Interview With A Pastor

A Cuban Christian who has been a pastor in Havana for over thirty years described how God is working in Cuba in a recent interview with a Cuba para Cristo operative.

What’s the history of the church in Cuba?
Cubans have been believers by tradition but unbelievers by education. Now they’re seeking spiritual help, so if we don’t give them Christ, the devil will give them any old thing.In ’59 all evangelical denominations supported the revolution, and many leaders and members fought to bring down Batista.In April ’61 the leftist tendencies of the government came to light, which sparked anti-government campaigns from the Catholics and the reaction of foreign governments affected by the confiscation of their companies. As a result of the difficult and tense atmosphere, many Christians left the country and at the same the government set up institutions which defined it clearly to be Marxist-Leninist.It’s hard to describe such an unstable period: many Christians remained faithful to their principles, and although quite a few stopped going to church, only very few had to close for lack of attendance.

In ’65, sixty pastors and students in Havana were sent to UMAPs (Military Production Aid Units; concentration camps cutting sugar cane). None of those churches went without a preacher: one failed to open that Sunday purely out of fear, the others all opened their doors. This sort of thing happened all over the country, and it was a great blessing. Churches realised that lay people had to do the pastor’s job, and suddenly lay ministry came into play, which meant we had many more gospel workers available than we’d realised!

For many years there were no meetings in people’s homes and Christians were barred from some university courses, yet the churches never changed their programme: there were evangelistic crusades; there was an emphasis on the cross and the resurrection using singing and drama; Christmas became a purely Christian celebration since outside of churches there were no decorations of any kind. In short: Christians didn’t stop!

To this day I’m not aware of a single person ever being jailed specifically for preaching the gospel.

Tell us about your work in Cuba.
I was 15 in ’59 and in secondary school. I had been a member of an evangelical church since age 11, where my mother and sister were members too. From the very beginning we played an active part in the various governmental organisations that arose, without reducing our involvement with church.Once the revolutionary process defined itself as Communist, I had to make decisions that affected the rest of my life. Feeling called to the ministry meant cutting off any other links and that wasn’t without consequences. God blessed my wife and me with four years in seminary before starting as a full-time pastor at a time of acute economic crisis in the country: ’71. In less than one year we had two daughters at a time when getting hold of a bike was a matter of prayer, effort and sacrifice, but was needed to serve surrounding churches that were without a pastor.In over thirty years of service I’ve always had more than one congregation and have never lacked a pulpit to preach from. Cuban Christians haven’t been hiding!We’re certain that all our difficulties have contributed to strengthen us as Christians and brought us to a deeper dependence on God.

What’s the state of the church in Cuba now?
I don’t think we’re seeing a revival in Cuba but there has been a realisation by Christians of the opportunities available to preach and testify to a nation where most people’s ambition consists of getting a visa to any other country, and tell them that Christ is their only hope in any country. Many have been receptive and as a result we have a record number of people professing, being baptised, going to seminary, being pastors, being lay church-planters, in music groups, so in the end we’re living through a time where the more the material difficulties grow, the more God’s people experience and proclaim the glory of His Name.
Tell us about your experience of Cuba para Cristo (CpC).
We recognise their stability and permanence, which is vital. When a brother leaves his secular income to plough the mission field it’s important for him to know that those supporting him will be there for the long haul too!As far as projects go, we have enjoyed their financial support; the fellow-work with teams that have visited us; the medicines they have brought over; the books and literature that they’ve brought in despite so many hurdles; and, above all, their intercessory prayer for us and their constant appetite for information so they can pray properly!Their money has been a huge blessing for the building of churches, upkeep of pastors’ homes and educational buildings, PA equipment, travel costs for our missioners. This year in Havana is the first time that we can send our evangelists to churches inland without asking them to share in the travel costs, thanks to CpC!Most of all we value their continued presence, which we know is costly.

How can brothers in the UK support the church in Cuba: what do you most need?
We need everything-from tooth brushes to tights! Most of all we covet your prayers; we need well-informed intercession that’s aware of our needs, our struggles and our objectives, and all this needs communication.Let people come and see that Christians here aren’t embittered or discouraged, but full of faith and zealous to serve the Lord in the society where he has purposed us to live!
Why should we consider supporting Cuban Christians in particular?
Simple: economic conditions at the moment mean that your resources will be used to the full. Your pound goes so much further over here. In other places or at other times it would cost 20 times more to achieve the same thing, compared to here and now. It’s so cheap to support a gospel worker. CpC gives me $50 (~£28) every month, and that’s completely funding two full-time pastors (and their families) and supporting a third.
How would you advise Christians to visit Cuba?
Not as tourists. They’d be confronted with an environment that would seriously harm their spiritual life. They’d be accosted by hustlers and pimps: the hotels would send prostitutes to their rooms. In the lobbies of every hotel they’d come across the idols of “Santería” (imported by the slave trade) commended as Afro culture.They won’t be able to learn much about how the Cuban lives: tourists can’t see the daily struggle for basic necessities, they don’t have a ration card, they’ll have no trouble with electricity or petrol, etc. A native Cuban wouldn’t even be allowed into their hotel to visit him.Get in touch with CpC who will put you in touch with Christian hosts – you’d be a blessing to them – or you can join one of their short-term mission trips to see the churches at work.
What are the greatest danger and the key strength of the Church here?
Complacency: 2% of the country is in our churches, but there are millions yet to reach!Our key strength is prayer, but we need to use it! We need to keep Christ in first place in our lives and have a steadfast personal devotion to Him.
What is your greatest joy and sorrow as a pastor in Cuba?
Joy: I had to bring up my children in a Marxist-Leninist educational system, yet they are all walking with the Lord, loving the Lord, His work and this country. They have travelled outside the country and yet they know to value the unique opportunity of witnessing to Christ in Socialist Cuba.Sorrow: Not having done everything we could have done and having ignored things that we’ve only noticed as we go into the home straight, when it’s too late for us.
What stops you from taking the next flight to Miami and being a pastor there?
God called me to be a pastor in Socialist Cuba, so I’d have no excuse. I was called when they were hurling stones at us in the streets, calling us lazy and shouting that we should go and cut sugar cane. Now I walk down the street and people in the village greet me as their pastor – why wouldn’t I stay? What would I say to Jesus?My wife and I have thrown in our lot with the Christians whom we love.
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