“And how are they to believe in himof whom they have never heard?And how are they to hear without someone preaching?And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”–The Apostle Paul to the Romans
Humanly speaking, there is a gospel in Cuba. A gospel is a message; a herald cry of a victorious battle. In Havana, the Cuban gospel is clear: the revolution was victorious; communism prevailed. The apostles of this gospel are Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Camil Cienfuegos; their faces are plastered all over the city like icons of the Virgin Mary in Rome.
Yet there are also signs of this gospel’s insufficiency: the painted faces of their heroes are pealing and faded—a subtle subtext proclaiming that the revolution was not, in fact, victorious.
The Cuban people need the true gospel. They need the news that their enemies have been vanquished; that death, sin, and tyranny are crushed under the foot of grace and truth and mercy through Jesus the Christ.
As the gospel of the revolution fades, the true gospel of Jesus takes root in homes and apartments all over Cuba as small house churches confess the blood of Jesus and worship him alone as the true hope of the universe.
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When our team visited Havana in April, we had a mission: to equip the church in Cuba. We did this first by hosting a conference on Biblical Hermeneutics—which is another way of saying we taught people how to read the Bible—and secondly by networking with church leaders to start a new church.
Bibles are hard to come by in Cuba—until the 90s it was illegal to possess one, let alone distribute them. Even today, it is illegal to buy or sell the Bible. We packed in our allotted 10 bibles per person, mostly scavenged from our personal libraries or purchased from a bookstore at the Miami Airport.
To understand how important this work is, you have to realize that there is no internet in Cuba. That’s right. No internet. Let those words sink in as you imagine a world without Google or cat videos. To a gospel like the revolution, information is war. There is no Christianity Today, no Tim Keller books, no ESV Study Bibles, no podcasts. As you can imagine, Biblical literacy is abysmal.
So we did our best to train local house pastors on how to read and understand the Bible. We covered topics like prayer and the Bible, the narrative story of the Bible, Christ in the Old Testament, and Christ in the Psalms. Our small class of pastors and church leaders were eager to learn, and we took breaks for café cubanos—intensely sweet espresso made stove top and sipped from tiny cups and saucers.
I really enjoyed talking to the pastors and hearing about their families. The next couple of days we got to visit many of their homes and churches for weeknight worship and pastoral visits.
Ok, so what is a worship service like in an illegal, underground Cuban house-church? Well, to begin with, imagine the poorest home in a concrete apartment projects you can think of. Now cut it in half. Add chairs, stools, benches, patio furniture, and 20-30 people of all ages and races huddled underneath a flickering-yet-blinding fluorescent light bulb. You recognize that they are reading the Bible; that much seems normal for church. Now all of a sudden everyone springs to their feet and starts dancing salsa to a blaringly loud and distorted TV. “I’m going to dance, dance, dance like David. I’m going to dance in the Spirit,” the singer croons over horns and percussion. You are yanked to your feet by a 60-year-old woman whom you can’t possibly refuse and next thing you know you too are dancing in the Spirit. There is more reading or preaching and then—you guessed it—more dancing. Despite the fact that you are on the 9th floor of an apartment building no one is knocking down your door to turn the music off.
In Latin America, Valentine’s Day is huge. It’s not just for romantic relationships; it’s a day for friends too. So to celebrate, our little house church went around the room to say how thankful we were for various things. When they got to me—remember, this is my first full day in Havana and I’m not only physically exhausted but mentally drained from teaching in Spanish all day—I tried to say, “I’m very grateful to be here and to arrive safe and sound.” Instead, I stumbled at “sa….” and the host said, “You’re thankful for the salvation of your eternal soul?” “Si…” I said. “Yes I am. Exactly what I was going to say.”
In addition to training pastors, we were in Cuba to network and form a conservative Presbyterian church. The official churches are typically state-controlled, so we were working with party members and the national council of churches to gain permission to form a new church, one that played by the rules of bureaucracy, but was free to teach the gospel of Jesus. There are men and women in Cuba who love Jesus and love his word, but can’t be recognized as a church. These believers live in a constant state of insecurity and are subject to governmental monitoring (i.e. spying), being shut down, or even arrest. We are hopeful that our work of gathering like-minded pastors and petitioning the right people will result in a more secure, long-term Cuban church.
Please pray for the Cuban people, the church, the pastors, their families, and their unbelieving neighbors. How will they believe if there is no one to tell them?
Posted on June 1, 2016
by Ethos Presbyterian filed under