Strolling the Streets of Cienfuegos

After spending nine days in Cuba, I now understand why Ernest Hemingway had so much love for the island where he owned a home and spent 30 years off and on (mostly on the last 10 years), and found much inspiration for his writing while living and traveling in this country. He left, partially over politics, in 1960, but always referred to Cuba as his home. It’s also where Hemingway wrote some of his best literary works. Aside from the drinking and women (both of which Hemingway was fond & obviously I am not), the music, vivid color surrounding you at every turn, passion of the people, simplicity of living, meticulously kept Fords and Chevys, and a lovely, strong people will draw you in. And despite the differences between those of us visiting and those who live there with their government dictated lives, the Cuban people are filled with natural pride for themselves and their country.

I had several run-on sentences forming in my own mind describing this amazing country as we spent our time there!

“Cuba is a country with no historical precedents: economically poor, but culturally rich; visibly mildewed, but architecturally magnificent; infuriating, yet at the same time, strangely uplifting. If the country were a book, it would be James Joyce’s Ulysses; layered, hard to grasp, serially misunderstood, but – above all – a classic.”

– Lonely Planet Cuba

Cuban Flag | Fiddle Dee Dee

We spent most of our mission trip in Cienfuegos on the southern coast of Cuba. Known as the “Pearl of the South,” It’s the capital city of the Cienfuegos province and a bustling, busy city built around a bay. While much of Cuba has a Spanish influence, Cienfuegos was actually settled by French immigrants in 1819 and has actually earned status as an Unesco World Heritage Site due to its architecture and layout. It is a beautiful city and so unlike cities on other Caribbean Islands and even within Cuba!

“The colonial town of Cienfuegos was founded in 1819 in the Spanish territory but was initially settled by immigrants of French origin. It became a trading place for sugar cane, tobacco and coffee. Situated on the Caribbean coast of southern-central Cuba at the heart of the country’s sugar cane, mango, tobacco and coffee production area, the town first developed in the neoclassical style. It later became more eclectic but retained a harmonious overall townscape. Cienfuegos is the first, and an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble representing the new ideas of modernity, hygiene and order in urban planning as developed in Latin America from the 19th century.”

– UNESCO commenting on the Urban Historic Centre of Cienfuegos

Each morning we awoke in our Casa (B&B) to the sounds of street vendors making rounds on their bicycles selling their fresh baked breads, eggs, fruit and even flowers to homes and restaurants alike. Each had their own unique call to let potential customers know they were coming and what they were selling, many with regular customers waiting in the doorways of their flats to purchase what they might need for the day.

The last day of our trip, while Dad was meeting with the Cienfuegos preachers, Mom, Madeline and I ventured into downtown to see this lovely city we had been passing through all week. We had fabulous tour guides through our friends Oscar and Angelica as we strolled the city streets. Oscar is a 5th year medical student at Universidad de Ciencias Médicas.Cienfuegos (The University of Medical Sciences, Cienfuegos) and Angelica is in her last year of what we call high school.20638774_1165878766847583_947183016067189798_nDuring the day these streets are filled with pedestrians, bicycles, carts, buses, an occasional shiny classic car, dogs, chickens and even turkeys! When you head out you might ride in a cart, take a taxi, or walk, after all, that’s what most of the locals do!

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Our taxi ride

We took a stroll down the Prado with it’s eclectic buildings with beautiful facades, bright colors, and vibrant life, stopping to snap pictures and even shop a little and then headed down the pedestrian Boulevard where we enjoyed the Walking the streets of Cienfuegos you feel like you are caught up in a glorious time warp, yet it is 2017!

Here are a few of the highlights of our day sightseeing Cienfuegos.

Our Casa was in the area of Cienfuegos known as Punta Gorda.

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Two mornings I slipped out of the casa just after sunrise to explore the area. It’s very safe and such a lovely stroll. Punta Gorda is home to beautiful estates built by money in the late 1910s and 1920s. Many of these have been turned into restaurants, B&B’s or hotels now, but they are still stunning to look at. I also adore the natural chippy paints and colors some faded from the weather and others as vivid as if they were freshly painted.

