September 17, 2014
Students share diverse skills in Cuba
Melle Chambers (right) and Laura Root, both students of The Baptist College of Florida, work together to complete a window frame while helping renovate a church in Cuba.  Photo from The Baptist College of Florida.
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Posted on Jul 16, 2014 | by Sandra Richards

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CUBA (BP) -- A diverse group of students marked the third opportunity for The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Fla., to participate in the ongoing partnership between Baptists in the state and Cuba.

"We are excited to be a part of what God is doing in Cuba," Thomas A. Kinchen, BCF president, said. "It's a model partnership between BCF, the Florida Baptist Convention, and the Baptist convention in Cuba. Everybody wins, and no one more than the Cuban people who are impacted."

While it may not be unusual for the Baptist College to send a team, this particular group included a group of unique participants, BCF Missions professor Rich Elligson, said.

This year's team included an 18-year-old Spanish-speaking missionary kid (MK) and an 81-year-old widow who had served with her husband in Mexico. Jim Womble and Bill Brown, both of whom take classes online, joined students from the Graceville campus. The team also included a Cuban American whose parents immigrated to the United States as children, and another student who was visually impaired.

Mornings were spent renovating a church building -- a project that has been in the works for the past eight years. The concrete wall covering the original block needed to be chipped away and resurfaced. The work involved a hammer in one hand and a chisel in the other. Even Melle Chambers, who is legally blind, took a turn. She felt her way along the wall with hand and chisel.

"It's not as hard as you might think," she said. "A moving target would present some challenges, but fortunately the wall stayed put."

While walls were being chipped away in one room, 81-year-old Laura Root painted metal window frames. "I'd hurt somebody if I had to swing a hammer," she warned. "But I can handle a paintbrush, just as long as nobody cares if I dribble a little paint along the way. Oops ... I got some on my shirt already."

Afternoons were scheduled for children's Vacation Bible School.

"Children are precious everywhere you find them, but these kids are so special," Alainna Davis, a junior history/social studies major, said. "We all wanted to pack them up and take them home."

Evenings were reserved for a Bible conference on the Sermon on the Mount, which Elligson taught. "The Baptist Church in Cuba is strong, and getting stronger," he said. "This church was deeply interested in Bible doctrine. They were very engaged, took notes, and asked great questions. They are very serious about their faith."

Students pitched in on the work and all of them had opportunities to participate in various other ministry opportunities.

"I was so impressed with this team from BCF," Dana Hardee, the Florida Baptist Convention volunteer team leader, said.

"They were well organized and so spiritually mature. They built relationships everywhere they went," she said. "Whether they were working with the church ladies in the kitchen, practicing songs with them for the worship time, or relaxing around the domino table late at night, these students were keenly aware of the Cubans they were working among and utterly engaged in their lives.

"Dr. Elligson predicted there would be lots of tears when the final goodbye was said, and he was right," she added. "Friends were made and tears were shed."
Sandra Richards is director of enrollment management and marketing at The Baptist College of Florida ( Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook ( and in your email (
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