By Fred Mbesi, Regional Music Director, EPA
MAY 24-27, 2019 — During the extended Memorial Day weekend, the Eastern Pennsylvania & Delaware Division’s (Pendel) Music & Arts forces embarked on their long-anticipated missions trip to the country of Cuba. This particular trip was one that had been in the works for a while, with a smaller team traveling to Cuba both in the winter of 2017 and, more recently, this past February. Under the leadership of Divisional Music Director Gavin Whitehouse and Divisional Creative Arts Director Brad Cain, the 54-member group began their long journey at the crack of dawn! It was clear that God’s presence was covering us through the speed we were able to clear customs with our instruments. After a long day of travel, we all met up with Lt. Col. Julio Moreno for dinner at Fress, a nice Cuban buffet! Major Jud Laidlaw led us in a time of devotions as we cleared our plates, challenging us to consider what God was going to do both in us and through us during our trip. We finished up our first day by traveling to the beautiful Cristo de La Habana ( The Christ of Havana) sculpture and praying over our ministry.
Divide and conquer was the mission of Saturday as our team split up into three groups. The first two teams traveled to the Parragas & Diezmero Corps respectively, where they spent the bulk of the day painting parts of the Corps building. The third group met at the Central Corps, where they joined about 20-30 delegates in singing a number of Hallelujah Choruses in Spanish before breaking off into a day of Music & Arts training. This was followed by an impromptu dance party featuring the Cuban worship team Sin Limites, who we would spend more time with during our stay. Following our day of service, the teams headed back to change and prepare for the evening’s concert. An unexpected venue change did not deter anyone from coming; we were inspired to march into a completely packed auditorium with the sound of roaring applause from all sides. Highlights of the festival included a drama presentation from DCAD Brad Cain & Major Juanita Stanford called “Vida,” Principal Cornet Lexi Finnie’s opening cornet solo to Dorothy Gates’s “Cantad a Jehovah,” the Pendel Timbrels combining with Cuban timbrelists for “Fuego,” the Pendel Singers performing Dave Williamson’s “Fairest Lord Jesus,” and the Pendel Brass with Paul Sharman’s “Purpose.” The program was all tied together with praise & worship from Sin Limites and a message from Lt. Col. Janet Ashcraft… entirely in Spanish! Before ending with their traditional benediction “God Be With You,” the Pendel Brass presented a surprise in the form of “Me Gozare,” which caused the entire audience to erupt into singing, dancing, and a few conga & chorus lines! It was a moment not to be forgotten for quite some time.
Sunday morning’s meeting took place in the Central Corps, commencing with some preliminary music by the Pendel Brass and Sin Limites. A personal highlight for me during the service was seeing the Cuban cadets brought to tears of joy after the Pendel Officers presented each of them with brand new laptops. The morning featured contributions from the Pendel Music & Arts forces, including Gavin Whitehouse’s “Forever You Will Be” and Geron Davis’s “Closer Still,” in addition to a stirring message from Lt. Col. Larry
Ashcraft. Lunch was followed by an outdoor block party with Sin Limites and the Pendel Brass/Timbrels. This was a time for everyone to let their hair down, as it were; the Brass featured music from the lighter side of their repertoire such as Barrie Gott’s “Shine” & Stephen Bulla’s “Lift Up Your Voice” while the Timbrels presented a routine to Barrie Gott’s “Daniel.” The evening finished up with dinner and fellowship at the guest houses.
Monday started with visits to both the Bejucal and San Francisco Corps. This was a bittersweet time, as it was the final outing for Majors Jud & Lori Laidlaw, along with their son Josh, as they would be moving to the Swoneky Division after a thirteen- year appointment in Pendel. The Laidlaw family was honored for their service to the Music & Arts forces before Lt. Col. Larry prayed a special blessing over them. We sang “God Be With You” and prayed for the ongoing ministry of the two Corps. The rest of the day was ours to spend sight- seeing in the beautiful downtown area of Old Havana, where we had lunch and went shopping for souvenirs. It was a nice relaxed way to spend our day as our time in Cuba began to wind down.
After a final meal together and a tour of the Museum of the Revolution, it was time to part ways and head back to the US. God had revealed so much to us during our time in Cuba and we were thankful for the new connections that were formed, the memories that were made, and the experiences that were shared. Thank you, Cuban Salvationists, for such an amazing weekend. “God Be With You ‘Till We Meet Again.”■
Read more stories in the Fall 2019 USA East Music Bulletin.