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.