Club Cienfuegos, once a Yacht Club is now the home of several restaurants with a variety of flavors. While we didn’t venture inside, I loved the beautiful lines and curves of this representation of a bygone era.

CLub-Cienfuegos | Fiddle Dee Dee

Built between 1913 & 1917 the beautiful Palacio de Valle is now home to a restaurant, hosts cultural events, and is a museum.

Punta-Gorda | Fiddle Dee Dee

The Palacio Azul (Blue Palace) is a former private residence built in 1921 for a tobacco baron. It was renovated in 2004 and turned into a hotel. While I didn’t have the time I’ve read that you can actually stop in for a tour as it was renovated to match it’s 1920s ambiance and is stunning!

Blue-palace | Fiddle Dee Dee

The Prado is the main thoroughfare in Cienfuegos. Here you will soak in a little local history, find shops, businesses, restaurants, and maybe the occasional parrot to talk to.

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Cienfuegos was home to the famous Cuban bandleader and singer, Benny More’. It was a place he called home and stayed even after the Cuban revolution and many other musicians left. He referred to Cienfuegos as the “city he loved best.”  The statue on the Prado is a selfie stop, even for the locals.

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If you continue onto the pedestrian Boulevard you will find yourself at the Parque José Martí, a gorgeous city square. Off the square you will find the Benny More’ Cultural center featuring art and photography from locals. There is also a little cafe inside that is a great stop for a bottle of water or a soda made with real cane sugar!

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The Parque José Martí (also known as the Plaza de Armas) is the heart of Cienfuegos City.

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Cienfuegos City Center

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Here the architecture is stunning and history abounds as you find Government buildings, the cathedral, theater and other gorgeous structures.…

Stop in at the old Cathedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción that was first begun in 1833 and finally completed in 1869! It is undergoing renovation right now, totally funded by donations.

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Each of the stained glass windows are being sent one at a time to Spain to be restored, and locals are doing the structural work.

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The arts in Cuba are so important! Our friend Oscar was telling us about how wonderful the ballet is and the shows he has seen at the ornate Tomas Terry Theater. For just 2 CUCs you can wander around the horseshoe shaped auditorium theater built in 1888.

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Tomas Terry who wanted the people of Cienfuegos to have access to the arts.

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We walked up to the top of  The Casa de la Cultura Benjamin Duarte (formerly Palacio de Ferrer), built in 1918. While it looks like it is falling down, this beautiful historic building is currently being restored to her original elegance and is just stunning, crumbling features and all.

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From the top we were able to take in a unique view of the Government building and city in general.

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While the park, Prado & Boulevard areas are lovely the people here still live in poverty.  Even so, they are still a proud, hardworking people!

The Palacio de Gobierno or Government Building is  stunning as well. I could not find a construction date for this stately building, but is acts as the city hall of Cienfuegos and is not open to the public.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little pictorial journey around Cienfuegos.  There is so much more that I can share, but that is for another day.

For more of my Cuba posts, you can click here to check out the Cuban Car Show, or click here to check out our mission trip and all the lovely people that we met!

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A Cuban Car Show

Wednesday-09/13/2017 — I started working on this post last week, just as hurricane Irma made it loud and clear which direction she was finally going to take.  I’ve had it sitting in my cue for days, finished, but not published for several reasons.  First, I was worried about all the people in the path of this horrific storm and was a wee bit more focused on that.  Second, we lost our internet (which honestly I could have cared less).  And finally, because after I wrote this post, I was worried to death over the beautiful people in Cuba we came to love and treasure on our trip last month.

I wasn’t sure it was appropriate to publish this right now, and I’m still not positive.

