By Shana Adkisson
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — When Shari Kinney’s husband suggested that she lead a mission trip to Cuba, she had no reason to decline.
Kinney, along with 12 other members of McFarlin Memorial United Methodist Church, conducted a mission trip in Santa Clara, Cuba, from Aug. 1-11. Kinney’s trip to Cuba was her second. In 2007, Kinney went to Pilon, Cuba, also for a mission trip.
So, when Kinney got word that Cuba was accepting one mission team a month from the United States and that Oklahoma Volunteers In Mission had the opportunity for three teams this year, she jumped at the chance to return.
“They (Oklahoma VIM) were looking for team leaders and they had to be somebody who had been to Cuba before. My husband said I should do it,” Kinney said.
Since Cuba government doesn’t allow churches to build new facilities, but worship in old ones, the group from McFarlin mainly helped paint and do light construction during their mission trip.
“The people are very warm and welcoming. The church there had someone that was an interpreter. The church itself was probably built in the early 1900s so it was an older church that had been there before the Revolution. They were refurbishing the church. Primarily our work was to help with some paining. It was very different than the time before we were building a church. Because they don’t allow new structures except if the previous structure were to be destroyed. In Pilon the church had been destroyed by a hurricane, so they were allowed to rebuild it.”
Other activities the group conducted were a Sunday children’s Bible school. They also had the opportunity to work with several of the women of the church by introducing them to crafts.
“It tends to be when you are doing construction you are only working with men. We really didn’t have much opportunity to work with the women. So we did a craft project with the women,” Kinney said. “We met with one of the women’s groups and we took a couple of sewing machines with us that were donated. Some of them had had sewing machines that don’t work any more, and that’s something they can’t go purchase. That’s one of the things you notice most in Cuba. They don’t have a market economy so the government puts things in stores and it’s a hit or miss on what you might find in stores. For instance, we needed to buy paint brushes and rollers. We found roller handles, and we looked in Havana and Santa Clara.”
Kinney, who is the administrator of the Cleveland and McClain County Health Departments, also made note of Cuba’s health care system.
“They have a priority of health care there, everyone has health care there. They don’t have access to specialty health care like we do. There is a neighborhood doctor. The churches all had doctors. They put their money into health care,” Kinney said.
Kinney added that her stay in Cuba did help her appreciate the little things that make life easier.
“None of the people we interacted with had much. Everyone had pretty small spaces. They did not have a lot of furniture. The little things that we take for granted, that’s a hard thing to find. They are sort of used to making do. They do have rations for rice and beans, they still have to pay for them, but they are allowed a certain amount of food,” Kinney said.
During the group’s time in Cuba, they also were allowed a few days for sightseeing.
“When we went to the beach, the beach itself wasn’t developed at all. It was just beautiful, pristine, clean beach. The water was so clean. Santa Clara was a very lovely town. The other thing you notice is the island is really beautiful,” Kinney said. “The people are really wonderful people. We were treated really well. Everyone was very nice to us. We were fed well. The church really went out of their way and probably gave up things so we could have a more comfortable time while we were there. Virtually everyone that was on the team, their hearts were touched. They really felt a attachment that we really built a great relationship with that church.”
Kinney describes her trip to Cuba as a wonderful experience.
“Our team was a really great group of people. The people in the church we worked with were really wonderful. I think the other thing is they have a much stronger faith than we do. They are much more evangelical. They are very committed Christians. You just leave inspired. Their service is very inspiring, even though it’s in another language, the enthusiasm and the commitment of the people, you couldn’t help but be impressed. That’s a lesson for all of us. We are used to religious freedom. It’s a gift for them. They really tell you about that gift.”
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