Category Archives: Cuba

Visiting Cuba after Hurricane Irma

I was privileged to make a trip to Cuba last week, spending time with Tony Fernández there. I accompanied him on a trip to the province of Santa Clara, where we took aid to five churches that had been hit hard by Hurricane Irma. Each church received a gunny sack of corn meal, a gunny sack of beans, a gunny sack of yucca, 20 bags of crackers, and 2 boxes of bars of soap. At our last stop, a very poor rural community, we gave them some clothes that been donated (including a large donation from the Baptist church in Matanzas) as well as a few things I had brought (basic medicine, a small water purification system, and some toys).

Here are a few pictures from the trip to give you an idea of what we did:

We had a worship celebration at the farm on Sunday. There were 3 baptisms.

We had “dinner on the grounds” after the baptisms

The farm has been crucial for the church’s hurricane relief efforts. Here we are loading yucca into Tony’s van.

Corn meal, beans, yucca, crackers, bars of soap, clothes, and toys… that’s what the church in Matanzas had for their brothers who were hit by the hurricane.

If you can’t get roofing materials, old tractor tires will make a temporary fix.

Jesus Pablo, preacher in Quemado de Guines, along with his family. Those are crackers that a baker provided for the church to distribute.

Visiting with Pedro Eloy Ferrer and his family in Sagua La Grande. They lost the roof of the top floor of their house.

Delivering supplies to one of the churches in Remedios in the province of Santa Clara

Leaving supplies at another congregation in Remedios. The preacher there is named Tony, so there are two Tonys in this picture.

I was on a tourist visa, so I couldn’t carry much stuff. But a box of plastic tops made for nice gifts for the kids.

Members of the church in Buena Vista in Santa Clara province. We left them some clothes that were donated by a Baptist church in Matanzas.

Cuba has never been given a chance

I’ve been to Cuba 25 times. I’ve studied the country for the last ten years. And I’d be foolish to call myself an expert on Cuba. It’s a complex country that defies simple explanations.

That said, I want to share some historical details that might give you some insights into the situation there, especially in light of the tense relationship between the United States and Cuba.

Cuba was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus in 1492. I put “discovered” in quotes because many knew of the islands existence before then; those that knew just weren’t Europeans.

Spain quickly made Cuba a base for its operations in the New World. And Cuba was one of the last American countries to free itself from Spanish rule, not gaining independence from that country until 1898.

At that time, the United States placed Cuba under its control. The U.S. would not recognize Cuban independence until the Cubans accepted the provisions of the Platt Amendment, provisions which granted the U.S. the right to intervene in Cuba when it was deemed necessary and also gave the U.S. control of Guantánamo Bay.

Cuba had “independence” but it was far from free. When opposition forces threatened the rule of Tomás Estrada Palma (who is famous for allowing the Platt Amendment to be imposed on the Cuban people), Estrada Palma appealed to the United States. U.S. troops invaded the country in 1906 and occupied Cuba until new elections were held in 1909. In 1912, the United States intervened in Cuba again, this time to put down an uprising by Cubans of African descent in an action known as the Negro Rebellion.

In 1916, American sugarcane plantation owners in Cuba appealed to the U.S. for protection from left-wing forces who opposed the elected Cuban government. Marines were sent to the island, especially because of fears that Germany might work with the insurgents to attack U.S. interests. U.S. troops remained on the island until 1922 (after that, forces remained at Guantánamo Bay, as they still do).

In 1933, elements of the Cuban military overthrew the government. The U.S. ambassador requested military intervention, and F.D.R. sent 29 warships in response. The Cuban president, Ramón Grau, cancelled the Platt amendment in protest. General Fulgencio Batista forced Grau out in 1934, becoming the de facto leader of Cuba, with the approval of F.D.R.

Batista was a brutal leader who ruled Cuba with an iron hand. He was friendly toward the U.S., however, so he enjoyed the full support of Washington. He served as elected president from 1940 until 1944, then as dictator from 1952-1959, until he was overthrown by Fidel Castro.

