‘A powerful influence for Christ’
By Will Stuart
“I found it surprising, almost shocking, to find some of the greatest expressions of faith within 100 miles of the United States.”
IMB President Tom Elliff.
The storm took everyone by surprise. It turned streets in Havana, Cuba, into rivers, lifting manhole covers on water bubbling from drainage pipes unable to contain the surge racing to the sea. In Vueltas, 180 miles to the east, rural roads turned to mush, making it impossible to travel from surrounding villages into the city for the constitution of nine new churches.
“But the Cuban church is resilient,” Tom Elliff, IMB’s president, said during his first visit to the island nation this past December. “It is like the Royal Palm (a symbol of the island), which jettisons its fronds when a major storm rakes the land and can bend horizontal to the ground and still survive.”
Revolution in 1959 moved Cuba from a dictatorship to socialism. Its economy faltered during the transition. There were hard times. People struggled. Churches were closed and pastors imprisoned.
For years we’ve heard rumors of new churches springing up inside Cuba. Now, missionary Kurt Urbanek — an IMB strategist for Cuba since 1997 — draws back the curtain and shows just what God has been doing. Click here to order his book.
There was a time “it looked like everything was over,” said Hermes Soto, rector of the Baptist Seminary in Havana. In 1965 the majority of the pastors were imprisoned. A large number of seminary students and young church leaders were put in re-education camps. Soto, too, spent five years in a labor camp. Despite the crisis, a number of churches remained open under lay leadership.
Yet even in these hard times, Cuban Baptist commitment to international missions remained strong, and they continued to participate in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
In 1991 the Cuban constitution was changed, making discrimination based on religious belief unlawful. The government was still reluctant to allow construction of new church buildings. Officials said: Open your homes.
“Then the churches woke up,” Soto said. “We had to discover how to react in response to this miracle.”
From 1960-1990, Cuban Baptists started 28 churches. From 1990-93, they started 28 more. After 1993, the number exploded in a church-planting movement seen in few other parts of the world. Today, there are more than 970 churches and 7,000 missions and house churches can be found across the island. And Cuban Baptists are sending missionaries to other parts of the world.
“I found it surprising, almost shocking,” Elliff said, “to find some of the greatest expressions of faith within 100 miles of the United States.”
He proposes an expanded relationship between Cuban and Southern Baptists. “The thing that astonished me is how much they have to teach us,” he said, “not how much we have to teach them.
“We can benefit from the example of their undying faith … the strength of their faith,” Elliff continued. “They can benefit from our resources … our years of history in missions. Together, we could be a powerful influence for Christ throughout the entire world.”
Sitting with those God rescued from the most difficult of situations and seeing how they have moved on from there had a profound effect on Elliff.
“It has changed my life,” he said. “I will not view the Christian faith the same … ever again.”
- A “Cuba Missionaries Sent to the World” project has been established and includes several strategic needs. Through the funding of this project many Cuban workers will be able to receive training and go out to the remaining unreached people groups of the world, evangelizing, discipling and planting churches in obedience to the Great Commission. Click here and then type “Cuba” in the “Find projects” search box.
- Join Cuban Baptists in an ongoing prayer emphasis called “50 Days of Prayer for Cuba.” Click here to download your prayer guide. Cuban Baptists started this 50-day prayer emphasis in 2006 and have continued it annually ever since. The guide was designed for a 2008 prayer focus from Easter through Pentecost, but most of its prayer requests are timeless and can be used during any 50-day period throughout the year.
- A movement of the Holy Spirit has been sweeping Cuba for the past 20 years. But the church in Cuba recently has been facing many distractions and trials. Pray for continued and renewed focus on evangelism, discipleship and the planting of reproducing churches.
- The rapid rate of church growth in Cuba has created a great need for more church leaders. Pray for the multiplication of leaders in the ever-expanding network of new churches.
- Pray for the effective training of church leaders.
- Pray for God’s guidance for Cuban Baptists as they prepare to send international missionaries.