JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – President Barack Obama said Wednesday that it's time for the U.S. to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. As he announced that, the two countries were reopening their embassies after more than 50 years.
A local church didn't waste any time making plans to expand the message of Christianity to the island country after the announcement.
Evangel Temple of God plans to send members of its congregation to Cuba in October to help build a church.
Pastor Garry Wiggins' son is actually the one taking people down to Cuba and heading the mission trip. It's just one of the steps that churches and businesses are taking now that the doors between America and Cuba have reopened.
"The Cuban people are loving people. They are good people. They're very hospitable and it's always been a wonderful experience," Wiggins said. "We've been down there three times and we've always enjoyed the trips."
Wiggins is no stranger to spreading the gospel. He's been blessed with a congregation of thousands.
Wiggins announced this week that his church would share the blessings that congregation has by taking a church-sponsored and government-sanctioned mission trip to the communist country.
"The people are generally very poverty-stricken, so they're grateful for any help that you're able to provide them," Wiggins said. "You work alongside with the national people there and together, you work for a common goal, and our goal is to build churches and help people have a place of worship."
From builders to masons, 15 members of the congregation will help construct the church in Cuba. The church is expected to spend close to $25,000 in supplies and labor to complete a place of worship that will hold 150 churchgoers.
"Cuba has been closed for so long and the door has cracked open over the last number of years, and teams have been allowed to go in and assist churches there. We've done that several times, when we go in and work with a local congregation and help to build a building," Wiggins said.
On Wednesday, a U.S. diplomat delivered a note from Obama to Cuban President Raul Castro restoring diplomatic ties between the two countries. Castro responded with a letter saying he wants to develop a friendship between the two nations based on the quality of rights and the people's free will. Free will that Wiggins hopes to foster, one mission trip at a time.
"Americans are giving people and we love to help," Wiggins said. "We found that this is sort of our niche, to be able to go into these Third World countries and provide help and assistance, and a lot of Jacksonville people want to help."
The church group plans to leave Oct. 9.