CAIMANERA, Cuba — In 2015, the baseball team from Corban University bin Salem made history with a mission trip here — the first American group to enter the city in more than half a century. Two months ago, the War-riors returned to Caimanera for seven days to play baseball and also share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“God is using baseball to draw a community to see the manifestation of Christ,” Cuban-born pastor and Corban trip leader Glenn Wilson told the athletes. “This an opportunity for you to be light — shining the light all around this community. Opportunities are going to arise all around us. Just let Christ use you as light in this place.”
The day after arriving on Cuban soil, the Corban baseball players took part in two services with the Salt of the Earth Church in Caimanera, working with the children’s ministry in the morning while worshipping in the evening with the entire congregation. These opportunities provided a starting point into a full week of serving and sharing the love of Christ.
Corban came ready with teaching material and a healthy supply of crafts to present the Gospel to children and youth in the form of the well-known Wordless Book bracelets. The Sunday morning children’s session brought hundreds of eager children an adults filling the church sanctuary to an overflow. Children dominated the interior, yet a wide gathering of curious adults crowded doorways and leaned in to see and hear through windows.
Church leaders presented the Gospel message through the colors of the beads, and Corban members soon spread out among the packed facility to help people of all ages construct the wordless bracelets.
Swarms of hopeful, energetic kids, youth and even adults pressed in and around Corban players, who eagerly bent down, crouched or kneeled around the sanctuary helping gather supplies, construct bracelets and fasten them on the wrists of elated children. At times, crowded, noisy conditions and limited supplies fueled almost a competitive kind of zeal on the part of Warrior players to fulfill their mission to connect with the children.
The visitors and children weren’t the only ones appreciating the moments, as young Caimaneran adults also got involved.
“It is so good to return to Cuba,” said Corban head coach Jeff McKay in greetings to an enthusiastic Sunday evening church crowd. “Hardly a day went by back home when I wasn’t looking forward to seeing if God would bring us back with you. I bring warm greetings from Corban University, and I just have to say, I’m so proud and so honored to be back in your church worshipping with you. The Holy Spirit is alive here!”
Over the course of two more events geared for children, the team participated in worship times, prayed and lent support in numerous ways. Those hundreds of youngsters who attended listened intently to gospel presentations, recited the scriptural meanings of the colored beads, received bracelets, danced, played and mingled with their Corban partners.
The final children’s program, with its lively and heartfelt worship, spo-ken message, recognition to children who recited the colors’ meaning and the overall contagious spirit of joyous fellowship, touched a group of Caimanera people in attendance to the point that nearly a dozen children and adults gathered on the platform to listen intently as the pastor presented an invitation to join the fellowship of believers at Salt of the Earth Church.
As powerful as the programs proved to be, Warrior team members perhaps made even bigger impressions and opened ministry doors even wider by engaging with Caimanera youth in numerous informal street games, post-service dancing times and photo-sharing sessions.
Spontaneous pick-up games of soccer and a Cuban curb-side version of basketball drew large groups of native youth joining with the Corban team on the streets following meal times and in-between scheduled activities.
One Caimanera adult saw more than mere child’s play involved: “I thank God because even though we don’t understand each other’s language, it makes my heart glad when you come out in the street and mingle with the children. We thank God for all of you coming to visit.”
Wilson put it in more direct missional terms. “This is the gospel, us being able to relate to them at their level. That means a lot when you guys get out there and play with the kids —that’s the gospel in action.”
There was a moment early in the trip when activity with the kids might have been the extent of the American group’s ministry. Monday morning, shortly before the team was scheduled to meet publicly with Caimanera’s civic leaders, a figure from the national level arrived at the hotel to deliver a sobering judgment on the team’s presence that week.
After their conference, Wilson explained what had been decided. “There was concern at the national level that our visas did not clear us for this kind of occasion,” Wilson said, referring to the planned audience with local officials. “We were also not aware of the need for special visas in order to allow sports competition, or to participate directly in religious activities.”
According to the pastors, an agreement to not meet formally as a team with Caimanera city leaders and to refrain from prominent speaking and leading roles in church services reassured national authorities enough to allow baseball games to be played.
Soon after the ruling from the national le-vel, while team members stayed in the bus and prayed, the two American pastors and the Caimanera church’s pastor met downtown with the local government dignitaries to offer an official written word of greeting from Corban President Sheldon Nord, and then to present leather-bound Corban portfolios and Bibles as gifts to each public official.
“We saw God’s sovereignty and control,” said Pastor Jay Velez. “I picture it like God as the parent allowing the kid to play in the mud and mess himself up doing what he wants and thinking he’s in control. But the bottom line — God showed us the results.”
While ministry broke out on many fronts, baseball loomed as big as ever on the scene because, the sport is religion in Cuba. The 12-member Corban squad played games on four-consecutive days, three against a prominent Caimanera team that had taken third place in a highly competitive regional league, and a final game against a squad of locals sponsored by the church.
With limited pitching arms, 12 players, the rigors of high heat, high humidity and a hectic itinerary, the Warriors split the four-game series against the Cubans. Yet game outcomes faded in comparison to the forging of deep bonds between the teams, and with fans, umpires and dignitaries.
Corban team members gave Caimanera players their Warrior jerseys as commemorative gifts, and for a second straight year, the visitors left a wealth of baseball gear and a brand new chalk lining ma-chine. As players and coaches gave hugs and exchanged jerseys on the field following Thursday’s game, Corban team members also presented each Caimanera player and coach with a copy of the New Testament in Spanish.
“What we were not able to do just through preaching, Corban has been able to do through baseball in bringing people together,” acknowledged Wilson. “One thing Cubans like more than anything else is baseball. Corban University has allowed the light to shine simply by playing baseball. They have brought a city together just to play baseball. But what will stay in everyone’s minds most of all is their witness for Christ. Not only how they play, but how they live out Christ on the field, and that is an amazing thing.”