|First church of Winsted
95 North Main Street
Winsted, Connecticut 06098
American Baptist ~ United Church of Christ
|2017 MEXICO MISSION
We had breakfast at 8 am and were picked up at 9 am by the
two vehicles owned by the Cuban Baptist Convention. Rather
than take the highway to the airport, the drivers took us through
parts of Havana rarely seen by tourists. We were at the airport
with plenty of time to check-in (we couldn’t do our check-in
online due to the poor internet connection all day Saturday).
After bidding farewell to Eugenia, Eliud and Karla, we went
checked-in and headed to the immigration and security lines.
flight was scheduled to leave. Shortly after getting settled in the
waiting area, we realized that our flight was going to be delayed
for hours. It gave us some time to reflect on our short stay in
We got to spend a good amount of time with the handyman of
the Baptist Convention. He was very friendly, and I noticed that
wherever we went, he befriended everyone he encountered. In
the afternoon he drove us to Santa Maria, a small village on the
coast about 30 minutes from Havana. He was very protective
of us, watching over our belongings when while we went into the
warm, turquoise water of the Caribbean Sea. Meg spent most
of the time on the beach reading, and after not being successful
in renting a beach umbrella for her (only a very small number
are available) he stood four or five feet up her side to create a
shade for her with his body. Later in the evening, he took us to
his favorite restaurant, which was much less costly and
with much more authentic Cuban food than available near where
we were staying.
The driver obviously had some of my personality in him. I
insisted that our group fill the van with diesel fuel for the
Convention. He had a friend at a gas station who sold him fuel
at a discounted rate, and he drover us over 20 minutes out of
the say to save us some money on the very expensive diesel
Unfortunately, there was an hour and a half wait to get a table
at the restaurant (proof it was really good and really
affordable), so we ended up going to a buffet restaurant that
had a variety of Cuban food. I commented to him that it was a
buffet and at a minimum he needed to go back for seconds. He
explained that his body wouldn’t tolerate him eating a lot. He
explained that for most of his life, he only ate one meal a day.
He said his parents did the best they could, but that they could
only get enough food for dinner. If, by chance, there were
leftovers, the family would have it for lunch. But that rarely
He went on to tell me about the desperation to survive that leads
people to do things that they don’t want to do. And then he
admitted that he knew that we needed to be careful about petty
theft on the beach because at one point in his youth he was the
person we would need to watch out for…. He has turned his
life around. A few years ago, he accepted Christ and has since
been given a job as the Baptist Convention’s handyman. He
loves his job, and it pays the equivalent of US$13 a month,
which is enough for him to not only have dinner, but
also have a roll and a glass of juice for breakfast nearly every
As an American, it is hard to imagine being so grateful to God
for having two meals a day rather than one….
On Saturday, we also had the chance to watch a water truck
deliver water to a restaurant next to the house in which we were
staying. The hose had numerous holes and water leaked all
over the place. As this happened, people suddenly appeared
with buckets to catch the water that otherwise would go down
the drains on the street. One man came and washed his hair
with the water dripping out the back of the truck.
That was hard to watch, but what made it a little easier was the
kindness shown by the truck driver. He didn’t shoo anyone way
from the water truck as might be expected. Instead, he helped
a few children position their buckets in places where they could
get the most water. When I mentioned that to our driver, he
noted that water pressure is so low around the city that each
house or business only gets a small amount of water each day.
And with the new government regulations that allow some
private businesses (most of which cater to tourists), the private
businesses now buy the majority of the available water and
Cuban families can’t buy water even if they had the funds.
On more positive notes, Cubans enjoy a very high level of free
education and have one of the best medical systems available.
We don’t want to delve into politics nor be critical of any
government. There are many in Cuba who are critical of their
own government, and there were those we spoke with who
insist that the economic sanctions imposed by our government
has created enormous suffering for the Cuban people. Only
God knows the true answer. Putting politics aside, for
us, this was an opportunity to see again how we are so
abundantly blessed and how we need to find ways to minister to
Day 7 & 8
Internet keeps going on and off, so we're sending this message
while we can!
1. The adage that it is hot somewhere but everywhere you
go there is air conditioning doesn’t apply to Cuba! It is HOT and
it is hard to get away from the heat during the day.
