A report from Donald:
My first visit to Cuba occurred in 2016, right after hurricane Matthew hit the island. During that time, I was introduced to people who had been affected by the storm, and through the generosity of partners like YOU, I was able to offer food items and encouragement while I was there. I was also able to give Bibles and Christian leadership materials and books to local church leaders. I recently had opportunity to return to Cuba, along with two other missionaries – Chevaro and Joel.
Because of concern for its global reputation, the Cuban government has changed tactics in regard to its persecution of Christians. Christian leaders are often called into meetings with government officials or imprisoned for up to 48 hours where pressure is applied to dissuade their beliefs. Although no Christians are known to be imprisoned long-term in Cuba, many are so closely watched by the government that they are effectively under “house arrest.” In addition, Christians are often denied jobs and educational opportunities. Churches are demolished by hired gangs so the government can deny responsibility, and church buildings are seized. Because of this, many believers meet in unsanctioned “house churches,” often extensions of the pastor’s home or shaded structures in the back yard. Access to Bibles is also limited. Since there are no Christian bookstores on the island and the cost of a Bible can be nearly one third of a worker’s monthly wages, most believers do not have a Bible of their own. Despite these hardships, Christ’s Church continues to grow through active evangelism.
This is the world into which we stepped . . .
With our limited baggage allowance, the three of us decided to pack our personal belongings in our carry-on luggage and use our checked bags for items we intended to leave in Cuba — Bibles, solar-powered audio players complete with a Bible and discipleship materials, clothes, shoes, and dental supplies. While these may be things many of us take for granted, they are coveted items for most Cubans.
Although we were told we had been granted religious visas by the Cuban government, there was some confusion with the printing of the actual documents, leaving us with the only option of obtaining tourist visas to enter the country. Upon our arrival at the airport in La Havana, we were questioned for about twenty minutes as to why we were bringing so much Christian literature into the country while entering on tourist visas. After extended conversation and the help of a couple of Christian friends, we praise God we were given the liberties to operate under religious visas even while holding tourist visas.
Our first evening, Chavero shared in one of the house church congregations where about 70 people were in attendance. We spent a good amount of time listening to their stories and the trials God has used to grant opportunities of sharing Jesus in Cuba.
The next day we traveled by bus to Santa Clara where we held a Leaders conference on Friday and Saturday. We were joined by many pastors who had traveled as long as eight hours to attend. Joel taught on prayer and spiritual disciplines, while Chavero gave simple, practical ways of sharing the gospel. I focused on leadership training, teamwork, and encouraging marriages.
We were blessed to meet Antonio, a Christian leader who has been given a big vision for the multiplication of churches, especially among the outcasts of Cuban society. In the last three years, God has used him and his team to plant eighteen churches and train eighteen families to shepherd and teach the people. Part of their success is because Antonio gathers with his leaders every three months for three days of study and encouragement. This type of ongoing training and support continues to strengthen the growing Church.
When asked how they multiply, one leader responded, “Here we don’t try to persuade people, we just let God do the work in the lives of those who come to know Him, to understand that they have a call to multiply.”
We ended our time in Cuba by sharing in a house church where we had over 100 people in attendance — standing room only! It was clear that God moved hearts and impacted lives. Two of the leaders told us the people were encouraged and strengthened through our visit, and we have already been asked when we will be returning.
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM THE CUBAN CHRISTIANS:
1. The mark of a true disciple of Jesus is to make disciples — nothing more, nothing less.
2. You don’t need a large support base to do significant ministry for Jesus.
3. Hospitality is a great key to get to the hearts of others with the gospel.
4. Although Native missions is the most effective way of reaching the local people with the gospel, sometimes you need outside supporters to come alongside to pray, encourage, train, and equip the locals to do the work.
PRAYER REQUESTS FOR THE CUBAN CHRISTIANS:
1. Pray God continues to use His people to multiply His life and love among their countrymen.
2. Pray for Bibles to become readily accessible.
3. Pray for God to encourage those who become discouraged in the midst of their distress.
4. Pray for Joel, Chavero, and me to remain faithful in remembering the things God has taught us during this trip and to live out His purpose as we continue to pray for and support our brothers and sisters in Cuba.
This past Friday, a plane crashed killing more than 100 people. Ten of those were couples who were church leaders in Cuba. This has been a grievous blow to the growing Church. Please pray for God to comfort all who mourn and to bring beauty from the ashes of this tragedy.