 Tonight as I write this addendum, as far as we know our friends are safe, but they are hurting and are faced with what could be years of recovery.  Cuba prided itself on hurricane preparedness, but how do you really prepare for a direct hit from a Category 5 Storm?!  Like the other Caribbean Islands hit by Irma, the category five storm did massive amounts of damage.  People there are hurting for food (this is an agricultural country, you don’t just walk into a store and purchase groceries) and fresh water.  It will take a long time for Cuba to fully recover.

So I have decided to hit publish on this post, and I will continue to share other elements of our trip.  I want you to see Cuba as it was, what we saw and what we experienced.  It’s a beautiful country, with amazing people and a wonderful culture.

The people make Cuba what it is, and that will last whether these cars made it or not.

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Cienfuegos-Cuba-Street | Fiddle Dee Dee

Cienfuegos, Cuba

For years I’ve only seen Cuba in history books and an occasional travel magazine.  The architecture is unique, the colors are so fun, and the classic American cars?

They are everywhere!

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A row of taxi’s on the square in Cienfuegos, Cuba

These last American imports  (the trade embargo was implemented in 1960) are carefully cared for by their owners and mechanics to keep them in top running order.  Many are privately owned and treasured by their owners, and other have become taxi’s for taking tourists and locals alike to their next destination.

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Couldn’t you just see a surfboard secured to the top?  I would love to travel around in this old jeep!  How fun would it be?

As we drove through the country, especially while we were in the resort community of Varadero, I was reminded of the old beach movies with Frankie Avalon & Annette Funicello… you know the old cheesy ones where the kids were piled up in the large classic cars, headed off to the beach with their surfboards on top?

{I always wanted to be like Annette!}

Cubans and tourists alike head to the beaches year round in a classic car if they choose!  How cool is that?!

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For Americans to see cars of this caliber, and so many at that, we pay $50 to attend a weekend car show in Pigeon Forge!

But in Cuba, they are real, they are common and an old-fashioned soul like myself soaked up the view the entire trip.

Take a peek for yourself and see if you catch a glimpse of some of the varying architectural styles as well!

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Not only are the cars a lovely reminder of days past, but this B&B with it’s mid-century modern look is like you have just stepped out of a time machine!

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I absolutely fell in love with this beauty while we were in Varadaro!

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The owner of this car wash it no less than four times while we were staying just down the street in a B&B in Cienfuegos!

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While it’s not black, this car totally reminded me of an old gangster’s vehicle… something you might see in the streets of Chicago way back when.

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A quick stroll before worship on quiet Sunday morning in Matanzas … It reminded me of a scene from an old WWII movie set in France…. Or I have a vivid imagination!

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My Dad almost wrecked the rental van as he slammed on the brakes in the middle of the road and told me to “get out and take a picture of that FORD!”

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I just loved the taxi’s lined up.

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At a service station between Cienfuegos and Matanzas; a group cooling their car while traveling to go hiking in Cuba

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This was out in the country after a little rain.  The colors seemed so much brighter to me!

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Did you like the cars?  Which was your favorite?

It’s a true time capsule of American Classics!

I’m looking forward to sharing a peek of Cuban culture before I head off an another adventure this weekend!  Be sure to stop back by & enjoy your day!

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Our Cuba Mission Trip

For the last several weeks I have had so many thoughts running through my mind regarding our nine day mission trip to Cuba.  By no means was this my first large mission trip (actually my 7th), but this venture into Cuba impacted and affected me in so many ways.  This trip was also different from other trips I have made.

{Warning: A LOT of pictures coming up!}

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“How am I supposed to sum up this trip with words?”

It is a question I have constantly asked myself in the days since our return.
After much thought I found that there are several verses of scripture that put the people and mission in Cuba into perspective:

Romans 16:16 ~ “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”

I Peter 5:14 ~ “Greet one another with a kiss of love.”

Psalm 133:1 ~ “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!”

