Filter of Hope: Cuba 2023
Jacob and I spent a week in Havana towards the end of October on a short-term mission trip with Filter of Hope. This was our second Filter of Hope trip and first time in Cuba. Filter of Hope provides water filters to people who don’t have safe drinking water and then shares the Gospel of Christ. Filter recipients are chosen by a local church who will do follow up with everyone who receives a water filter. My first impression of Cuba is that I’d entered an episode of The Twilight Zone. You really do see old cars everywhere, but most people are on their smart phones like everywhere else I’ve been in the world.
Havana is a crowded city with most buildings predating the revolution and looking like they haven’t seen much maintenance since. There is often water in the streets because the water mains are frequently failing. No one drives very fast because there are chuck holes everywhere. Most families live in apartments that are tiny by U.S. standards. The main room is usually only large enough for three or four chairs and a very small table. Kitchens looked to be the size of a walk-in closet or small laundry room. It was common to see the refrigerator in the main room rather than in the kitchen. It didn’t appear that people had air conditioning. It was on the warm side in late October; I hate to think what it is like in July or August without AC.
I heard the following joke at least twice from our translators. “Q: Why don’t you ever see a Cuban on the TV show Survivor? A: They don’t allow professionals.” We were cautioned that we didn’t need to pack nice clothes because of the poverty. However, I felt like most people we saw were very stylish. Houses are painted vibrant colors, but most are faded as it has probably been decades since they last saw a fresh coat. There are long lines at every gas station as people wait to buy their one tank per week at $6/gallon. It was sad the number of people who could not read. Not from a lack of ability, but because of their eye sight. Someone in our group brought a large number of cheap readers so that we could give them to people who had difficulty reading the small print of the New Testaments we were handing out. I think a few people were more excited about the reading glasses than the filter.
Our group stayed in a “house” in Havana that has been renovated to host groups of tourists. There were multiple small apartments with 1-3 bedrooms and a bathroom. There was a large communal dining area on the roof. We ate all but one of our meals there. I wonder how people can have the courage to remodel a place to rent to tourists. I believe the government owns all the property, so in theory you could spend a lot of money on renovations in hopes of renting “your” house to tourists and then have the government kick you out because they want someone else to have it. Cue the theme music for The Twilight Zone.
The area where we distributed water filters is called Central Havana, but it is some distance from the historic area near the harbor where most tourists spend their time. Fountain of Life Church is in a building that looks fairly modern and has been recently renovated. Most churches in Cuba are historic and predate the ’59 Revolution by decades and in a few cases centuries.
We visited with people in their homes giving out water filters and sharing the gospel. There were generally three of us from the U.S., an interpreter and a representative from the church. We would start by installing a water filter, demonstrating how it works and how to clean it. The filters are capable of treating 250 gallons per day and will last 10 years if cleaned daily. Most people said they had to boil their water to make it safe to drink. The average Cuban only makes about $30 per month so the cost of natural gas or electricity to boil water is a significant expense. People were very excited about no longer needing to boil their water to make it safe to drink.
We then transitioned to sharing the gospel. The water filter provides a very visual analogy. During the filter demo, we put dirt into the water bucket so that people can see that the filter actually works. We often get startled expressions when we fill the first cup of water filtered from a bucket of muddy water and then drink it. Some people will actually try to stop you from drinking. When we clean the filter, the back wash is very dirty.
When presenting the gospel people almost always acknowledge that there is sin in their lives, but frequently say that they believe that they will go to heaven because they are good or do good things. So we hold up the cup of dirty water that has been flushed out of the filter when we cleaned it and then hold a cup of clean filtered water next to it. We explain that God can not abide any sin and then pour a little of the clean filtered water into the cup of dirty water and ask “is this water now clean enough to drink?” They get the point that no amount of “good works” will remove sin.
There are two families that I am still thinking about. First is a grandmother named Mercedes. She lives by herself in a ground floor apartment and her adult daughter, Yara, lives on the second floor with her husband and young daughter. She is a practitioner of Santeria which is a synthesis of Catholicism mixed with the worship of African pagan idols. Mercedes listened attentively to our Gospel presentation and at the end agreed that God and Jesus were supreme, but would not accept Christ as her Savior because she knew she would have to give up her idols.
I found it so sad that she could say she understood God’s plan of salvation yet reject it because she thinks a couple of inanimate dolls are actually gods who are doing something for her. I’ve wondered if this is an example of Blaise Pascal’s idea that there is God-shaped hole in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing. But she has tried filling that hole with these idols and she thinks that they will do anything she wants for her because they belong to her and no one else.
The other family lived just around the corner from the church. Ulises and his wife Suselle have a teenage daughter. He is the administrator of a hospital’s cancer department. Ulises’ 89 year old mother, Betsy who was one of the few believers that we met, also lives with them. Ulises and Suselle knew about God and Jesus, but thought the reason they would go to heaven is because they do good things and are good people. After the demonstration of pouring some of the clean water into dirty, Ulises and Suselle understood that they couldn’t earn their way to heaven. I then asked them to read several passages from the Bible.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23
But God demonstrates His own love for us by this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God- not by works Ephesians 2:8-9
Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me. John 14:6
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9
I didn’t have to say much after that. They understood God’s plan and gift of Salvation and were ready to ask Christ to be their Savior. As someone who is not in full-time ministry, I usually feel like I need to explain the Bible. When in reality, if someone is open to God’s message, what the Bible says is more powerful than anything I can say. I have a new appreciation of the power of God’s Word.
A fun side story to Ulises and Suselle was that we were able to give Betsy both a large print Bible and a pair of +3.25 reading glasses. She was so excited to be able to read the Bible again!
The couple who led this group have been to Cuba three or four times in the last couple of years and already have their next trip scheduled for April, 2024. If you think you might be interested in going, I can put you in touch with them.
Who knows, Jacob and I might join you.