Name: Elizabeth Exposito
In the eight years since Elizabeth and her husband planted a church in their small community in Holguin, Cuba, they have seen broken families come to know Jesus and be restored, women who have been abused and discriminated against regain their purpose and joy in God, and children begin to be raised up as strong men and women of God.
“When Christ comes into any family, the family changes and then the community changes,” Elizabeth says.
Eight years ago, Elizabeth and her husband planted a church because they knew that there was a high need in the area. Many families in the community are affected by alcoholism, violence and abuse. Many children are poor and in need of basic necessities. Elizabeth’s ministry has been able to have an impact by loving and caring for people and preaching the gospel.
The entrance to the church property is a steep curving stone driveway. On the left is the front of Elizabeth’s home, with steps to a porch, lush trees and bushes, and vines growing in the front yard. The driveway continues past the house into a large back property, where you can see the wash house on the left, the well straight ahead, and the open-air church auditorium on the right. There is a large undercover eating area, wash station and large mango trees.
It’s hard to believe that when Elizabeth and her husband arrived eight years ago, the site where they built their church and home was a garbage dump and a hub for criminals to come and meet. But they started cleaning it up and things began to change. They dug a well and found clean water for the community to use. They also support a small medical clinic on the property.
They have an evangelist ministry, they walk the streets and invite people. They help and support poor families with their necessities.
Church services are on Sundays and Wednesdays when Elizabeth and her husband preach, and about 70 to 80 people attend. Every Sunday they provide a meal for everyone at church.
“God has been working in the community. People’s lives are being transformed,” says Elizabeth.
One prominent woman in the community is dedicated to Santería (a religion that combines ethnic African traditions with Roman Catholicism). Elizabeth has been able to grow a relationship with her to the point that the woman defends the church among people in the community and when she needs advice and counselling, she goes to Elizabeth.
It’s situations like these – examples of God at work in people’s lives – that are the reason Elizabeth does everything she does.
What is next for Elizabeth and her community?
Elizabeth says she has a lot of dreams in her heart for the church and the community. There are many kids who go to school without breakfast. Elizabeth would like to offer breakfast two or three times a week and she also wants to develop her ministry with women. Ultimately, Elizabeth will do whatever she can to reach people with the gospel in her community.
Name: Lidys Nuvia Fajardo Hernández
Role: Children’s Ministry Director
Lidys lives in a small town in North-East Cuba. She is the Children’s Ministry Director at her church, as well as one of the main volunteer musicians for Saturday services.
The challenge of working with the children in her community is that almost 80% of the parents are not Christians and there is a lot of illegal activity that goes on. The children are sometimes involved in illegal things or have family members who are in jail and that comes with challenges.
Lidys says she works through those challenges by praying a lot and trusting God. Her motivation and encouragement often come through the children themselves. “The children are very smart and willing to learn. They really try to obey us. They’ll tell us experiences that they have at home and we try to help them,” she says.
Since she was young, Lidys has loved children. When she was 15 years old, she started volunteering with the kids at church with a friend. They took courses in order to become better teachers and since then, the children’s ministry at her church has grown from about 15 children to 50. There are many children who are not from Christian homes and so the Children’s Ministry has a big impact on the community.
Lidys has been able to develop connections and relationships with the parents of the community to the point that non-Christian parents will come to her for advice and for help with their children. In turn, she works with them and preaches the gospel to them.
Name: Rubeldis Matos Fuentes
Rubeldis lives in a remote mountain village, which takes a hike to get to. It’s a backcountry community. People there are hard workers. They work a lot which can sometimes lead to high stress and can become a destructive lifestyle. It’s also a community with a lack of recreational opportunities so people have a tendency to drink.
Yet, Rubeldis says, “praise the Lord because it is a community that has a Christian culture. In almost every home there is at least one Christian person.”
Rubeldis is a Pastor to his community. He sees himself as “responsible for inspiring and encouraging, not only in church and devotional, but also an influence for the community. It’s a responsibility before God, my family, the church and the community.”
He does Bible teaching and programs every week, including small groups, community outreach, Bible studies, visiting community members, fasting and praying together as a church, and Sunday school.
Rubeldis says that his church community tries to reflect service in every aspect of their lives. “That is what the Lord has taught us to do,” he says. “The son of man didn’t come to be served but to serve others and to give his life for many, Mark 10:45.”
Rubeldis became a Christian in 2003, and he remembers it very clearly. It was a Wednesday at 7:00pm. He was 14 years old. A new Christian invited him to a church service so he decided to go.
It was not so much about the message that he heard that day but more about the spiritual work going on inside him. That day there was a baptism class which he attended. He says, “it’s something I cannot explain. What I do remember is the baptism class was about the Nicodemus story and it had to do with spiritual rebirth. It was unforgettable.” He was baptized shortly after the baptism class. Rubeldis jokes that he raced ahead to the finish, as the apostle Paul says.
Since then, everything about his life has changed. His mom is now a Christian as well and he prays that his father will also become a Christian and be set free in Christ.
Name: Maricel Barrientos Rodrìgez
Role: Children’s & Women’s Minister
Maricel lives and works in a community in Santiago de Cuba – one of the main cities in Cuba. Most of the children in Maricel’s community do not come from Christian homes which provides an amazing opportunity to reach parents through their kids.
Maricel became a Christian when she was 18 years old. She was dating a boy who attended church and she had a few friends who also attended. As she spent time with those people in her life she began to see a difference between their lives and the world’s lives. She wanted to have that kind of life.
She says, “meeting God has helped me face many challenges. If he was not in my life I wouldn’t know what to do.”
When Maricel lost her job two years ago, she took the opportunity to serve in ministry full time. Now she is the Children’s Minister at her church and works alongside ten volunteer teachers. The thing she loves the most is when kids learn their Bibles and talk to their parents about what they’ve learned.
Maricel says, “working with children is emotional and beautiful. Children are very sincere and spontaneous.”
Maricel runs a “happy hour” with the children in the community and parents are invited to come and connect. She also organizes different classes for parents, Christian and non-Christian. She leads a group of women who pray for the children, and she leads a community group. And yet, Maricel says that lately, God has been teaching her that she needs more commitment.
Her goal is to teach the children to know the gospel better in order that they grow up to be women and men of God.
“I always say that the children’s ministry is one of the most important ministries of the church because children are the present and the future. And whatever you teach them, that will define their Christian lives in the future,” she says.