Against all odds, God’s word flourishing in Cuba today
Translated by James C. Dekker
I’m writing from the “depths of Jaguey Grande,” as the poet Agustin Acosta called our city in the southern part of Matanzas province. Here is where God has placed us to preach the gospel of salvation and eternal life.
I will never forget one of the texts that my father once copied for me – Jeremiah 33:3, which spoke deeply to me for years: “Cry to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” I always wondered what those great and hidden things were that I yearned to see. Would it be the case that the Word of God would disappear in Cuba? That the churches would close because people would forget the Gospel?
I want you to know that in the last 20 years there’s been a revival in the church and among the people of God. A resurgence of God’s Word among the Cuban people has worked like the resurrection of the Lord, which I bear witness to with these stories.
No praying allowed
When I was 12 years old and my sister Loyda 11, we were enrolled in a residential school near Jaguey Grande. One day word leaked out that Loyda and I were Christians, a rare occurrence in those days when few teenagers in Cuba confessed Christ as Saviour. At that time neither Loyda nor I owned Bibles; there were very few Bibles in Cuba since the victory of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959. My father gave us a notebook in which he had copied a number of Bible verses that encouraged and strengthened us to deal with the many temptations and conflicts regarding our faith.
Of course, it was difficult to find any devotional time in this school. Once in a while my sister and I would come together to pray, but we had to do that in secret because no kind of religious or spiritual practice was permitted. I found it really difficult to have to sit at table at mealtimes and not be able to pray aloud, as we did at home. At this time the Cuban Constitution said we could profess our faith, but at the same time it declared that all education in our society would be done according to Marxist-Leninist principles.
Besides this, we often found ourselves labelled extremists by some teachers and school administrators who attacked Christianity. I still remember with considerable anxiety that one day a teacher came and asked me many questions. He had been Roman Catholic, but left the church because it was deceitful. He said, “In a real socialist society eventually churches will become museums.”
That shook me to the depths of my 12-year-old heart. That night I wept; I had no idea how to respond to that teacher, not because I didn’t believe or didn’t know some answers. Rather, churches and Christians were living in tough situations, what with misunderstandings and outright discrimination. For example, Christian young people were not allowed to study psychology or many other university courses. As a result Christians were isolated from the day-to-day march of Cuban life. Regardless, I knew that the Lord was much more powerful than the harsh realities of our daily life.
In any case I kept wondering about that teacher and why he questioned and attacked so much about the church. He mocked the Bible’s stories about Adam and Eve, the teaching of the virginity of Mary and especially the resurrection of Jesus. Finally I told him that I believed he was profoundly mistaken and that the churches would never become museums or mere historical memories. The church wasn’t a human institution run by pastors; it was of Christ. I asked that he quit mocking me for my faith.
In those years there were very few people in church and most of them were elderly. Logically, humanly-speaking, it seemed likely that my teacher would turn out to be right.
God’s miracle in the Cuban church
When I finished my pre-university course I decided to go to seminary to become a pastor to preach the Word of God wherever in Cuba God might give me that opportunity. As time has passed, there are indeed museums in Cuba but also – thanks be to God – churches. Today we’re able to get Bibles for Cuban churches, build new churches and hold youth camps, as several denominations are doing – all possibilities given to us by God.
God gave me the privilege to be the son of a pastor and to be a preacher of the Gospel of the Lord in Cuba for more than 27 years; to be an instrument of God by holding discussions with representatives of the Cuban government, to give witness on behalf of the churches in Cuba, to obtain authorization to have Bibles and Christian materials shipped to Cuba, and to visit brothers and sisters in other nations to tell them in the name and for the glory of God and by God’s Grace that there is a living church in Cuba today. In 1999 we began to hold publicly advertised and celebrated worship services during Holy Week and Christmas and to broadcast monthly by radio a worship service. Though we’re not satisfied with only these spaces for the Gospel, I believe that God has blessed us greatly, considering where we were and where we are now. This has been God’s miracle in the Cuban church.
Over the years I’ve discovered the large number of sisters and brothers who lifted prayers to God for the Cuban church over all these years. You can be sure that the blessings of today are the fruit of those millions of prayers.
And now I’d like to tell you more about the miracle of salvation in Christ to continue the witness among our friends. One of my closest friends in my high school residential program was Ramon Duarte. I often spoke with him about the Gospel but he teased me mercilessly. A year ago I got a letter from him in Miami where he is living with his family and he made a point of saying that years ago at school he had surrendered to the Lord because of my persistence and God’s irresistible grace entering his life in a very difficult time. Related to that is the remarkable fact that after Ramon’s conversion, he and I preached the Gospel to a classmate, Vladimir Estenos. Two months ago Vladimir and his youngest daughter began to attend the congregation which I pastor.
What’s more, during my sister Loyda’s and my years in school a woman director of education often tried to convince us to forget about the gospel and the church. Today her mother is a member of our congregation and her nephew is a leader in the Pentecostal church in Jaguey Grande.
In sum, I bear witness that we begin to live the resurrection of Jesus from the moment we surrender to the Lord. Thanks be to God for his sacrifice and his resurrection, which continue to be real for the church everywhere. Philosophies and ideologies have become history and museums; we are convinced that the church will never turn into a museum. What remains for us to be faithful to the Word of God and blessings will be added upon blessings as God chooses.