Spring 2019 Update: Geopolitics intervenes...

The Port of Santiago. Being used to seeing everything old, battered and decaying… Santiago was a culture shock with an area that actually had cash infusion to promote Cuba. It was a small area of the City though. Outside of the port and main plaza area downtown- it looks just like the other places in Cuba that seriously need help.

The Port of Santiago. Being used to seeing everything old, battered and decaying… Santiago was a culture shock with an area that actually had cash infusion to promote Cuba. It was a small area of the City though. Outside of the port and main plaza area downtown- it looks just like the other places in Cuba that seriously need help.

Unless you are in the middle of backpacking the Appalachian Trail and off the grid, you are aware of the current Geopolitical tensions surrounding Trump, Venezuela’s Maduro and indirectly- the Cuban Government. As a result, additional restrictions related to the Helms-Burton act (Embargo) are being enacted. One of these is travel to Cuba by American Citizens. Knowing that the Tourism industry in Cuba is a major source of generating millions of dollars… as it’s under the control of the Cuban Military, the US Government travel rules specific to Cuba are tightening- with intentions of cutting off precious tourist dollars flying or cruising in from the US.

We have yet to see the official restrictions, but the word in Cuba is that tourist visas including the one I qualify to use- is being restricted to possibly one trip per year- if at all. If so, my recent May trip is possibly my last for 2019. This can impact whether or not airlines will continue flying to certain airports that allows me to get where I need to serve. We will see where that goes as the new restrictions become official and are announced.

Because of this, I have requested all donors to suspend their donations for the time being, because my travel is being reduced, our budget needs are reduced as well. We have enough in the account to cover another trip and necessary ministry expenses. Since we are still sponsoring the D2S Coordinator- Ayler- who can continue providing ministry on behalf of D2S while I remain in the US… remaining funds in our account will continue to be well spent to support the ministry work of D2S whether I am there or not.

There is a second factor in play that is impacting Christians in Cuba. I’m sharing so you can see the big picture. The Cuban Government recently went through a revision to their Constitution, now that Raul Castro has stepped down as President. Their government made it abundantly clear to the world that feedback from their citizens is being considered regarding the new constitution. In the end, they put the new constitution up for a vote. While it passed, the Christian churches and their members resoundingly voted NO against the constitution. Why? It legalized gay marriage. While they believe in the biblical definition of marriage between a male and female, and make it clear they respect people having their own choices… they don’t believe it should be codified as part of the constitution. I’ll leave it at that.

Instead of just accepting the fact that it passed, the government instead opted to punish the Christian churches and their members. Yes. in the words of one of the Pastors- they are being persecuted for voting according to their beliefs against what the government put forth- despite the Government allowing them the right to vote. Religious Visas across the board are being denied to Foreign Missionaries. Ministry activities by christians are being subtly sabotaged. Harrassment is up. Fortunately, because I have always traveled on a Tourist Visa, what I did for the most part, flew under the radar, including all the ministry materials I brought into the country. (Side note: Church Pastors & leaders share that a common practice for foreign evangelists or missionaries with Religious visas- their luggage has usually been flagged and most ministry materials were confiscated by Cuba customs agents. That is why I choose a tourist visa).

The timing of this is interesting. Just read the D2S updates from the last two years. We started D2S being prompted by a prayer out of Guantanamo. I have gone down and spend much time meeting with pastors, deaf ministry leaders, interpreters and the Deaf themselves in Cuba to learn what I can about them, how they do ministry, what their needs are, the educational and comprehension levels of the deaf in various areas of Cuba. We were able to determine and find ministry materials that seemed to be the most appropriate way for the deaf ministries to teach and share the gospel with the deaf- as resources are non-existent given their technological limitations & realities. We were able to test out different ways to teach that FITS in Cuba and I was able to share best practices used by deaf ministries in other countries that have more access.

