From the moment he stepped off the plane in Havana, to the instant he left Cuba to return to Blue Springs, former Blue Springs High School and Rod’s Sports A’s standout Luke Miller experienced a week that most individuals can only dream about.
Miller had no preconceived idea of what it was going to be like to do mission work while playing baseball in Cuba, but the weeklong journey exceeded his wildest dreams.
The Columbia College junior joined Paul Dudley’s Eternal Pastime missionary group that traveled to Cuba to interact with young people on the baseball field and any other place they gather to spread the gospel from July 3-11.
“It was awesome, amazing, the most incredible thing I have ever done in my life,” said Miller, who raised more than $1,700 through donations from friends and members of his First Christian Church in Blue Springs, along with a generous birthday gift of cash from his mother and father.
“We flew down on a Southwest flight to an airport that everyone in Cuba thought was big, but by our standards it was really small. They had to bring the stairs out to the plane on the runway for us to get off.
“And once we got off, the excitement started.”
The Eternal Pastime missionary group fielded a team that played teams ranging from the top players in Cuba to teenagers who were thrilled to share the same field with their new friends from America.
“When the people down there, especially the little kids, found out we were baseball players from America they got real excited,” Miller said. “And they were all so friendly.
“I needed a translator, and they wanted to know about baseball in America and where we were from and why we were playing Cuba.”
And many of the youngsters asked Miller for any part of his game gear.
“Many of them had nothing – and I mean nothing, they were very poor,” Miller said. “And on the last day I started giving away my cleats, my uniform, everything I brought with me.
“And that made me feel so good. And in the end, I came home with five Cuban jerseys that are all so cool.”
But one transaction between a teammate and a construction worker was a highlight of the trip.
“We met a construction worker whose shoes were basically tape wrapped around his feet,” Miller said. “On the last day, one of my teammates took off his shoes – not his cleats, his walking around shoes – and gave them to the man.
“I have never seen anyone so happy in all my life. My friend went around the rest of the day in his socks, and he had this smile that never went away. It was just one of those moments you’ll never forget.”
If they weren’t playing baseball, they were spreading the word of God – in homes, at churches and on the playing field.
Miller and his new teammates played three games against teams from the Cuban Christian League and then helped run sports camps for kids.
While baseball and mission work took most of Miller’s time, he did find a way to get to downtown Havana to purchase some authentic Cuban cigars.
“They weren’t nearly as expensive as I thought they might be,” said Miller, who promised a cigar to many of the people who donated money for the trip. “I came home with about 125 cigars – you could buy packs of 25 cigars for $1.”
While the memories are still fresh in Miller’s mind, one will create a chuckle and a tall tale for years to come.
“I’ve heard stories about crazy things happening during games in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and I can believe them because we were playing a game and a guy on a tractor came out and mowed the outfield while we were playing,” Miller said, laughing. “It was like, it was time for him to mow the field and he was going to mow it – even though there was a game going on.”
To learn more about Eternal Pastime, go to www.eternalpastime.org.