A Trip Into Cuba
Ruben C. Amador
The opportunity to visit among the Cuban churches was due to the efforts of brother Antonio Lira from Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Antonio had corresponded with one of the preachers some years ago and this same preacher encouraged and requested our visits. When Antonio asked if I was willing to go, I was eager to make the trip. We did not know what to expect. After many inquiries and overcoming obstacles, we made the trip the first part of January 1992. It was a trip that produced much information on the work in Cuba and on the desperate living conditions under which most of our brethren live.
As expected, the Cuban brethren are rarely visited by brethren from other countries. This is specially true of those of us who are American citizens because our government limits who may travel to Cuba. Nonetheless, the Cubans were excited and encouraged by our visit and desire that we return to work with them. The Lord willing, Antonio will return the third week of March and I will make another trip soon after Antonio's trip.
Limited Prior Knowledge of the Cuban Work
It was back in the mid 1930s that brethren Jose Jimenez and Luis Estevez from Tampa, Florida made the 90 mile trip from Florida to preach the gospel in Cuba. Through their efforts and that of converted Cuban Christians, over 30 churches were established. In 1959 a young Fidel Castro took control of Cuba and eventually all of the churches. During these years the churches lost their properties and furnishings. Many of the Christians did not suffer the communist persecution and as a result most of the churches disappeared.
In the mid-1950s when I was just a boy, a converted Cuban Catholic priest held a gospel meeting for the Spanish-speaking church in Sinton, TX. Brother Pedro Puig was that man, the first Cuban I remember meeting. He lived in Tampa, FL, established a Spanish-speaking church there and passed from this life some years ago. Bro. Puig had special ties with several of the brethren that are still living in Cuba and who speak very highly of him and his work.
There Is Light In Darkness!
Today the church in Cuba has people of all ages. It was good to see a good number of active young people. Among other things it clearly states that communism does not have the strong hold on all the young people in Cuba as reported. Children of all ages have a keen interest in the church and eagerly participate in their Bible classes and in the worship assemblies. What an experience to converse with the older people who had many stories to tell of their lives and of the Lord's work in Cuba!
Isolation from the western world, having to make it on their own and mainly their faith in New Testament teaching have kept the church in Cuba in a biblical course! The churches are not exempt from problems. Some of these problems are a direct result of the laws imposed by the Cuban government.
Antonio Lira arrived one day before I did in the capital city of Havana. He and brother Angel Perez, local preacher for the only church in Havana and our main contact, met me at the airport. Angel moved us in his car most of the time, but when he used the allotted monthly amount of gasoline, we had to walk, use the crowded buses or the hard to find taxis. Much of our time was spent in Havana.
We were able to visit with five Cuban preachers and attend services with three of the churches (Havana, Consolacion del Sur, and Santa Cruz del Norte). There are five established, government recognized churches in Cuba: Havana, Consolacion Del Sur, Matanzas, Santa Cruz del Norte and Santiago de Cuba. The other churches that exist are meeting in the homes of brethren and are not yet registered, but they meet and worship the Lord. These churches are in Matanzas, San Antonio de los Banos and Sancti Spiritus. We understand that there are other small, isolated groups. According to our sources, there are some 250 Christians in all of Cuba.
The opportunities to preach were few since the churches are prohibited to use foreign preachers without prior government approval, but the churches in Havana and in Consolacion del Sur took the risk and asked us to preach. In Havana we had special classes with the church and the young people on several topics. We had no problem in teaching Bible lessons in the homes of the brethren or small gatherings in the church buildings. Their willingness to know and study was very evident. Considering the overall conditions in Cuba, I was impressed with their Bible knowledge.
Very little Bible literature reaches the churches. The brethren give much effort to safeguarding their songbooks, Bibles and printed material which they get from brethren in the U.S. and other countries. A Bible is available. A February AP report states that "the Bible has been the top seller at the Fifth International Book Fair in Havana . . . the book fair is also the first time in 20 years the Bible has been widely available in the communist nation" (Houston Chronicle, Feb. 15, 1992).
Several of the young men in Havana publish a religious paper. While typing the builetin they use carbon paper to make extra copies for distribution. As you may guess, they do not have any type of duplicating machine. What an effort to communicate the gospel and news items!
The largest of the churches is the one in Consolacion del Sur with some 75 people. The other churches' attendance range from 20 to 55. As far as we know, only three of the preachers receive financial support from the States.
The Cuban postal service is worse than poor. Letters, coming or going, rarely reach their destination. Nearly all correspondence is opened and reviewed. Religious literature does not reach its destination most of the time. When it reaches Havana it may stay there for months and may reach the intended person if the responsible (?) person gives its release.
A Plea for Understanding
The Cuban Christians have been left by themselves long enough. Actually, too long! For whatever reason some may give for forgetting the Cubans, I urge brethren everywhere to search their hearts and extend their hands to them. If you cannot go, why not help those of us who can. You can also help with the cost of sending printed literature to them through a dependable agency that serves Cuba from the States. We live in a country where our blessings are beyond measure and the basic needs of life are taken for granted. The majority of the Cubans including our brethren, lack even the basic needs of life. Far greater is their need of teaching, encouraging and strengthening. You and I can do this and more. The cry for spiritual help cannot and must not be ignored. The hope of civil change in Cuba is still there and whether it comes or not, it does not justify our neglecting them. Pray for them for they are our brethren in Christ!
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 8, pp. 225, 247-248