiletries, and clothes) could be taken off the boat. When we told them we didn’t mind paying the due fees and were ok with it because we just wanted to take to our brothers and friends the things we had gathered during the previous 11 months and brought with us, the answer was NO. No gift was ever to leave the boat, no pump, no filter… whether new or second-hand… whether we payed the fees or not… the answer was NO. They stated it was a new nation-wide rule which prevented them from allowing things to leave the boat. If we had arrived via airplane, though, things would have been different. That rule only applied to boaters.
Before I go on, it is important to share that during the months it took us to sail down to Cuba, God was working in our lives in a very specific way. Curiously enough, we kept bumping into bible studies, passages and verses regarding AUTHORITY… we prayed a lot concerning this and we understood God wanted to teach us more about it (all the way from Cocoa (Florida – USA) to Vita (Cuba)… from November/17 to March/18). We know God says in His Word that all authority is established by the LORD and is subjected to His power and His authority (Romans 13:1). We also learned that God asks obedience of His followers. And we know one of the ways we can honor God is respecting the authority under which we are placed. So, the same way we have to respect the deadlines given by the US government for us to leave the country when the granted amount of months authorized by them is expiring, we have to respect the rules of whatever country we are in. If you live in the USA for example, and can drive there because “you are already 16”, for instance, you will not be able to drive in the Bahamas because “you are only 16”. The same way, if I arrive in Cuba with gifts and whatever else I bring with me, with the intention of sharing all that with my friends there, and am told I’m not allowed to do it – I won’t do it! Sounds too extreme? Should I take risks? More importantly, will I be honoring God if I disrespect that law? Will I be giving the authorities a good impression of what a Christian should be when I’m defying and rebelling against their law? Don’t I trust God is in control no matter what? Haven’t I seen over and over again that God is not limited by our laws? His power and authority and sovereignty put every plan but His to the ground. Have I no faith? Will I have to lie? Will I have to cheat or disobey or rebel? Wouldn’t it be maybe a bit of pride and presumption, then, to think my plans would turn out better? I wouldn’t then be waiting for the Spirit to work but acting myself according to my own will and understanding (pause… reflexion. Proverbs 3:5-8 says “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”)… We knew the answer to all these questions. We had been taught them all that while so we could apply them right there and then. This way we would be not only honoring God, but witnessing to our first Ministry (which is our kids), to the authorities there, and to the community, as well. If it had been you there, I’m not sure what you would have done and I’m not sure I want to know what that would have turned out to be like. What I know is God was teaching “us” about authority, and it was time “we” showed Him what we had learned by then. So, we prayed. I cried. I was desolate for a while for not being able to give them all those things… I was sad. I had no idea what I was going to tell them. Some of them were already expecting us to bring so many blessings… what a hard lesson it was to us all. But I have come to understand after some studying, and praying and reading the Word, that there are two ways you can behave as having once understood the authority of our LORD in your life: you can act in obedience as a love response to God; or you can act in rebellion as a proud response to HIM. It is as simple as that… though it is so hard to accept. It was time to love God, then, by obeying Him.
But going back to Cuba, let me just say that God worked things out in such way His plans were not frustrated, but followed. Not entirely as “we” had planned it, not entirely as it would have been pleasing to “us”, or to the community; but according to His good and perfect will and purpose. To Him alone be all glory. We hope we can share more of it when we have the chance to go and talk to some of the brothers and sisters in the small groups that so willingly receive us and grant us some time to share God’s Word, or the Wednesday prayer meetings when we are allowed to speak and share, or even the 5-10 minutes we sometimes are granted on a Sunday morning when we are able to show a bit of what God has been doing.
For now, though, let me keep this post as it is and simply pray the LORD will guide me to finish it in a way that would honor Him, and guide you to read and understand it the way He intends you to.
The very same day we arrived and went through the procedures and all the searches and talks… as soon as we were released (respecting all the rules and curfew given us), we were finally able to leave the marina and go see our friends, our dear brothers and sisters in Vita. Being with them for those 2 weeks allowed us to share all this, allowed us to bless their lives in ways we had not anticipated, and allowed us to be so richly blessed with the fellowshipping and the instruction of the Lord through the visiting of small groups and services held in our brothers’ houses and the church, respectively. In the pictures I’m sharing, you’ll be able to see God in action there in Vita as we shared meals with them, fellowshipped in the church, celebrated Palm Sunday and had the blessing to be a channel of blessings to them, as you, who have sent us, have prayed for.
(click on each picture to see the caption)
God’s plans never fail. Our plans may. But he is God, and we are not!May His plans always prosper. May we learn to trust His sovereignty in every situation.
May we take pleasure and delight in His will. May we honor Him with an obedient life…May His name be exalted always.
I’ll finish the post by assuring you we always pray for you who send us. We pray for you who support us in prayer and who bless us with resources that we receive with so grateful hearts. We go on praising the Almighty God for your lives, brothers and sisters, and over you we pray God will go on manifesting His presence, that He will take care of you, guide you and bless you. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2nd Corinthians 13:14).
Helena, with Ricardo, Juca and Mari