2. The most important event of Friday was our meeting
with Gabriel Suarez, the coordinator of Baptist mission and
outreach in greater Havana. Because churches cannot
purchase property (unless the church owned the property
before the revolution), his group has planted numerous house
churches in the Metropolitan area. Pastors or lay missionaries
use their homes for places of worship. Most often, they attach
a canvass roof to the side of the house, akin to a carport, to
create an area for worship services, Bible study classes, and
3. We went to an old, worn out building where they
(Pastor Suarez and his wife) recently purchased a home in
center city Havana. Two other pastors and their 2 sons were all
working on the interior when we arrived for a visit. It is truly a
house, and they will live there to comply with laws (it's their
house, not a church). They cannot put up a sign saying it is a
church, and even when we joined together to pray for them and
their ministry, Gabriel's wife closed and locked the front door
and then used the extra chain lock to secure it. She was afraid
someone would see us praying and report them to the
authorities for having a church there. Made us all think a bit
about the religious freedom that we enjoy back at home.
4. On Friday evening, we took a 3 1/2 hour tour of central
Havana on bikes. The sun had just set and the temperature
was beginning to drop, so the ride was both informative and
enjoyable. There are some very beautiful parts of the city, and
as would be normal in any other locations, there were some
areas that were worn and in need of repair.
5. Notwithstanding rumors to the contrary, the only bike without
a back light was not given to Debby Kane because she is the
only person with government health insurance here in Cuba.
She picked the bike. So don't believe anything else....
6. Overall, the Cuban people must be some of the nicest in the
world. They are incredibly tranquil. It is hard to get them mad
at anything. They drive politely (after all, we were a line of a
dozen bicycles driving through streets and boulevards). At
stoplights, cars behind us waited for us to move first. Drivers
moved to the lane furthest away from us, and people on the
sidewalks waved at us and oftentimes said "hello." We were a
bit of entertainment for them....
7. It was an easy 12 mile ride, but we were pretty much worn
out at the end of the ride!
8. Today, Saturday, we met with the pastor of the Iglesia
Bautista La Vibora (the Snake Baptist Church), and his wife.
The church has existed for over 100 years, and therefore has its
own building. Unlike nearly all other pastors, Karell is a full time
pastor. He was a Pediatrician who specialized in the children
needing acute, intensive care. In 1998, while on assignment in
Nicaragua (on the border with Honduras providing medical care
to an indigenous tribe of indians), he felt God was calling him to
be a pastor and to share the Good News with others.
9. He explained that he previously set up house churches,, and
this was his first call to a historical church. He said the church
was challenged because it consists mostly of older adults and
does not attract youth and children. He hopes to help the
congregation find new vitality.
10. We went to buy rolls for lunch from the same bakery we
have frequented since our arrival. The owner explained that
they didn't have any rolls today... He couldn't obtain enough
flour to make them. We're getting used to the fact that you can
have money but you can't necessarily buy what you want or
11. This afternoon, Pastor Karell and another member of his
congregation will take us to Santa Maria, which is on the coast
right outside of Havana. We hear that the coast (beach) is
More to come, including the story of how Mike has turned the
tables on the tourist industry in Havana by selling his water
bottle to a woman vendor who was trying to sell him a t-shirt...
This message has to be short.... Internet connections in Cuba
vary according to the weather and the number of people using
it. Have been trying to get on-line for over two hours without
1. Got the the Merida airport plenty early (I've never been the
13th person to check in for a flight....). Our flight was 25
minutes late in departing (got that message after everyone went
to bed the night before), so we had a leisurely breakfast at the
airport. Flight was very smooth and uneventful.
2. Debby Kane was our designated target for the day and was
sent back from the immigration check point to purchase health
insurance. Theoretically we all are supposed to pay for health
insurance to cover us during our stay, but for some reason (we
are not saying anything about which of us have the healthy glow
and which don't....) Debby was the only one required to buy it.
Saved us a few hundred dollars to not have to buy it!
3. My bad. Meghan was not in yesterday's group photo with
the director of Solyluna. She went back to the hotel with Aleigh
because Aleigh wasn't feeling well. Thanks to Megan for
accompanying Aleigh, and please add Aleigh to your prayer list.
She is resting comfortably here in Havana (the rest of us haven't
done much either, due to the heat...). May have been
dehydration. She was working on the roof, which was the worst
place to be in terms of heat...
