Keith Vandegrift and Lana Bell - January 2018 Update
Thank you for your love and support this past year. In many ways, this has been a hard year for us but we’ve been inspired and sustained by your encouragement. For that we thank you.
This is just a brief year-end update. Our move to the town of Jovellanos at the end of November has proven to be a good one. We felt we were moldering in Matanzas. We were bored and about to live in a construction site. In one week in Jovellanos we experienced more friendship, fellowship, support and ministry than the previous two months in Matanzas. That has been gratifying. To be sure, Matanzas is a nicer town in most ways, but our relationships here have been great.
What we have found is that once again we really love and respect Cuban people. They have taken great care of us with food, transportation, and generally folding us into family and friends here. They are a remarkably warm and hospitable people and we really like being around them.
We have even done some work. We’ve participated in a training conference, been a part of several mission teams, I’ve preached, and Lana has a language tutor and is advancing in Spanish. A special shout-out to the Gang of Three who came in early December from First Presbyterian Boulder and brought us so many nice things (thanks to John and Debbie Tucker and Larry Drees). We are now looking forward to yet another team near the end of January led by our dear friend Libby Brown.
Trust us, when you live where we do snacks from Trader Joe’s are like manna from heaven. We shared them with our Cuban friends and their eyes got big and they said, “Hay dios mio – que es este y como le obtenio?” (Oh my Lord, what is that and how did you get it?”)
As one who has read more missionary newsletters than a huge percentage of the American population, I’ve made a commitment to be honest with you in these communiqués. We missionaries live by support, and it’s never a good idea to give bad news in support letters. So, we have the constant temptation to make things seem better than they are. (And some things should be in the privacy of a confessional and not a newsletter!)
That said, this past three months has kicked our rears. We are okay – most days are better than worse. But this is hard. The hardest thing is not knowing if we will get a permanent visa and so how much do we invest if we won’t be here long? We feel like we’re living in limbo and while we more or less burned our boats to come here, are trapped without the ability to get our own vehicle or car. It just feels weird.
Now if we get a visa soon, we believe that this time has been a lesson in feeling what the Cubans feel every day. To have moved here and have everything go smoothly would not be their daily reality. They wait for everything in Cuba. Having money is one challenge. Finding something to buy with it is another. Is there bread at the bakery today? Is there fruit in the open markets? Is there meat at the government store? Is there paint anywhere in the entire country (apparently not – we’ve looked high and low). You’d be amazed at how happy we get when we find green beans at the open market or lettuce or papaya. It’s now coming again (all was wiped out by the hurricane in September) but we’re like kids at Christmas when we find a long-sought-after item. We get it now. Boy, do we get it. And we wouldn’t want to be here long-term without this understanding, and we wouldn’t have it if we’d moved right into a nice house with a car. The Lord has his way of training.
So, what’s the deal with the visa? We’re not really sure. We continue to be assured that “we are working on it.” We sincerely hope so. We are here on a tourist visa. The way that works is you can renew that each month for three months and then must leave the country and come back and do it again for three more. After that, the government wants to know why you are a “tourist” after six months so they give you the boot. We went to Ft. Lauderdale, FL on December 20th for 24 hours and now can stay here until March 20th. If by then we don’t have permanent status, we’re done in Cuba. That’s a big prayer request right there.
A mentor of mine once said in a seminary class, “It’s a known reality that most North American missionaries spend about 80% of their time just surviving.” That’s pretty close to the truth for us. It’s not 80%, but it’s a lot of time. We read and pray a lot. We study Spanish. We look for “home improvement” materials to get a functioning kitchen in our apartment. We spend time in fellowship with our friends, go to church, and are making a life. We have a very clear vision of how this could work out really well if we just get permission to stay. So, we wait. Like the people of Israel for the long-awaited Savior and Messiah, we wait in hope – okay, some days we are peppier than others, but we are hopeful. “Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof” so we take it a day at a time.
We consistently feel your support and prayers. Thank you. As we turn the corner to 2018, we ask the Lord of the Harvest to leave us here in this field for harvest. In the wonderful words of Job, “though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” And we do.
1. A permanent visa
4. A “long obedience in the same direction”
Thanks for your part in keeping us here.
Keith and Lana
Read more about Keith Vandegrift and Lana Bell HERE.
The Outreach Foundation is seeking gifts totaling $10,000 for support funds for Keith Vandegrift and Lana Bell.