I am glad to share that after a number of months of use, the Deaf Ministries have said those materials we have brought down actually work GREAT! Feedback from the Deaf confirms it as they share that they are so happy to have the kind of materials that supplement the teaching the church does- and these specific visual aids are helping them understand much more clearly- as one deaf person said- it makes the gospel story more meaningful to them. Light bulbs have come on. There are more Ahh! moments.

The sense I get is that the original mission I felt prompted to answer has been met. We even went further by expanding into outlying communities and Baracoa. Does that mean D2S is done? Not really. We will still sponsor Ayler as a missionary in Cuba as part of D2S- even if it becomes something we personally take on ourselves. At this time there are many unknowns and we have to play by ear. If the situation allows me to return at least once a year, I can do that- bringing additional ministry materials and funds down to continue to help other deaf ministries in other communities better share the gospel with the Deaf.

If the situation is such that Americans (with no Cuban family connections) are no longer able to travel to Cuba, I feel good with what we have done so far. The heavy lifting is done. Now we are in maintenance mode. Your support has made it possible in allowing us to meet the needs of and bless a deaf community that is woefully underserved and neglected- because they are different from just about everyone else.

january-May update

Workshops by D2S Coordinator- Ayler presented a few bible teaching workshops to the Deaf in Baracoa over the past few months. These are the same presentations that were given to the Guantanamo deaf community last year.

Interpreter Training Workshop- In May, Mike presented a workshop on Inclusion in working with the Deaf for the Baracoa area interpreters. It was very well attended and the response was very positive. The Baracoa Church is interesting compared to Guantanamo. In Guantanamo, most of the young adults have opted to be part of the Church’s music program, choir. So having available interpreters to help out is a challenge for them. Baracoa… for some reason has a less robust music program. Instead, most of the young adults are very interested in serving in the deaf ministry as interpreters and teachers. Take a look at the pictures of the workshop- Even the US Churches with Deaf ministries will be impressed!

Ministry Material Evaluation- Since delivering Felt Bible Story boards to Baracoa last January, we were able to see it in use as they have been using it the past few months. We were able to see the results and the response from the deaf. During this workshop given by the Deaf Ministry leaders, the interpreters from various local churches participated to learn how the story boards were used with the deaf, and we were able to give advice in its presentation (proper lighting, good visual lines for the deaf to see, etc.)

Home Visits- We visited the homes of Deaf members of the churches in Baracoa and a couple in Maisi. This allows us to encourage their faith walk, get to know them on a one on one basis and better understand how they live, their needs, challenges, and language abilities.

Connecting with Maisi Church/Deaf Ministry- We had the opportunity to meet with the Pastor of the Maisi church as well as the leader of the deaf ministry. We had a pretty good idea what ministry materials they might need, so we were able to provide them with things they can use to help teach the gospel to their deaf community.

Met with Church Pastor Leadership- We did not only meet with the pastors of the churches we served, we also met with the Baracoa Regional President of the Baptist Convention to share what D2S has been doing. The Baracoa pastor explained what we have done in collaboration with their deaf ministry and as a result, that President/Pastor is interested in having D2S serve their Church in Baracoa. These two pastors also filled us in about the current situation in Cuba that I explained in the opening of this update. We also had an opportunity to meet and speak with the President of the Baptist Convention for all Cuba while we were waiting at the airport. Again, explained what D2S is doing and he was very appreciative and happy with what we were able to do- considering the situation with the Government vs the Christian churches.

upcoming ministry activities

This is where I would usually tell you what our future plans are for the next trip…. In light of all the changes mentioned in the beginning, we are in a wait-and-see mode. In the meantime, Ayler will continue to work with current deaf ministries and reach out to new ones that hear what D2S has done, and possibly provide workshops and ministry materials we still have in Cuba, if appropriate. She will also get more involved in assisting Kaita (Guantanamo Church Deaf Ministry Leader) working with their very busy youth ministry program.

Mike Ver Velde