COLUMBIA - Fifteen University of Missouri students returned Thursday from their eight-day trip to Cuba. It's a destination most tourists are not allowed to travel to.
From the central United States to the center of Cuba, 15 students and three sponsors left Columbia on Jan. 8 to Ciego de Avila, which is right in the middle of Cuba. They were on religious visa with the sponsorship of a Cuban local Baptist church and the support of Columbia church communities.
Christa Wilson, president of the board of the Mizzou Baptist Student Union, said every student that applied for the program were accepted. Each student paid $1,500 for their trip costs. Wilson said some students dropped out due to certain reasons. Wilson said Mizzou BSU was approached by a gentleman from North Carolina during the last school year, and decided to organize Mizzou BSU's first international mission-minded trip to Cuba.
Wilson said students in the group interacted with local college students who were studying English. They worked together to plant Guava trees, joined activities at the Nichlas Guillen Foundation, and worked with the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples on community outreach artworks.
With tears in her eyes, Wilson said it was the Cuban people that impressed her most during this trip.
"It was more about building a relationship, opening up our hearts and showing the people of Cuba what America is really like, what a Christian is like, and how we show love," Wilson said.
Adrian Sims, a junior student studying Psychology at MU, was one of the team leaders at Mizzou BSU.
"We were completely welcomed," Sims said. "Before I go I had no idea what to expect. I knew it is a communist country and it definitely has much more emphasis on community."
Justin Pierce, a junior Biology student at MU
"You don't hear much about Cuba besides the political issues," Pierce said. "But you don't really hear about the people or the lifestyle that much. So going down there, it was very eyeopening to say at least."
Wilson said there will be a celebration in October when it's going to bring all four different Baptist groups in Cuba.
"I think that would be an awesome opportunity for some of us to get to go back to do that and witness that," Wilson said. "Our director actually made a comment and said 'I don't want this to be a good-bye, I want this to be a start of a relationship with us moving forward." So I'm definitely hoping we can build relationships enough to where we can have more trips similar to this."