Church mission ends with local children discovering friends in Cuba

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POSTED: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 4:00am

UPDATED: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 4:04am

A group of local kids have friends from another world. Because of their church, they are able to experience life in Cuba in a way that few Americans can.

Associate Pastor Mark Martin of New Song on Old Perkins church recently returned from a mission to Cuba. He was one of 12 people from five Methodist churches to help renovate a church there in the town of Jamaica.

"And they had a corrugated metal roof that was leaking terribly," Dr. Martin said. "So we took that off, and they were going to be replacing that with a more solid roof, a permanent roof."

He has gone to Cuba at least once a year for the last two decades on various religious missions. He brings medicine and supplies to give away, because Cubans often cannot either afford or find items that Americans take for granted. But people there always wanted something more personal.

"That would be the first thing they would ask for," he recalled: "'do you have any letters?'"

Sometimes he would have letters from a family or two, but this year, he got a group of kids from New Song to write. Cuba is a secretive place for most Americans because of the decades-long embargo, so they were nervous about putting their lives on paper.

"I don't know how they're going to respond to it," Ashlyn Esterly said. "I mean, I've never had a pen pal kind of relationship with someone."

Tuesday night, Dr. Martin handed out letters written to them by their new pen pals in Cuba, and the responses surprised them.

"They're a lot like us," said Esterly, a senior at Dutchtown High School. "So learning that there isn't a huge difference, other than culturally or language, they're just like us, they're just people. So it's a really cool relationship to have."

"I think we're going to be pretty good friends," Prairieville Middle School seventh grader Lynn Simoneaux said. "(I'll) go to school, (and) be like, 'what up? I got a pen pal now!'"

A pen pal from a distant part of the world no longer feels so far away.

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