Take one discarded beer keg, a motor from an old washing machine, a cylinder of compressed CO2 gas, a little ingenuity, and lots of used plastic soda bottles. Put them all together and what do you get? A small soft drink business that provides much-needed income for the impoverished members of a small, rural church in communist Cuba.
Cuba actually has two economies with two different government-printed currencies. The “official” economy is for tourists and other outsiders. The second economy is where most Cubans live and work. It is defined by poverty and zero opportunity. And since the government owns and operates virtually all business and industry, citizens trapped in the second economy are driven to a thriving black market—and subterfuge against the government—to survive.
For example, poorly-paid Cuban truck drivers making deliveries often earn extra income by charging hitch-hikers for rides. Or, desperate gas station employees might siphon off a significant portion of a gasoline delivery and sell it on the black market. Because communism is a bankrupt economic system, most Cubans—including Christians—are forced to participate in the black market to survive.
Heaven’s Family is working to change that by helping our contacts—Cuban pastors whom we’ve trained to become micro-bankers—to help our poor brothers and sisters operate legitimate businesses that do not require them to lie, cheat or steal from the government. Let me tell you about “Carlos,” one pastor who’s doing that right now. (All names have been changed to protect them from government harassment.)
Pastor Carlos lovingly cares for his flock in rural Cuba. He is also a brilliant innovator whom Heaven’s Family has empowered as a micro-banker to create several small businesses to help members of his church support themselves and other ministry work. For example, Pastor Carlos helped Juan, one of his members, with a loan, and together they welded several fittings and valves on an old beer keg, attached an old Russian washing machine motor for mixing ingredients, and piped in compressed gas from a cylinder to make fizzy soft drinks. Juan paid several of the church’s youth to collect all the discarded plastic bottles in town and several ladies in the church washed and sterilized them.
After purchasing flavored syrups and ice from local suppliers, it finally came time to mix their first batch of tasty, bubbly beverages! And all this was done for less than $230, the amount Juan borrowed.
The production of tasty beverages has led to some tasty profits—not just for Juan’s benefit, but for twenty fellow church members—all needy—whom Juan employs as production workers and sales agents. Juan sells the soft drinks to them at wholesale, and they sell the product to their neighbors at retail prices. So Juan’s business has birthed 20 other little businesses! And micro-banker Pastor Carlos is using the interest earned on Juan’s loan—and other loans—to support several missionaries from his church who serve in other parts of Cuba.
Juan has repaid his loan, and he was recently given a second loan to expand his business. The Cuban government has finally begun to relax some of its economic restrictions, allowing private business ownership for the first time, which will enable Heaven’s Family to help many more Cuban believers to become self-sufficient. With a little ingenuity—and a leg up from those of us in their spiritual family—we hope new businesses will soon be bubbling up all over Cuba!