TBT – The Cuba 20 Leadership Conference

“Trip of a Lifetime…” That is the phrase I used to describe my Cuba trip to Jerrod Murr when we were finally landing and returning home at the Tulsa International Airport. It was hard to describe my trip then, to someone who had experienced it with me, and I still struggle to comprehend the true impact these five days in Cuba had on my life.

We experienced so much, we met so many wonderful people, we saw so many beautiful sights…we expanded our cultural, emotional, and professional horizons. This is a trip I will never forget…but I probably will over time, which is why I am going to try to explain to you why we went, what we did while we were there, and what we learned. This probably will get a little long-winded (surprise, surprise coming from me), so to save you the true length of this entry, I will break this into three posts and add lots of pictures and videos…so make sure to check back in to get the rest of the story!

Ryan Eller

(Teaching like a Cuban)

Leaving Tulsa

We left the sultry plains of Oklahoma bright and early Tuesday morning, most of us purely exhausted from the Fourth of July’s festivities, but eager and excited to experience our unknown journey into Cuba. Even up to this point of the trip, it was hard for me to tell people exactly why we were going to Cuba. Was it a mission’s trip? No, not really. We were going through the church and on a religious visa, but it wasn’t a mission’s trip necessarily. Was it a vacation? Well no, however, anytime you get to leave Oklahoma during the summer time to go to the Caribbean it is a vacation!

The best answer I could provide then, even as we waited to board the plane to Miami, was that we were going to host a leadership conference for Cuban youth ministers. Our reason for going wasn’t too far off from that original thought, but it was so much more than that simple answer. It was an opportunity to meet Cuban legends and heroes, men and women persecuted and thrown in prison for their beliefs. An opportunity to learn the true meaning of faith and dedication, and an opportunity for us to fulfill and define our vision, our goals, and our dreams. Truly, a trip of a lifetime.

Ryan Eller

(This was truly a trip of a lifetime…this was a group after a experiential learning training)

Flying into Miami

After snoozing all the way from Tulsa to Dallas, and Dallas to Miami (I think I might have sleepwalked through the DFW airport, I do not recall even being there), we arrived early in the afternoon to gorgeous Miami, FL. This was my first time being outside of the airport in Miami, and I was very excited about being able to take my talents to South Beach.

The “Dream Team,” as Murr called us, included myself (If you don’t know me by now…), Jerrod, founder of Believing in a Better Way and the brains behind this trip, Darrin, Senior Pastor at Morris First Assembly of God (also, my former roommate, husband of Sarah, and Phantom of the Opera lover), Mario , former Youth Pastor at Muldrow Assembly of God and token interpreter for our trip, Aaron, AKA A-Mo, computer nerd extraordinaire and resident heart-throb, and Josh, husband of Jill and brother of Jerrod, who works as a job specialist for the mentally disabled.

(AMo, Jerrod and Josh)

Ryan Eller

(Mario, Ryan Eller, Darrin)

The Evening in South Beach

Since the Dream Team had to stay the night in Miami to take our charter out the next morning, we decided to travel to South Beach and check out LeBron’s personal playland. I will assure you this, everything you have heard about Miami is true…it is gorgeous, the beaches are amazing, the people are diverse, and the locals have no problem walking around in their bikini and/or Speedo!

We stopped by a local restaurant during their happy hour, and I got excited to try some fresh seafood. I ordered the most expense thing on their happy hour menu (if I would have known Murr was paying I would have got the most expensive on the regular menu), the Lobster Pot Stickers, and of course ended up with a meal fit for someone on the South Beach diet. The entrée mirrored the personality of many of the people on the beach, it was pretty, it had tons of flair, but not much substance.

Ryan Eller

(My small lobster dinner)

(I want to own this house…and boat)

(The Beach)

(A bird in flight)

Jerrod Murr

(Jerrod taking a stroll next to the Speedo Man)

Ryan Eller

(The crew without Darrin)

Jerrod Murr

(The lifeguard stands were awesome)

(Every building was this beautiful)

(I love the palm trees)

Flying into Cuba

After I ate all the crumbs off of everyone else’s plates, we checked it in for the evening and prepped ourselves for the early morning and 35 minute flight from Miami to Cuba. It is the definition of a puddle jumper, if you consider the Caribbean Sea a puddle and Key West the lily pads within the puddle. We needed to be at the airport at 4 a.m., to make sure we had all the correct identification, visas, and travel information to make into the guarded country of Cuba. Thankfully, we arrived as early as we did, because it took every bit of our extra time to get our tickets, find our visa information and finally make it through security. The Murr Brothers and A-Mo had been to Cuba just 3 months prior, and were able to point out the many peculiarities of the people traveling into Cuba.

First of all, they all were bringing some sort of electronic item as their carry-on, whether it be new TVs, computers or sound equipment, they held on to these items as if they were treasures, which in Cuba, they are as precious and valuable as gold. Also, most of the travelers wrapped their luggage in a green material like Saran Wrap, which we found out had two purposes: the people are very superstitious, and thought it brought safe travels, however, what I think the real reason for decorating their suitcases is the belief their luggage would not be searched by TSA if wrapped nice and tight in the pretty green plastic.

(Waiting at the airport, everything is wrapped)

From the very moment we stepped in Miami, I was jealous of the fedoras and hats worn by the Hispanic people. Dressed in the hats, bowling shirts and linen trousers, they looked like Charlie Sheen on “Two and a Half Men.” After being in Cuba I see why they wear them and wish our fashion followed their level of comfort. Unfortunately for me, my head is too small for every fedora I have ever tried on, so I couldn’t complete their wonderful look.

After all of our morning troubles, we finally were able to board the plane (hatless), and after a safe takeoff the crowd erupted in a roar of applause, which we found repeated after we quickly landed in Cuba. On a personal side note, it was a fun tradition I think I will continue on all my travels, until some American travelers throw their lattes on me because they have to update their Facebook and Twitter without distraction.

Ryan Eller and Jerrod Murr

(I love the hats, but they didn’t fit!)

(Josh is in no hurry)

(Miami’s aerial view)

(More Miami)

(Cuba from the air)

(The airport when we landed)

Jerrod the Magician

After landing in Cuba to a rousing round of applause from our plane companions, we quickly got off of the plane so we could get through customs and safely meet with our drivers. Once we made it to customs I found it is much like American travel, a whole lot of “hurry up and wait,” and we stood in line with the other travelers and their TVs, waiting to go through the single security checkpoint at the Cuban airport. Jerrod, however, worked his magic, as he always does, and we were able to skip a couple of processes in customs and go straight to the front of the line to exit the airport. Finally we had made it out of the airport and met our drivers. Thus began our journey in Cuba…a trip of a lifetime.

(Much more Cuba to come!)

Check back tomorrow to read about our stay in the resort hotel, meeting the locals and a hero, our trip to Minas, and the first day of our leadership conference in Cuba.


2 comments on “TBT – The Cuba 20 Leadership Conference

  1. Pingback: The Cuba 20 Leadership Camp – Part 4 | Ryan Eller

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