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Creating Cuban leaders

Red Rock Elementary reading specialist Lois Williams spent a week in Cuba last month with Five Oaks Community Church assisting with a Global Leadership Summit and sightseeing. (Submitted photos)

Editor’s note: This is part of a periodic series chronicling how teachers spend their summers.

Education and faith are the two most important things in life for Lois Williams, a reading specialist at Red Rock Elementary.

Those components came together this summer through a church-related trip that allowed her to reach out.

Williams spent a week in Havana, Cuba, last month through Five Oaks Community Church helping with a Global Leadership Summit.

“A church isn’t good unless the leaders are good,” Williams said.              

The Global Leadership Summit is a two-day event every August that is telecast live from Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago to more than 300 locations in North America. GLS events also take place in an additional 350 plus cities in 105 countries translated into 50 languages.

Annually, 175,000 leaders take part in the GLS, which came to Cuba thanks to fundraising from Five Oaks.

“Cuba is a country that is starting to crack open a little bit,” Williams said, “but the church is so alive and well there.”

The Global Leadership Summit

During the GLS telecast in Havana, leaders from both Santiago and Santa Clara participated in discussions and screened videos of the GLS speakers.

This year’s speakers were: Bill Hybels, the founding and senior pastor at Willow Creek; Christine Caine, an Australian pastor, activist, evangelist, and international speaker; Craig Groeschel, the founder and senior pastor of; John Ortberg, evangelical Christian author, speaker, and senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California; and T.D. Jakes, apostle/bishop of The Potter’s House, a non-denominational American megachurch in Texas.

“They were very happy with what we brought,” Williams said.

Five Oaks took a group of parishioners to Cuba since it was a chance for everyone to see first-hand what the GLS is all about.

“We were there just to see how it was done,” she said.

Williams and the other Five Oaks members, including her husband who is half-Cuban and a pastor at Five Oaks, said the group received entrance into Cuba through a religious visa.

“There’s only 10 ways that you can get into Cuba,” she said. “The embargo has really hurt the country.”

As part of their visa, the Five Oaks group could not bring anything American into the country – no cell phones, no credit cards.

“You are cut off,” Williams said. “That is a little frightening.”

Experiencing Cuba

Outside of participating in the GLS, Williams and her husband were able to sightsee around the city including castles, schools and hospitals.

“We tried to see a variety of everything,” she said.

Williams said something that stood out to her while in Cuba was that it felt like stepping back into the 1950s since all of the American cars are from that era and many of the buildings have not been changed since then.

“The buildings were beautiful but in much need of repair,” she said. “It wasn’t dirty, it was just crumbling.

“The country doesn’t have the finances to keep up.”

Another thing Williams said stood out to her is the prevalence of three of Cuba’s most famed figures – Jose’ Marti, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

“Everywhere you go you see them,” she said. “The people continually keep in mind everything that has happened.”

Williams said seeing the conditions in Cuba proved to be truly eye opening for her.

“Governments are produced by the people and knowing your values determines how you live,” she said, “but, after years of dictatorship, (the Cuban people’s) values weren’t as strong as they should’ve been.

“When you’re unwilling to change, the decay sets in and it’s amazing how things crumble around you.”

Williams said she would love to travel to Cuba, or other countries, in the future.

“I think all travel enriches your teaching because it opens your eyes to other cultures and helps you understand how people think,” she said. “(Cuba) was a vision trip for us and for leaders.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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