Tag Archives: Cuba

Missionary fog

When we lived in Stockdale, Texas, there was a fruit and vegetable stand on the highway outside of town. Travelers would stop to buy the fresh fruit and vegetables sold there. When someone would ask where he got the produce, the owner would point vaguely and say, “Back there.” Back there was a nearby supermarket, but he didn’t see any need to share that information with his clients.

That sort of thing happens in missions, I’m afraid. Donald McGavran, known as the father of church growth studies, used to call it “missionary fog.” There was a preacher in our area who used to talk about his mission work in Thailand. I asked a friend who worked in Thailand, and they replied that nobody really knew when or where this man had been there. As best they could discern, he had been on a mission trip or two.

There is a Christian sister who corners me from time to time to tell me about the dozens of churches that have been started in Cuba by a radio ministry she is on the board of. I know the skepticism shows in my face, because the last time she added, “I’m sure they are in areas that you aren’t familiar with.”

I know the man giving her the information. I was present when he claimed that many churches were started through a radio effort I was a part of. When he called on me to confirm his assertion, I could only stare in shocked silence. We did radio programs at a time when the Matanzas church was planting new churches. Coincidence doesn’t mean causality; that church planting program was well underway before we ever broadcast anything.

That fog seems especially strong where the Cuba work is concerned. Everyone wants to take credit. “It’s our preacher training.” “It’s our materials.” “It’s our radio work.” “It’s our conferences.” “It’s our Bible distribution.”

Shame on anyone who takes credit for another’s work. Feel free to praise the work of the Cuban Christians. Feel free to give the glory to God for the growth that only He can give. Stop pointing to yourself and your work.

Let the fog blow away. Honor those who deserve honor. Give glory to God.


It’s been a busy last few weeks. Late July I was in Jinotepe, Nicaragua, for a campaign there that was sponsored by Hope For Life, a Herald of Truth ministry. Then last week I was in Cuba for the National Youth Conference; the Southern Hills Church of Christ in Abilene was the main sponsor of this event, while the University Church of Christ in Abilene and a church from Kimball, Tennessee, provided additional funds. I went with 3 university students from UCC.

Both trips were very profitable and encouraging. And tiring. It’s taken me a few days to catch my breath. I’m getting my bearings again and slowly getting caught up on things that went undone while I was traveling. I’ll get back to writing some things soon, as well as sharing more posts from the summer blog tour. For now, I’ll share a few pictures from my travels.

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.

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.