Category Archives: Cuba

Cuba and the future of missions

Tony Fernández at a morning activity for the elderly

I went to Cuba this past weekend with Steve Ridgell from Hope for Life (Herald of Truth) as well as Karene Neill from the Southern Hills Church of Christ plus Rosario Gibbs and Yukari García from the University Church of Christ. We mainly went to carry in some supplies that were needed there, but also went to observe and encourage.

Our time there reinforced my belief that our churches need to adapt to a new reality in much of the world, the fact that local Christians are seeking partners more than patrons. We need to learn to come alongside rather than dictate from afar.

More and more, I think we need to do what UCC has done: sponsor churches in other areas rather than sponsoring individuals. Don’t pay the preacher for the foreign church; provide the funds to the church so that they can pay their preacher. Don’t dream up new projects for them; get behind the projects that they have.

This obviously doesn’t work in places where the church is new. But I look at what has gone on in the province of Matanzas, and I can’t help but be excited. They are continually pressing forward and growing, dreaming of the future, preparing new teams to work in areas that are more distant. Tony Fernández, the Herald of Truth representative in Cuba, is the minister for the Versalles church and has led so much of this church planting movement.

Some things we saw:

  • The Versalles church, the one that we partner with, is seeking to replicate itself in other parts of the province. I don’t just mean planting churches; they’ve planted about 40 or so over the last decade. I mean that they want to equip some of those congregations to be hubs for new church planting efforts. They have identified three other cities in the province, in the north, the south, and the east. They are going to help a family of evangelists rent a home, give them a budget for transportation, and send them out to the surrounding communities.
  • Cubans continue to be hungry for God. They desperately need hope, and many are turning to God to find that hope.
  • The Christians are anxious to see the church grow. Tony told me about one of the mission teams that has begun working in the next province to the west. The leader told Tony that they were about to start in a town called Madruga. Tony asked him to wait since he knew that some ministers sponsored by a group here in the States are planning to eventually work in that town. The leader replied, “Wait? We can’t wait with the gospel. When those guys get there, we’ll turn the work over to them. But we can’t wait.”
  • The church is taking steps to reduce dependency on the U.S. For years, some of us who work in Cuba have talked about how to reduce the costs of the annual conferences in Cuba. While we talk, Tony and the Christians in Matanzas have taken steps toward doing just that at the farm the church owns. Their conference center will be up and running while we’re still debating the wheres and hows of the project.
  • The Christians are having to work around some of the things brothers from the States are doing. They won’t interfere, but they won’t but their hopes in ideas dreamed up abroad. It’s a bit sad to see how much money is poured into frivolous things, but Tony and his crew don’t complain about it. They’re too busy preaching.

I’m convinced it’s time to give more power to local Christians in other places. God has blessed Christians in this country with many resources. We need to do what we can to get those resources into the hands of faithful Christians… no strings attached. We don’t have to call the shots. We don’t have to make all the decisions. We just need to prayerfully partner with them.

Praying for the transition in Cuba

Many of you know that the people of Cuba have a special place in my heart. For the first time in years, they have a transition of power coming in the next few months. Please pray that this will be a peaceful transition and that all changes will be for the good of the Cuban people.

Several years ago, I posted on Facebook a hope that announced changes in U.S.-Cuba relations would be good for the people. One friend saw the need to respond with the talking points of one political party. I’m not interested. Couldn’t care less. Please share them elsewhere.

I don’t care who is to blame for the situation, who is going to “win” if certain things happen, or who is going to get credit for fixing things in the future. I pray that God will provide relief for the suffering that is going on.

If Christians can’t pray for the good of a certain people, have we really learned what it is to love our neighbors?

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.