Manolo De Los Santos’ journey would strike most people as improbable, even if he insists it’s all part of Gods plan. 

Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New York City’s tough South Bronx neighborhood, De Los Santos is now studying theology and preparing for the ministry at Seminarion Evangelico Teologica (Evangelical Theological Seminary, or SET).

“When I heard the call to God to ministry, I wanted a setting where I could learn and work in Spanish, and I knew I wanted to do ministry within the Latin American context,” the second-year student told the Presbyterian News Service Jan. 28.

“SET stood out among Latin American seminaries because of its solid biblical studies plus its emphasis on the contextual ethics of working with the poor, who make up so much of this continent,” he said.

De Los Santos feels a particular affinity for Cuban culture. It is similar to the Dominican Republic’s, he says. One commonality is both countries’ love of baseball, which holds deep theological import for him.

“Attending a baseball game in both countries is a gathering of the people, the community,” the Red Sox fan — despite growing up in Yankees territory — said. “At the ballpark, the people share their stories and situations, tell each other what’s going on in their lives. The game is almost incidental.”

Like all SET students, De Los Santos leaves the campus every Friday afternoon to spend the weekend working in a church somewhere on the island. “Being able to study here and work in churches shakes you up and forces you to think outside the box,” he said. “Some days are so difficult I want to leave and go back home. Then, on other days, I am so thankful to God for this experience and for the strength of the Cuban people.”

Life in Cuba is very difficult, De Los Santos says — some of it brought on by the Cubans themselves but much of it imposed on them by the 60-year-old U.S. embargo of Cuba.

“What impacts me every day is the witness of all the people, not just the Christians,” he said. “They don’t give a second thought to health care, education and personal security, which is fully provided in Cuba. I think about the South Bronx, where that is not the case at all, and I’m astounded and moved.”

The witness of the Cuban people — not just the Christians — De Los Santos says, “is a witness that shows the world what could be. As Christians, we see Jesus as the new paradigm for humanity. Without replacing Jesus, Cuba is struggling for the same. As Christians we have an important part to play in this transformation of the world as God wants it to be.”