What’s the point? Cuba hasn’t known freedom. Not really. Politicians in Florida will try and convince the world that the Castro regime is the problem. They’re wrong. Castro is a symptom, part of a greater problem that goes back to the day that Columbus laid eyes on Cuba. Powerful people have seen Cuba as something to be used and controlled. Cuba is blessed with resources and an enviable geographic location; it’s cursed by the same factors, as these lead the powerful of the world to covet Cuba.

Whatever is announced by the U.S. government tomorrow, I pray that it will be for the good of the Cuban people. And whatever course Cuba takes when Raul Castro steps down in February, I pray that it will be for the good of the Cuban people.

Changes coming regarding Cuba

On Friday, President Trump plans to announce changes to the United States policy toward Cuba. I pray that these changes will benefit the Cuban people.

I put a similar statement on Facebook when Obama made his big announcement about Cuba a few years ago. At that time, a friend replied with a political rant, echoing the words of the Florida senator who is shaping the current policy.

I was disappointed. I was angry. And I was very sad.

This man is a preacher. He read a written prayer for the good of a people and responded with partisan rhetoric. (90% of which was incorrect)

Please don’t do that this time. Let the politicians play their games. Let us pray for the good of a suffering people.

May the changes announced this Friday be for the good of the people of Cuba.

Cuba Men’s Conference 2017

Didn’t get a chance to write last week; I was in Cuba for the annual men’s conference there. I never cease to be amazed at the things God is doing in Cuba.

Times are hard. Food shortages, fuel shortages… as more tourists come to Cuba, fewer resources are available for the average person.

But the church continues to grow and advance. There are challenges and personal issues, but the kingdom is growing and God is glorified. It’s always an honor for me to have the chance to encourage those working on the front lines.

Churches partnering with churches

For the last four years, the University Church of Christ in Abilene has been partnering with a congregation in Cuba to aid them in the outreach efforts. It’s something I’m very proud of, largely because I think it’s the type of mission effort that we need to see more of going forward.

We’re used to a model where a church in the United States supports an individual, typically a preacher. At one time, these were mainly missionaries from the United States. Now I’d guess that more locals are supported than foreigners. I think that, as we come to recognize the maturation of churches outside the United States, in many cases the best course of action will be supporting a congregation rather than an individual.

In this case, UCC partners with the Versalles Church of Christ in Matanzas. This congregation was started by Tony Fernández and his parents, and Tony continues to lead the church today. Over the last 10 years, the Versalles church has planted over 40 other congregations. They also have their own missionaries working in other provinces.

They have the know how. They have the manpower. They lack the material resources to continue to expand this church-planting ministry. UCC has the funds (thanks to a generous donor) and shares them with the Versalles church, no strings attached. We visit them, participate with them, listen to reports about what they are doing, but do not control their efforts. The church leadership makes the decisions about how to best use the funds they receive, and they’ve done a much better job of that than any outside church could have done.

Tony works fulltime for Hope For Life, a ministry of Herald of Truth. All of his funds, personal and work funds, come from this ministry. I’m in a funny middle position. Sometimes I carry funds to him from Hope For Life. Sometimes I carry funds to him from UCC. Sometimes I have both.

Tony makes a clear distinction between the funds. Those that are brought for the church are given directly to the church leadership. If possible, Tony doesn’t even touch them. The funds from Hope For Life go to Tony, for he has directed the Hope For Life efforts in Cuba since 1991. He, like me, responds to the board of directors of Hope For Life for the use of those funds. But in Cuba, he is responsible for the administration of those funds.

A lot of people at UCC have the mistaken idea that we somehow support Tony. I hate that, because I think they are missing out on the fact that we are part of something unusual and highly significant. Direct partnership between two congregations is an exciting prospect not only in Cuba but around the world. Our experiences over the last four years lead me to encourage other churches to do the same. In places where the church has already been established, don’t fund an individual; fund a church. Come alongside your brothers in Christ and say, “Here are the resources you need. Go do God’s work.” And put no other strings on the money.

I think you’ll be amazed at what God can do.