The immersion trip to Cuba had a profound impact on my ongoing thinking about ministry. While the trip was not intended to coincide with this class, I believe that it was fortuitous. The Cuban leaders that we were privileged to meet, are practitioners of Design thinking. They may not possess the vocabulary of the design thinker, because design thinking has flourished in the universities, think tanks, and corporations of capitalist North America. What we saw and heard suggests design thinking as a core component of their ministry praxis. Each member of the cohort identified and commented on some aspect of design thinking practiced by the Cuban pastors. These pastors do not have shiny new buildings that seat hundreds or thousands of people or own large endowments or even air conditioning. What they do have is creative confidence. These pastors have unswerving confidence in the God of Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel, the God of our Savior Jesus Christ. Their confidence was inspiring. Watching these pastors take a paucity of resources and work with them in a creative fashion shatters all complaints of entitled Americans. These individuals remind me of what the Apostle Paul said about himself:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
They took the concept of the cell group and adapted it to a Cuban context. This adaptation was a response to political repression and the lack of resources. The cell group strategy was a creative/adaptive response which has promoted the growth and flourishing of the faith across the island. The struggles of the Cuban Churches can only be contrasted to the struggles of American churches. Their struggles are similar in many cases, but the scale in which they exist is staggering. This is not to belittle the struggles of Americans, particularly in communities of color. The Cubans do not have the gun violence which plagues the churches of color, but they do have an underground economy which is fueled by criminal activity and tolerated by corrupt government officials. The Cuban immersion is instructive of what can be done with few dollars and meager resources. The reality is that the African American community, as well as other communities of color, have more resources and money than our Cuban sisters and brothers, yet these brothers and sisters deploy their resources in extraordinary, communitarian ways.
I was also inspired by the Cuban celebration of the small church or mission cell group, unlike the American obsession with bigness. Americans often associate small with failure. In Cuba small was seen as effective and powerful. Church planting in Cuba was effective because a cadre of well trained, highly motivated persons were able to discern what God was doing in the surrounding community. This cadre joined God in the community and, with small numbers, exerted strong Christian influence without being obnoxious or condescending. These pastor and mission leaders don’t restrict themselves to the “church house” but serve the entire community. These women and men provide an excellent model of what ministry can look like in struggling, hurting, and abandoned communities in North America. Cuba immersion allowed me to see what “missional” truly means.