by Joseph Milioni
I was making my way across Cuba in a Tico, which has the interior space the size somewhere in between a toaster and a VW beetle. My companion was Otoniel Martinez and we were headed to Camaguey to train thirty-five leaders to begin new churches. Otoniel had planted twenty-seven churches despite the resistance of persecution.
I WAS MAKING MY WAY ACROSS CUBA in a Tico, which has the interior space the size somewhere in between a toaster and a VW beetle. My companion was Otoniel Martinez and we were headed to Camaguey to train thirty-five leaders to begin new churches. Otoniel had planted twenty-seven churches despite the resistance of persecution.
Together, we developed a church-planting network that has seen close to one thousand church planters trained in less than five years. One of the greatest lessons he taught me is dependency—not the dangers of developing dependency on outside resources, but rather of being truly dependent on God.
In our Western mindset it is so easy to do things on our own instead of depending on God. That doesn’t fit our theology so we talk a good game and often say a prayer before our church meetings. But are we really dependent on him in our daily lives? Add modern technology and the resources of the Western World and there is little need for God.
What’s even more ironic is that our dependency on God is often inversely proportionate to our success. In the beginning, many in ministry are dependent on God because they don’t have confidence. They land on the mission field and find out that impacting the world isn’t so easy. In those first days we cry out to God for help and recognize our dependency on him. It’s down the road when we start to have a little success that it becomes more difficult. We become less and less dependent on God and more and more dependent on our own ability. This is the difference between leaders who fade into history and those who become heroes of the faith.
I have no doubt that Otoniel is one of those great heroes. He had a vision to see a church in every corner of Cuba. He created a successful model for starting a church and raising leaders with the same vision. Despite having more talent, passion, and vision than many could hope to have, he met every step with a heart pleading to God for guidance. When he outgrew his network with his big dreams, our partnership was born. We began to train church planters in his denomination and then across denominational lines. Every step of the way, despite success, Otoniel has never relied on his own abilities. This has prepared him for adversity.
On one occasion, we were to train church planters in an area that was still very resistant to Christianity. The possibility of resistance was met with prayer. We had over sixty participants come from all over the eastern side of Cuba. We crammed into a little church, but because of local pressure, the church said we could no longer use their facility.
We began to meet outside in a remote area of a campground. We didn’t use any chairs so that we could scatter if local officials came near. I was sleeping on the floor of a nearby church, but on the second day I arrived to see my bags packed and waiting at the gate. Again, due to pressure from local authorities, the church said I could no longer stay there. Even with all the setbacks, it was never a question of stopping the training. Otoniel showed dependence on God when things went well and when obstacles developed. This went on to be one of our best trainings. Many of our current network leaders came out of this training.
When the network grew too big for one person to handle, Otoniel turned to God and opened the door for new leaders. When faced with the reality of the financial struggle that new church planters go through, he again put it before God. This led to the development of loans for micro-business for church planters. Today, Otoniel is leading the whole network. He is recognized by many national leaders and has tremendous respect both in and out of Cuba, but inevitably during each visit, I still see him gathering his family together, looking to God to meet needs and give guidance.
When someone is dependent on God, he or she has a God-sized vision. The vision has now grown to develop Cuban missionaries to go to the unreached. Otoniel and I have met with several other groups who have the same vision from God and have worked towards collaborating.
With great vision comes great adversity. When everything seemed to be going so well, Otoniel’s father passed away and his wife, Idalmi, was diagnosed with cancer. However, because Otoniel has established a habit of leaning on God, he is seeking God to comfort him and be with him as he has always been. I thank God for putting a man like this in my life and look forward to seeing what God has in store for us as we seek to proclaim his name in Cuba and beyond.
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Joseph Milioni is a church-planting facilitator. He has been involved in Latin America, primarily in Uruguay and Cuba. When he’s not bumping his way across Cuba, he’s teaching at the Center for Intercultural Training or developing curriculum.
EMQ, Vol. 52, No. 1. Copyright © 2016 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.