4. No pictures because we don't have the bandwidth to send
5. Frank, Barry and I scoured the neighborhood trying to buy
bottled water. Little things we take for granted are issues
here. During the summer months, there isn't enough bottled
water produced to meet demand. We were in a very nice store
that had lots of empty shelves, and not a single bottle of water.
We finally purchased 15 liters from a restaurant where we
purchased pizza and burgers for everyone to have for lunch.
The smartest move I made was to leave the tourists and go into
a restaurant frequented by locals. They only had 2 large pizzas
to sell to me (and Frank called the large size pizza a personal
sized pizza), but that's a reality once again in Cuba. Having
money doesn't mean you can buy stuff, because often there
isn't anything to buy!
6. The people are really nice here. Many asked me if I needed
directions or what I was trying to find. Directions aren't always
reliable, but the conversations were great. Now that I'm not the
First Church pastor, I can admit that no less than 3 ladies, when
told that I was out looking for water for the rest of the group,
invited me into to places for a Mohito. They told me that water
was scarce, and a Mohito would do the job just fine... I don't
even know what a Mohito is... That's my story and I'm sticking
7. We rented the second floor of a person's house instead of
staying at a hotel. Philippe is from Canada, and his wife is
Cuban. They are very nice, and the place is very comfortable.
Later today we'll walk to an open air market filled with things
made by local artisans.
8. We'll be meeting with two pastors. One is the pastor of a
large Baptist church here in Havana. The other is the head of
the Baptist Churches of Eastern Cuba. We hope to learn about
the ministries of the Baptist churches here in Cuba.
Hopefully we'll have a better internet connection tomorrow!
This update will be a little shorter. Received a call from the
company that is going to take us to the airport tomorrow
morning, and they changed our pick-up time from 6:20 am to 5:
25 am. They want to make sure we don't arrive late. Didn't find
out about the change until after I had already told everyone that
we'd be leaving at the later time. Flexibility and a sense of
humor are the most important attributes of the Mission Trip
It was another productive day. We completed everything on
Marian's wish list. The entire exterior of the building was
painted. Aleigh and Brigitte even climbed on the roof to paint
the trim at the top of the building.
On the inside, Marian suddenly realized that there was a wall in
the dining room that really needed a new coat of paint. So our
Mexican friends, Dafne, Enrique, Eugenia, Eliud and Karla took
care of that in under an hour. Frank finished patching holes in
the plaster walls in the entryway, which allowed for the painting
of that area. Debby decided that the ceiling of the main
entrance to the building really needed to be painted, so we also
By 5 pm we had cleaned up and were ready to head off.
Marian had tears in her eyes a couple of times as she thanked
us for all the work that was done. She's a proud Dutch woman
who rarely asks for anything, but she did ask us if we would
return next year. Frank was on board with that idea and spoke
to her about upgrading some of the electrical wiring next year.
The afternoon rains never arrived while we were there, allowing
us to continue working, while at the same time causing the
temperatures to be even higher than the day before. The heat
didn't seem to bother the mosquitoes, and Alex counter no less
than 72 bites all over her body. We had to buy 4 additional
bottles of bug repellent while in Mexico....
When we arrived in the morning, we found the school to be
unusually quiet. We found out that classes had been cancelled.
There was no water in the facility. Turns out that the water
pressure from the public water system has been so low that the
water does not reach the water tanks on the top of the roof.
We decided to pay for a delivery of 1,000 liters of water to the
school. Thanks to Enrique for bargaining down the price from
1,000 pesos to 800 pesos (see, I'm not the only one who lives
We're not sure if we will have access to any Internet connection
while in Cuba. So if there are no postings from Thursday
through Sunday, be assured that the postings will appear once
we get an Internet connection!
Another day of great progress! Although the weather report
finished painting the front fence, which was no easy task
because of the oil-base enamel we used. Last night we sprang
for a couple of boxes of latex gloves to spare our hands. The
team also applied two coats of paint to the concrete wall
underneath the fence, painted the two sides and the back of the
building, and completed over half of the interior wall project.
Eliud, from northern Mexico, has helped a lot with the painting.
In addition to the painting, Frank repaired another screen door
by anchoring the screws holding the frame to the concrete wall.
