By Matthew Cretzman
I want to thank each of you for having prayed for us while we were in Cuba last week. To me, it was our best trip ever! Let me share one testimony specifically as to why I say that.
At the end of our trip on Thursday afternoon, Andrew asked me a very random question. Although Andrew can be a spontaneous person, this was weird — at the time. He said, “Would you mind if I just take a few minutes to walk around Old Havana by myself? I just want to take some time to soak this all in.”
“Um, ok,” I thought. “Sure, why not. Let’s meet back here in an hour then."
So, with that he walked to the left and I made a beeline for a place to jump on wi-fi, something relatively new and booming on the island within recent months. I had heard that a hotel “Ambos Mundos” was one of the new places to offer wi-fi and began asking passersby to point me in the right direction.
Upon getting to the hotel, there was a line-up of people all around the hotel on the streets. Every one of them had their face down, staring at their digital device. “This is certainly new!” I thought. "Pretty incredible, actually, to consider that I am literally watching history — unchanged for decades — unfold before my eyes."
I walked up to the front desk of the hotel, purchased a wi-fi card, sat down on the couch and began trying to login online. For $4.50 I could be online for an hour.
As I was fiddling with the internet, unsuccessfully attempting to log in, a man sat down in the chair to my right. He had a full glass of Coke with ice, and in it he poured three different types of alcohol, each one from a bottle smaller than the previous one (and I imagine each one progressively stronger). I studied the man and saw clearly that he was from Canada. (Canadians know Canadians!) We struck up a conversation, and I found out very quickly that he was there for two reasons — women and alcohol.
“What about you? You have any girlfriends here?” he shot back. There was definitely a visible emptiness in his words, masked by laughter and a smile. As a Christian, I knew why I could sense this emptiness, but I was pretty sure he didn’t.
“Well, no... I’m actually happily married with three girls,” flashing him my wedding ring. “We’re here for pretty much the opposite reason!” I laughed, trying not to flat out shame the man and still keep the conversation going where I was hoping it would. “We just finished a few days of leadership training in a seminary we support here. We’re Christians. We support and train local church leaders,” I said kindly and confidently.
We had fun "graduating our youngest graduate" at the end of the week!
“Oh, that’s great. Yeah, I’m a Christian too! I’m not a very good one.. I’m a bad Christian, a Catholic actually. But I love Jesus. I know He’s always with me,” the man said, trying to make sense of his own logic.
“Well, you know what, I’m a 'bad' Christian too. And the good news is, it’s not about being ‘bad’ or ‘good.’ Jesus hates religion as much as you and I do. He came to do what you and I could never do — to live the sinless life needed to satisfy our debt and God’s wrath. So it’s not about being ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ It’s about whether or not you’ve trusted in Him, been reborn spiritually. This was something Jesus repeatedly tried to show the religious people of his day… Yours and my debts have already been paid. You and I can’t possibly be good enough! So the unfortunate thing is that many people think they can actually pay down an infinite debt by being ‘good.’ It’s impossible! And, I don’t know if you know this but... when someone says they’re ‘a Christian’ it literally means ‘little Christ.’ It’s a very weighty word when used with its true meaning."
The subsequent few minutes involved a cordial exchange of what he had been programmed to believe and my jumping from scripture reference to scripture reference showing him what the Bible says. Then, unexpectedly, while harping on the love and grace of God from Ephesians, he broke. He sat there and began to choke tears, sharing with me his difficult life and one specific experience he “never forgot” when his grandmother prayed for him.
From there, his roadblock was, “I just don’t feel worthy to be able to accept God’s forgiveness. I’ve done too much. I’m not good enough. I can’t live the life… I’ll just keep failing."
With tears streaming down his face, he listened as the Lord prompted me to share the parable of the prodigal son. He connected so well with the story of the wayward son, living it up, wasting his life, then turning and running to the waiting arms of the father, eagerly anticipating his return. Forgiveness and grace in abundance. A powerful story from the Master Storyteller!
Still struggling to understand righteousness apart from his own works he contested, “But, look at you. You’re a really good person… coming here sharing this message with all these people. I just don’t know if I can do that.”
“Robin, look at what 1 John says… 'If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.' This is John writing to believers, Robin. And John, someone you and I could certainly look at and go ‘wow!’ says, If you say you’re perfect and without sin — you’re a liar! These are some strong words! Robin, what the devil is doing to you is whispering into your ear telling you lies. ‘You’re not good enough! You aren’t worthy. Look what you’ve done. You could never be accepted or forgiven!’ You need to tell him to get lost and listen to what Jesus is saying to you through His Word!"
With that, again, Robin broke and began balling. And to make a still longer, incredible story short — 45 minutes later Robin, with my arm around him, in the middle of a hotel in Havana, prayed and repented, asking God to forgive him and to change his life. He did not stop sobbing during his whole prayer and for much of the final 20 minutes of the conversation.
After he finished praying, he looked up at me and said, “Matt, you’ve taught me more about the Bible and Christianity in 45 minutes than I have ever learned my entire life. I feel like my life is completely changed… like I’ve had a major turning point!”
“I believe you have too, my brother. I’ve got goosebumps all over just thinking about what just happened! God is amazing!"
By God’s grace, I’ve been privileged to see some lives changed before my eyes, but never have I had an experience like that one. It was the most genuine, authentic Gospel experience of my life. To watch God literally break someone right in front of me, and then slowly put the pieces of this man back together… wow. Just incredible.
The ironies of all this? The name of the hotel: “Ambos Mundos” means “Both Worlds,” of which a transfer of citizenship was made. The “random” idea Andrew had to “take a walk by himself,” which now makes sense. And, the $4.50 wifi card, which I never could end up getting to work.
It’s ok. That’s the best $4.50 I ever spent.