I Peter 4:9 ~ “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”

I Thessalonians 5:11 ~ “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing”

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These beautiful people of all ages, with hearts so full of love and a language I do not speak greeted us with most precious and sincere kisses each time we entered a home, church building, dinner setting, and conference center. From the moment we entered the country, we were family although we had never met.

Isn’t that what our mission should be in all aspects of living?

Christian Love?

Oh, how we felt this in it’s simplest form!

We here in the USA can learn so much from the Cuban Christians.

In fact, our first meal was in the home of Oscar and Mildre; a beautiful, gracious and loving supper that was just a first taste of the hospitality the Cuban Christians had to offer.

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Madeline, my parents and I left for Cuba on Saturday, July 29.  We flew from Atlanta with a forever layover in Miami into Cienfuegos, Cuba; the first stop of our trip. Once we arrived in Cuba we met up with another gentlemen and his grandsons, from the congregation where my dad preaches, who was to work with us as well.

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Mission trips have so many purposes from humanitarian to evangelism, but what was our purpose in Cuba?

It was to visit with the Christians.  It was to encourage and uplift the members of the church.  It was to council with those struggling and those who were searching.  It was to teach and preach.  And it was to support the church in Cuba as it is growing and trying to reach out from larger cities to spread Christianity throughout the island. We did this beginning the morning after we arrived with a Sunday of worship and praise with three churches within the province of Cienfuegos, followed by a retreat involving the Cienfuegos churches and an International conference of teenagers in Varadaro in the province of Matanzas.

The Cuban people are strong and proud.

They do not want us coming in to convert the island for them, but to teach them how to do the work so that they may do it for themselves!  Their heart and desire to serve God as demonstrated for us in the New Testament is truly inspiring.

Our Sunday spent in the Cienfuegos province was one of praise and worship and a welcome that was truly a glimpse of heaven as each and everyone present greeted us with a precious “holy Kiss”.

While we had never met these people we were welcomed with open and loving arms; strangers who are also our brothers and sisters.  We visited with three churches participating in worship and communion at all three locations.  It was a long, but beautiful day.

Not all churches in Cuba meet in “church buildings” as we do here.

The church in Nuclear City (Juragua) meets in an apartment home they have purchased.  These apartment homes were built for the Russian scientists, solders and families when a nuclear plant was being built in the area.  Now these homes are filled with Cuban families and the church.

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The church in Cruces meets in a flat in downtown.  It was a beautiful area with gorgeous architecture, but the streets were oh-so quiet on a Sunday afternoon.

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And the church in Cumanayagua meets in the home of its minister.  Cumanayagua is mostly a residential and farming community…..

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…and they have an ice cream factory.

Let me tell you, fresh coconut ice cream is so scrumptious!

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As you can tell, home churches are most common.  I like it.  The sense of community, closeness and the bond is something large churches here in the states lack.

Each worship service was a little different, but one thing was the same thoughout; passion!

The acapella singing in Spanish was filled with such gusto; you could totally hear the meaning in each song we sang.  I had the words in Spanish before me and knew the melody’s, but much of the time could only listen as it was so beautiful.

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Dad speaking on Sunday with our translator, Oscarito

After a Sunday of worship we joined many of the Christians in the Cienfuegos province for a three day retreat at a local hotel.  During these days of study Dad, Momma and myself taught different Bible classes.  I had four lessons to prepare for ladies classes and chose the subject of “Priorities”. I believe that subject crosses cultural boundaries with women across the world!  My focus was on keeping God first in your life followed by our marriages, then family and home.  I had to speak using a translator which was an entirely new experience for me.  Much time was spent in prayer as I hoped what I had to share made sense and was well received.

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We enjoyed periods of devotional several times a day as well as meals together.  It was a time to get to know others, despite language barriers.

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Sometimes speaking different languages creates a closer bond than speaking the same.

Down time was so much fun as well. It really doesn’t matter what country you live in, teenagers are teenagers, and fun is always fun!  From bubbles to the beach to playing Bananagrams to tie dying shirts there was so much to enjoy!