He was the master mason today, using quick setting plaster to
fill some major holes in the walls. He claimed that he had to
cover his face and head to avoid breathing in the fine powder of
To avoid another international incident (I walked into the staff
restroom when a female staff member was using it...), we
replaced the broken door knob with a new one (with a lock). I
think the investment of 89 pesos (about $5), will really pay off in
Upon our arrival at the school today, we found the boxes of
supplies stored in the office were all wet (including numerous
rolls of paper towels). Due to the heavy rains last night, water
poured into the office through the roof. Hence the urgency of
the sealant project for the roof. Originally we were going to do
the project ourselves; however, after a civil engineer checked
the roof, it was determined that the roof had to be repaired
before sealing it. So we decided to fund the project and allow a
professional to do the work. The roof project should be
completed a few days after our departure.
The art teacher at the school showed me how students help her
to cut colored tissue paper to help her make pinatas. They sell
them to raise funds for the school. Wish we could bring some
home with us, but carrying pinatas isn't feasible.... In a flash
back to our trips with Simply Smiles, we also learned that a
family of one of the children collects empty plastic bottles to
raise enough income to support her family. We had thrown
away many bottles, but now we are saving them for that family.
Given our great progress, we took a short side trip into the
downtown area in the evening to do some shopping. After
dinner at a local restaurant, we called it a day and are
recharging our batteries for a full day of work tomorrow.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, we're sending lots of
pictures from today's activities.
We were greeted by Marian, the founder and director of
Solyluna, upon our arrival at the school. She was pleasantly
surprised by the number of people who were returning for a
second year in a row. She recognized Frank and told him she
was glad he came back because she remembered he was our
resident expert in screen repair, and numerous screens needed
to be fixed or replaced.
Marian then explained to us that this building housed students
from age 12 and up.
As she walked us through the facility, we learned that while the
students learned how to use a bed, was more important to
teach them how to us a hammock, as most people in this part of
Mexico sleep in a hammock to stay cooler.
We also watched a teacher working with a young girl (who to
me appeared to be no more than 8 or 9 years old) and her
aunt. The teacher showed her a picture of herself and asked
who it was. As she gestured in a positive way, the teacher took
her hands and helped the girl to use sign language to say,
"me." Next the girl was shown a laminated card with her name.
The goal was to have the girl recognize her written name and
her own picture.
The yard behind the school is a large garden area, with each
student learning how to grow and care for plants.
After the orientation, our team went to work. Before the paint
for the fence in front of the school arrived, the fence was
scraped and sanded. By the time the paint arrived, one of the
front exterior walls was already painted. The younger members
of the team started painting the poles of the fence one of four
different colors. The before and after photos show how their
work made a huge difference. Marian commented that the first
thing the students see when the arrive is the fence, and she felt
that painting the fence would make the children more excited
about arriving to school each day.
Joining us today from Mexico City were Eduardo, Margarita and
Eddy. Dafne and Enrique, both who also have been supporting
our Mission Trips for years, also joined the team today. So we
were 16 people strong!
Luckily there were some clouds in the sky. The temperature
was in the 90's, the humidity was oppressive, and our team
consumed no less than 24 large bottles (1 1/2 liters each) along
with other beverages throughout the day.
Lunch consisted of our traditional sandwiches. This year, there
were some slight modification, but we started with freshly
baked "bolillos" (french bread). Instead of ham, we had sliced
turkey. Instead of Oaxacan cheese, we had mancheco, another
regional cheese. In addition to tomato and lettuce, the
sandwiches had avocado on them.
Instead of breaking during the hottest time of day, we continued
working until 5 pm. Everyone was exhausted but the first word
out of Marian's mouth when she walked around and looked at
what we accomplished was "fabulous".
The team deserves a shout-out for all they accomplished today.
Their leader, on the other hand, wasn't nearly as productive.
While shaking a partially used 5 gallon container of tomato red
paint, the cover popped off and one of his sneakers, along with
the floor, was covered with the bright red paint.
In the evening, there were heavy rains. lightening and thunder.
We're praying that the rains near the hotel did not reach the
The day started with breakfast at the hotel. Because we were
not working today, after breakfast, we embarked on a three
hour road trip to Rio Largartos, Spanish for "Crocodile River". It
is a sleepy fishing village that was once know for the fact that
there were three flamingos for every human being living in that
We took two boats into an ecological reserve where we saw
lots of flamingos. The group stopped to see a salt pond
between the inland waterway and the Gulf of Mexico. There's a
photo of the group in front of the sign warning people to stay out
of the salt pond due to the high concentration of salt. The salt
from the pond is "harvested" and sold as table salt.
