Perseverance, partnerships impact Cuban Baptists

CubaConexionFour days before “Superstorm” Sandy roared ashore in New Jersey Oct. 29, 2012, as a Category 1 hurricane, the storm crossed Cuba, making landfall near Santiago de Cuba around 2 a.m. Oct. 25 as a Category 3 storm.

In Southeastern Cuba, Hurricane Sandy caused 11 deaths, including nine in Santiago de Cuba Province. The storm’s 111 mile-per-hour winds damaged some 130,000 homes, with more than 15,000 of those totally destroyed.

As Sandy churned through the Caribbean, Bill Warren, professor of New Testament and Greek at NOBTS and director of the seminary’s H. Milton Haggard Center for New Testament Textual Studies, was en route to Santiago. He and 11 others from Jacob’s Well Church in Diamondhead, Miss., and Central Baptist Church in Brandon, Miss., were headed to the Baptist seminary in Santiago to teach, preach, help in construction projects, and outfit the school’s library with new equipment to aid students in their ministry training and pastoral study.

But with the hurricane in his path, Warren had to alter their itinerary.

“With our flight to Santiago grounded due to Sandy, and with all the equipment already in tow, I said, ‘We’re not going to waste this. Let’s train the people here in Havana and get it set up here.’ You could say it was providential,” Warren said.

The equipment included a new computer system outfitted with Surpass library management software and a barcode scanner. With the new software, the seminary can digitally catalog its collection and students can conduct more thorough study.

Upon returning from Havana, Warren, who travels to Cuba about three times a year, immediately made plans to return to Santiago with a second computer system and software set. The return trip to Santiago was in February.

Warren said the new library system will open a whole new world of learning possibilities to ministers in both Eastern and Western Cuba.

“Before this, they tried to keep a card catalog, but it wasn’t totally up to date with what they had. Mostly, the librarian just knew a lot of what they had. The student would ask ‘Do you have something on this?’ and the librarian would make suggestions,” Warren said.

With the Surpass system, students are able to search subtopics within books. The software also generates barcodes for library items and creates ID cards for students. Though widespread Web access is not currently available in Cuba, Warren said when the Internet does become available, the two seminaries and their extension centers will be able to browse each other’s databases and share resources. For the libraries, the task now is to add to their collections.

“Their libraries are pretty small,” Warren said. “In Santiago, I don’t know that they’ve passed 10,000 volumes. In Havana, they may have more, but I don’t think they’re too far past that. That includes magazines, everything, and there’s a lot of duplicates.”

Warren said their libraries also are quite dated, with many entries dating to the pre-Castro 1950s or earlier and many in English instead of Spanish. When Warren was in Santiago in February, he took a catalog from the Baptist Spanish Publishing House and had seminary leaders mark what they wanted. With few import options, ministry partners like Warren will have to add volumes as they visit.

“Books can be taken in at the rate of about four per person, so it takes a little while to take them in,” he said. “But it you have a group of about 10 people, well, that’s 40 books. This is going to explode the number of books in their library.”

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