Standing guard over the harbor of Baracoa, Cuba, is a statue of Christopher Columbus, who first landed there in late 1492 (Above: The young man I photographed standing next to Columbus's visage is Jordan Reyna, now off at college but at the time one of our members). Just upshore from the conquistador is the obligatory Cuban community baseball stadium. Uphill stands the formidable Seboruco Castle, converted into barracks for American troops under the oversight of American governor Leonard Wood (namesake of the military outpost in South-Central Missouri), and then later into the El Castillo Hotel.
The Bay of Baracoa proceeds inland from the Atlantic and to the east of the hotel. At the southern extreme of the Bay a factory produces the most wonderful chocolate you've ever tasted—hot chocolate so good you don't mind that the weather is really too warm for hot chocolate in Baracoa. Several rivers end their journeys at the foot of the mountains in or near Baracoa. We watched two men lazily float on a makeshift raft that just nearly kept their ankles dry while they fished with nets on the Río Toa. Stay in Baracoa very long and you will hear the local legend that anyone who bathes in the Río Miel will never leave Baracoa. I never got near the waters of the Miel, but leaving was nevertheless a melancholy journey. Baracoa is just that beautiful, that picturesque, and that peaceful.
On March 13, 2004, I preached at Primera Iglesia Bautista de Baracoa. From a youth conference downstairs a film was blaring out pronouncements of the evils of rock and roll music. I'm no prince of preachers in my native English—translated??—well, at least you have the great benefit of having no idea what you really wound up saying nor what they thought of your sermon! But we found a strong people of profound faith in Baracoa.
Tracy and I lodged with a wonderful host family. The room they provided for us was at the top of a steep flight of narrow stairs (Tracy's suitcase BARELY fit), but was worthy of the climb. There is no luxury in Cuba by American standards, but this upstairs bedroom with sea breezes wafting through the shutters and balcony overlooking the street was as close as I've seen. We actually slept well in Cuba that night!
Hurricane Ike rushed into Baracoa recently enough that the people there are still in shock. At least 970 homes were damaged, with 270 of them completely destroyed. Looking at the picture above, I wonder whether it was the home that hosted us? The color of the walls looks familiar. I regret to say that, after a single night there, I doubt that I would recognize our hostess well enough to identify her. The house was pretty close to the sea, and reports say that the sea swept in over 400 yards into Baracoa when Ike arrived.
The damage is immense, as is the need for our prayers. If any place on earth can shake off the devastation and be beautiful again, it is Baracoa. If any people can step out of the rubble and sincerely sing "It is well with my soul" at such a moment as this, it is the perseverant and convictional Baptists of the Eastern Baptist Convention of Cuba, including the brethren we met at First and Second Baptist Churches in Baracoa. I cannot call them to tell them so, and it is doubtful that they will ever read this blog, but Tracy and I are praying for them tonight, that God will not only give them the strength to continue to stand, but that He would continue to bless richly their ministries in Guantanamo province.