God is turning things around for His kingdom in the island nation of Cuba.
Michael and a team of six Guatemalan missionaries traveled hours to get from Guatemala to their destination in Santiago de Cuba including traversing almost the entire island in an overnight bus ride. Here’s how it went…
After more than 30 hours in transit, we finally arrived in the southeastern town of Santiago de Cuba and met up with our contact—a Guatemalan pastor who has spent the past nine years ministering in Cuba.
About 20 minutes outside of Santiago, sits the village of Caney. Known for it’s fruit production, this town with a crumbling catholic church next to it’s central park, is the location of a small Christian church where students are studying in a Bible institute. Five of those students were graduating after spending the last two years studying the Bible through courses developed by ASELSI—the ministry we serve with in Guatemala.
Excitement shone on the students’ faces as they dressed in their dark graduation togas and mortarboard hats. Despite the heat from the sun that baked down on the sheets of roofing that covered the little church, the building was crammed with family members and friends as well as new students who came to witness the first graduation of the ASELSI Bible courses in Cuba.
As the graduation began, we could barely walk down the aisle in the tiny crowded church and people were still standing outside to watch.
We celebrated these five as the first fruits of a growing harvest of hearts that desire to study and live God’s Word in a nation that has lived under restricted religious laws since the Revolution in 1959.
After a celebratory lunch consisting of local dishes including a whole roasted pig that lay stretched on the table, we launched the conference workshops with a focus on helping families grow stronger – a big need in a region where many couples are on their second or third relationship. Many of the new believers in the church are trying to apply biblical principles in their lives and establish their families on a strong foundation.
Michael and two team members spent three hours teaching 30 some children in an unfinished but crowded room.
Many of the children responded to accept Christ and the impact on the families from the whole graduation and conference experience would be more evident during the next several days.
FIFTEEN HOME VISITS
Over the following few days, the team had 15 house visits planned so we could reach out to the unsaved and encourage those who already were following Christ right in their homes.
Under a sweltering sun, we walked between dozens of apartment buildings, many of which were built in the Soviet era and some new ones that are under construction to house the crowds of families who cram into the Martí District—a sector named after the 19th century freedom fighter and national hero who is still honored across the nation.
We visited house after shack after apartment where we prayed and shared Christ alongside local pastors who host small congregations in their homes because legally they are not allowed to build a separate church building and funds are in short supply in a nation where educated workers only earn about US$40 per month. Many people work second jobs to help make ends meet.
We saw 14 people accept for the first time or reconcile with Christ. Some were healed in their bodies, and others later started attending services at their local churches after we had left.
As we ministered with these dear pastors, who live under great stress yet forge onward to bring the Gospel to their neighbors, we saw many give their hearts to Christ.
NOW SHE CAN SPEAK
In one home a neighbor woman walked in the door and asked us to come pray for her daughter who was sick in bed.
We went with her up a flight of stairs and into a room where a woman lay under a white sheet with a fan blowing on her.
The mother told us her adult daughter couldn’t speak and that she had to have her leg amputated.
As we prayed over her, the pastor spoke to the woman and told her to speak her name.
Her broken voice crackled out the name, “Alexander.”
That was not her name, the mother said. We prayed more rebuking spirits and speaking the freedom of Christ over her. Soon, she was speaking and told us her real name.
In the house was an altar to demonic powers in the practices of Santaría – a Cuban occult religion based on beliefs passed down over generations from African roots.
We encouraged the mother to remove these items from her apartment, but she declined in fear.
After the mission trip was over, we found out that the mother has started attending the local church a few apartments away from her home.
THE PARTY OFFICIAL
In one of the simple houses we were talking with the family when the father of the home came in the room. In a neat white shirt, he spoke with a voice that demanded respect, but with words that showed a humble heart. He told us that he is an official with the Cuban Communist Party who works on a local level to maintain the honor of the Cuban Revolution.
He had seen the ministry to the children and the families during the conference and now he declared that he wanted what we were talking about. He wanted to accept Christ as his Lord.
We prayed with this new brother. Since that time we received reports that this official and others who accepted Christ during the home visits have been attending the church in their community to learn more about their new faith.
This mission trip to Cuba is part of a larger plan to raise up a new generation of missionaries from among Guatemalan believers.
Guatemala has been receiving missionaries for over 100 years and the church is on the verge of a new movement to look beyond their own four walls to reach their neighbors, nation, and world. We are excited to be part of training, equipping and sending Guatemalan believers to the nations.
When Fidel Castro and his revolutionary forces took control of Cuba in 1959, the practice of religion was restricted for the people across the island. Anyone who was religious wasn’t allowed to join the controlling political party and Catholic priests were condemned as counter-revolutionaries by the Communist leaders.
In 2015, then-president Raul Castro opened the Communist Party to religious believers for the first time in more than five decades.