WACO—Weeks after a tornado ripped through a densely populated section of Havana, a Cuban Baptist seminary continues to deliver much-needed assistance to storm survivors, thanks in large part to ministry spearheaded by a Waco Baptist family.
Cuban state media reported the category F4 tornado, which passed less than two miles south of Havana’s historic downtown district Jan. 27, claimed six lives and damaged more than 3,500 homes in its seven-mile-long path.
In the storm’s immediate aftermath, more than 200,000 lacked access to water. Many people were without electricity at least three days, and even residents whose homes were not seriously damaged lost all their frozen and refrigerated food.
Peter Dyson, a member of First Woodway Baptist Church in Waco, contacted leaders at Havana Baptist Theological Seminary to find out if everyone there was safe and if the seminary had been hit.
Linking resources to needs
Dyson’s father, L.M., a retired business professor at Baylor University, has helped Cuban Baptists for the last two decades, linking stateside resources to ministry needs on the island nation.
Peter Dyson learned the seminary escaped any major damage. Recognizing the downtown school was strategically positioned for ministry to tornado survivors, he asked if the seminary might be able to establish feeding stations for displaced people. Seminary officials were willing to make their personnel and facility available, but they questioned whether they had enough food and other resources to minister effectively.
So, L.M. Dyson contacted national Woman’s Missionary Union. The WMU Foundation’s HEART Fund—Humanitarian Emergency Aid for Rebuilding Tomorrow—provided a $3,650 grant for a generator and bulk food to help the downtown Havana seminary meet community needs.
Later, WMU also approved a $3,500 Pure Water, Pure Love grant to purchase water purification systems. Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, First Woodway Baptist Church in Waco and Olmito Baptist Church, between Harlingen and Brownsville, also contributed financially.
Blessings International, an Oklahoma-based ministry, donated 150 lbs. of medicine valued at $5,000.
Eight days after the tornado hit, Dyson’s wife, Doralyn, and their daughter, Dawn Henry, traveled to Cuba to deliver the donated ministry supplies—including two tires for the seminary’s van.
“We got every bit of it—including all the medicine—through customs with no trouble. The hand of God was on it,” Doralyn Dyson said.
In addition to a variety of antibiotics and other drugs needed to fight the spread of disease after the natural disaster, they also delivered much-needed prenatal drugs for pregnant women and pediatric medicine.
Havana Baptist Theological Seminary personnel prepared and served two meals a day for more than a week, meeting the immediate needs of their neighbors.
In the weeks that followed, members of the seminary community and other Baptists in Havana donated items people affected by the tornado would need. Then they began an ongoing community outreach ministry, fanning out from the seminary to deliver the donated goods.
“The Christians pulled together,” Doralyn Dyson said. “They don’t have much to begin with, but they took their own clothing and household items—the little they had—and shared with those who had nothing.”
A few weeks after her initial trip after the tornado, she returned with her son, Peter, to deliver additional supplies—not only in Havana, but also to a Baptist nursing home, a camp in Western Cuba and to Christians in Santa Clara, where First Woodway Baptist has an ongoing ministry relationship.
On her second trip, she recalled when her driver stopped to visit a family who had been the recipient of the seminary’s community outreach ministry. Her escort talked with a man in the courtyard outside his house and learned he had just prayed with a pastor who led him to faith in Christ.
“The pastor was taking out two bags of Santeria idols from his house,” she said, referring to an Afro-Cuban folk religion that melds Catholic veneration of saints with indigenous spiritism.
‘Everybody is very healthy’
On her second trip, she also delivered additional water filters. Last year, Cuban Baptist disaster relief workers—who had been trained by Texas Baptist Men—taught 400 Baptist pastors and church leaders how to use the water purification systems, which they distributed in their own communities.
The water filters have made a significant difference in the lives of people who have received them, said Rodosvaldo Rodriguez, a professor at Santa Clara Baptist Seminary.
“The filter that you brought and gave to each of my family has been a blessing to us,” he said, adding his life before gaining access to purified water was “miserable” and characterized by “very frequent fits” of gastro-intestinal problems.
“Then one day you showed up with the filters. My life changed dramatically,” he said. “I began to drink purified water, and I haven’t had any more fits. Then I got to the conclusion that it was the water I had been drinking that caused all that.
“Furthermore, my daughter had just given birth to a baby girl and had to buy bottled water. Not anymore. Everyone is drinking purified water—even his baby boy who is one month and a few days old. Everybody is very healthy.”