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After leaving Cienfuegos on Wednesday afternoon of our trip, we made the several hour drive to the Matanzas province where we were to attend the International Youth Conference at a hotel in Varadero.  There were over 300 young people from across the country of Cuba gathered to worship and study over three days!

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Teenagers from the Cienfuegos churches

The opening night was singing at the church of Christ in Matanzas and then the conference began early the next morning.

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Some of the young people from the Cienfuegos province who attended to conference

While I didn’t speak at this conference, Dad did….

And so did my Madeline.

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Madeline taught a class to over 100 girls using a little of her conversational Spanish, English as well as a translator.  Let me tell you, she did an amazing job shedding some serious insecurities, as this was her first time ever to speak publicly like this!

 

 

 

 

A choral group from Harding University was a part of the conference as well.  They held singing class teaching new songs and also multi-part harmony.  Most Cuban singing was done in unison, so adding the harmonies made it even more beautiful!

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As I mentioned earlier, it is so hard to find to the words to describe this beautiful experience.  The spiritual part of Cuba is precious and sincere.  The cultural part of Cuba will draw you in and win you over.  The people are so kind, warm and loving.

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And I can’t wait for the opportunity to return!

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Taking In Cuba

The wanderlust gene runs deep in my soul.  I am always up for a road trip, an airplane flight, or even packing a moving van and setting out on some fun adventure or checking out new destinations.

But, I am not the only one who has this wonderlust gene in our family; my children have it as well.  Since I am in Boston on an anniversary get-away with Audley, our daughter Madeline is taking over my blog today sharing her recent trip to Cuba with my Dad (see, the wonderlust gene is multi-generational) for a little mission trip; the second mission trip some of our family has made this summer. 

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Pop and me at the Atlanta airport ready to fly

The view of her trip through her 17-year-old eyes is so very sweet and full of passion.  Enjoy.

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I think I just left my whole entire heart in another country.  Over the last year I have been praying for Cuba.  I have cried out to God on their behalf so that the people there could experience Him.

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Yes, it is a BEAUTIFUL country with so many kind and beautiful people.  Their country is not far advanced and it is in poverty.  They may be content, but they still lack one thing – Jesus.

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We went through Cienfuegos spreading and teaching the gospel.  They welcomed us in their homes and cried with us as they shared their stories.

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People there thought that they were full, but as we taught, they were quick to realize the emptiness they had inside.  This week we filled that space with Jesus.

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I fully believe that we have been called to be missionaries where we live, work, and play, but also sometimes we are called beyond that.  It is a beautiful thing that we can be tools for the kingdom, no matter where we are in the world.

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We were able to hug and tickle kids who needed to feel loved and valued.

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We got to make new friends, sisters and brothers.

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We got to spend time with His creation and worship Him.

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My Pop teaching

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But most importantly, Jesus made himself known this week.  He taught me to be a little more humble and that it is okay to not have everything figured out.  My God is UNSTOPPABLE.

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Look at all these Christian teenagers gathered in CUBA… a communist country!

I am so thankful for this opportunity and how Jesus is continuing to change my heart.  My greatest prayer is that we won’t lose our fire back in our communities; that we will continuously be sharing the gospel, not just through our word, but by our actions.

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Pray for Cuba.  There is still work to be done there, but we do know God is on the move.

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Pop studied with a young man who was baptized (one of 17 baptisms I watched) and this young man brought his friend to study and learn as well!

To the people who made this trip financially possible (I know some of Momma’s blogging friends helped), and spiritually possible through prayer, THANK YOU!

This week I have made so many friends for life.  I have learned to be humble and patient.  We saw so many people come to meet Jesus and got to encourage churches and communities in Christ.  God broke through every barrier in our way to make Himself known and our team feels beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to be tools for the Kingdom (the Church). God continued to reveal how He is our provider.

Continue to pray for Cuba and Cienfuegos’ churches.  I have a full heart and God is unstoppable in me.

~Maddie Jones~