I always felt that God was calling me to care for people overseas and to do what I can to serve them. My parents came here from Romania so my dad could go to Calvin seminary. We prayed and waited for several years for my parents to get their green card so we could safely travel to other countries and return to the US. In the spring of 2013, I asked dad and mom to make sure that we would be on the list for the next team that goes to Cuba from Hillside. I just felt a real urgency that we should go. They got their green card in time for us to go in the next group from our church to go Cuba! I felt very blessed to have the opportunity to travel to Cuba with a group of people I really enjoyed spending time with. The moment I arrived in Cuba, my heart was filled with a joyful anticipation at the upcoming week. As it was January, the warm breeze and palm trees are a welcome sight. We were greeted by familiar faces and big smiles. We jumped in three vans and traveled for three hours until reaching our destination.
This past trip has been the most special to me. My brother David was able to bring his friends with him, including David Sloterbeek, Chase Bultsma, and Logan Velting from our church. David’s friend from South Christian High School, Luke Beauchamp also came with us. I was joined by my good friend, Alissa VandeVusse from our church, and by Femke Veldhuijzen, a close friend from South Christian High School. Our ESL group was the largest yet to travel with Win Gritter, our church missionary. We had 22 members, half of which were adults. My father, Daniel, was also on the trip with us. His purpose was solely to encourage the pastors and the councils in Cuba to continue to use Alpha as a tool in their community outreach. Win, our team leader, asked my dad to use pictures and stories from Hillside in his sermons in order to show to the Cuban churches what sorts of things we do as we welcome the community and grow into an inviting and welcoming church.
We want to thank you, Hillside Church, one more time for your support because without it we would have never established so many life-changing friendships.
This year I focused on serving Cuba’s people, teaching them English, and most importantly creating strong relationships with them. The young people on our team made so many friends that we still keep in contact with them today through Facebook or by phone. We want to thank you, Hillside Church, one more time for your support because without it we would have never established so many life-changing friendships. After four years of studying Spanish at South Christian, I was able to hold conversations fully in Spanish which led me to really comprehend exactly what I was being told and to let it sink in.
Our ESL experience was different from past ones as the ratio between teenagers to adult students increased greatly. More than a third of our students were within our own age range, and we were able to talk about our own experiences as teenagers from widely different cultures, and our experiences in the Lord. We were able to relate and spend a lot of time with our Cuban friends playing soccer, though Win kept our days very busy! We found time to spend together at lunch, during breaks, and in the evenings. We worshiped in six different churches and every time it was an awesome experience, although their night worship during the week starts at 8 pm and we were really tired by that time. On Wednesday night we worshiped in a church in Calimete and the youth were so excited to have us there that at 10 pm we were still having a drum contest in the church building. Our schedule looked something like this: waking up at 7:00 am with a breakfast of bread and peanut butter. From 8:30-4:00pm, we taught English (the group would be divided into groups of two Americans with three Cubans). Lunch break was at 12:00 when we would eat beans and rice. After classes we would have devotions everyday (we took turns leading). Dinner was at 6:00 and we had rice and root veggies.
Our most fond memories occurred in the town square, a popular hangout for the locals. We found that the activities we did together were not as important as the time we spent with one another. I now have a very close friend in Cuba, a pastor’s daughter. Her name is Maray, and she is the same age and grade as I am. I was her English teacher for the week, and this made our friendship grow stronger. We met four years ago on my first trip to Cuba, and spending so much time together has really strengthened and solidified our friendship. While teaching English, my students taught me more about Cuban life and the hardships gone through by its people. For example, a pair of jeans cost $30 while the monthly salary average is about $20. The cost of food is unbelievably high in proportion to consumers’ salaries. How blessed we are in the States! How blessed I have been to visit Cuba!
I hope to go to Cuba again. I will always cherish the friendships I made there. I rejoice at how God is working in the Cuban church. Thank you for your love and support.
-By Zea Bud