People Play Major Role in Doctor of Ministry Cuban Immersion

Reflection from Dr. John Park, Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program

(l to r) John Park, Christy Ridings, Cuban Pastor and spouse, Jay Thornton, Richard Ashley, Gary Snowden


I was supposed to go to Cuba with 2017 cohort last year, but I couldn’t because my U.S. passport wasn’t ready 90 days prior to the trip due to my naturalization process. [Dr. Park, who is originally from South Korea, became a US citizen last year.] This year I was ready. I sharpened my Spanish skills, read here and there about Cuba, and reviewed my class notes. I knew it was going to be a great trip, but it was unequivocally better than I imagined. When I reflect on the trip, people played the major role: the interpreter, my students, and the pastors and their congregations.

Rev. Dr. Gary Snowden was an excellent interpreter, a good travel companion, and a good pastor who was immeasurably committed to God’s kingdom and Cuban Christians. A well-experienced missionary and a pastor who had been to Cuba a few times before our trip, Gary helped us communicate with Cuban sisters and brothers, helped me deliver two messages, and incarnated what a good missionary would look like. His Spanish skills, coupled with relational skills, became a model for me to emulate.

My three students, seasoned ministers themselves, bonded with one another, reached out to Cuban sisters and brothers, and explored Cuba. The reading, writing, and discussions prior to the trip informed, enlightened, and prepared them for the trip. I was impressed with their maturity, sensitivity, and their desire to learn and adapt. Although the trip was quite different from any previous trips on which Central’s values of inclusion and hospitality were manifested, they adapted and learned what they could learn and ministered to the Cuban pastors in a way that encouraged and strengthened them.

The Cuban ecclesial leaders we met reminded me of the first century disciples of Christ. Their lives were simple in that their time was not divided between ministry time and non-ministry time. Their whole life was a gospel life. They were gospel-fluent, meaning gospel saturated whatever they did. As the DMin scholars all agreed, the Cuban pastors were not only leaders of their congregations, but they were also leaders of the community to which their churches belonged. The greetings and interactions between these pastors and community members were authentic and caring. Their genuine interest in and love for the members of the community, whether they are Christian or not, made me think about how I see my community in Overland Park, KS.

Leadership has a lot to do with the context. Without context, leadership is empty and useless since leadership doesn’t take place in a vacuum. The Cuban pastors were thriving in their Cuban context with their simple life for the sake of the Gospel. The life with a laser-sharp focus and the power of the gospel has spoken volumes about how the Cuban churches and pastors are doing, and it was very encouraging to me and all those present. My prayer is that all of us will be more Gospel-fluent and living with the resurrection power of Jesus so that we can all thrive in our ministry and life.

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