We also enjoyed a Mayan mud bath with mud that is supposed
to work wonders on our skin. We all felt ten years younger after
digging up the mud on a secluded beach and rubbing it over our
bodies. The photo shows Barry digging up some of the mud that
has a high sulfur content.
After holding a horseshoe crab, the group got more daring. We
moved up to baby crocodiles (the rubber band was supposed to
prevent the baby from snacking on one of Brigitte's fingers).
Then the more daring (Aleigh) decided to see whether a full
grown, male crocodile would be bothered if teased with a stick.
On a more serious note, we learned that the crocodile
populations was decimated by hunters who wanted the meat
and skin of those animals. The crocodiles eat the various
animals that live off of flamingo eggs, and then the flamingo
population declined. We visited the "crocodile ranch" where
hundreds of crocs are hatched each year. For every hundred
crocs released into the wild, only two survive. So the crocodile
population is growing once again, albeit very slowly.
Our work plans for the week evolved throughout the day and it
turns out that we won't be sealing the roof of the school building
after all. While pricing out materials for that project, it was
discovered that the roof needs numerous repairs before the
sealant can be applied. We are working with contractors who
can do the job for us, and instead we will focus our efforts on
painting in and around the school.
While we enjoyed our activities today, we're all looking forward
to getting to work tomorrow morning!
After nearly 15 hours on planes and in airports, we arrived to
Merida, a city of about a million inhabitants on the Yucatan
We gathered at Bradley International Airport at 4:30 am, and
I'm happy to report that everyone was there on time (or most
surprisingly, that I was there on time). Chuck and Kayla brought
Laura, so I guess I need to stop grousing about having to be up
that early. We flew to Detroit on a packed flight (they were
soliciting volunteers to take a later flight), and walked from one
terminal to another, arriving just in time to start boarding the
flight to Mexico City. That flight had many empty seats, so
everyone got to spread out.
The award for sleeping the least on the trip to Mexico goes to
Barry, the newest member of our Team. Frank garnered the
award for falling asleep as soon as the plane. Each year one or
two of our team members are the designated for additional
security, and this year it was Aleigh and Laura. Because of
their sacrifice at security, not a single piece of our luggage had
to be inspected as we cleared customs formalities.
As was the case last year, Hertz did not have our rental vehicle
when we arrived. Last year it was because there weren't any
vehicles available; this year it was because "someone"
cancelled my reservation on July 1st. They had plenty of cars
and offered to rent me a vehicle at 4 times the original
reservation cost, saying that my AAA discount wasn't valid
unless I reserved the car a day in advance. So rather than deal
with that, we all took a large shuttle bus to the hotel. On the
way, we befriended the driver, who offered to return an hour
later in a smaller vehicle and take us to Costco (where else do
you go immediately after landing in a foreign country?!?).
A team did the shopping and picked up 2 Costco chicken
Caesar salads and 2 Costco pizzas for dinner. We were all too
tired to go out to a restaurant. We also bought enough drinking
water to fill a swimming pool (today was the coolest day of the
week at nearly 90 degrees today with 92% humidity upon our
arrival). Hard work is an integral part of our routine, but so is
junk food. So included in today's buy was a carton of chocolate
bars, a very large box of assorted chips and snack foods, and a
box of assorted, individual packs of cookies. Debby claims that
she won't be eating an of the cookies, and we think there is a
higher probability that the temperature will drop into the low
sixties this week here in Merida....
We had lunch at the Mexico City International Airport with
friends who have, for years, supported our mission trips in the
background. They have a 5 year old son, Eddy, who went
around the table stamping each of our hands with a Cars ink
stamp. They surprised us and let us know that they were flying
to Merida Sunday, and that they would join us on our work
project on Monday.
The director of the school for disabled children did not want us
to work on Sunday (we offered to that so that we could get
more done). So we plan on meeting for breakfast and then
going to Rio Largarto (Crocodile River), some 3 hours from
Merida by van.
At 10 pm this evening three people from northern Mexico joined
us for the week. Karla (age 13), her brother, Eluid (age 21) and
their mother all met members of our Mission Trip Team years
ago when we visited Saltillo. They were intrigued by our mission
trip and have wanted to join us for some time.
Everyone will sleep well tonight, and in fact, I'm certain that they
are already asleep!