International Ministries

Ruth Van Winkle Goes to Cuba - November 2014

December 14, 2014 Journal
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Ruth Van Winkle Goes to Cuba  ~  November 2014


Dear Friends,
I felt a bit like Rip Van Winkle, returning to Cuba after 18 years. True, I had visited briefly for special occasions: 2 weddings, an ordination, and the 100th anniversary of the Eastern Baptist Convention. But this trip was for 3 weeks, living with families and interacting deeply with them.  I would be teaching three different groups in three parts of the island.
Much had changed. I flew directly from Miami into Holguin, rather than through a third country, because the US has authorized restricted travel to Cuba. Under the new leadership of Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother, there is a new openness to express opinions, both privately and publicly. I watched comedians on TV deal with serious social issues through humor and listened to public lectures discussing problems in the country. The government has been calling town hall meetings to hear citizens' concerns and suggestions. Several of these have been implemented, including the elimination of restrictions for leaving the country, permitting the buying and selling of houses and cars, and allowing private businesses. I ate in several nice restaurants (see picture), and wandered through some tourist shops, all privately owned.  Whereas 18 years ago I was offered meat only 3 times during the year, and lived on rice, bean soup, and plantains, this time I was served meat sometimes 3 times a day, primarily pork. The Baptist offices now have air-conditioning instead of fans.


But much had not changed. The trip from the airport was classic Cuba: the 1950’s car broke down before we had even left the airport (8:00 pm), and continued to break down numerous times before we finally made it to Santiago de Cuba at 11:30 pm.  Especially in the provinces (in contrast to the capital, Havana) everything is scarce and basic survival is like a treasure hunt: searching for food, toilet paper, supplies for house repairs, spices and herbs, fruits and vegetables, car parts, paper, medicine. Transportation is managed with a combination of walking, bicycles, cars, buses, máquinas (group taxis), bicycle-taxis, horse and buggy and motorcyles with side cars.  Internet is not available. The average salary is $15/ month. This is supplemented by free education through graduate studies and health care as well as basic food items. When the entire system was self-enclosed, the government could fix prices to match the salaries. But when things are imported, the global economy doesn’t match the Cuban salary scale. An imported bar of soap costs $4; a refrigerator, $1000; tennis shoes, $100.  Much of the problem is related to the US embargo against Cuba, which doubles the price of all products from the US because they must pass through a third country. I took flash drives for everyone at $4 each; in Cuba they are $25.


In the next letter I will tell you more about what I was doing in Cuba. Thank you so much to all of you who were praying for this trip. I celebrate Thanksgiving deeply thankful for God’s care and blessings during these 3 weeks.



Ruth Mooney

Prayer requests:

For the US Congress to lift the 54-year economic embargo against Cuba, established during the Cold War and now totally irrelevant, and to normalize relations with our neighbors.


For me, as I teach a Christian Education course in Nashville the first week of December for the Methodist Hispanic pastors enrolled with the Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana.





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