News from Cuba

Fifty-five years after the Cuban Revolution, Christians there still experience social and economic controls, discrimination and occasional arrests. However, the good news is that this island nation is being reshaped by a faithful Christian movement. The rapid growth in house churches (casa cultos), evangelistic missions, relief work and community development is among the spiritual changes experienced in this country of 12 million citizens. While the dictatorship maintains tight controls on all religious activity, Cuban churches have sprouted and grown by the thousands in the past decade.

HOPE Church has sent two adult mission teams to Cuba over the last two years. “These trips was more than just a neat cultural exchange,” said Jeff Bills, HOPE’s lead pastor and mission team member. “For now, the Castro brothers are still very much in control. But when they leave power, the church there has an opportunity to emerge as a significant  influence to the Cuban society.” Long-standing adherences to the failed Communist model, and more than 50 years of standoff with Western development, have left Cuba well behind most of the Western Hemisphere.  “It’s important for us, as Christ followers, to be investing in the people of Cuba, now,” Jeff said. “We have two primary goals. In the short-term, we need to continue to send teams to help build leadership and effective systems within the current church.  Then, our long-range goal would be to bring their ministry teams over here to expand that learning. Right now, they don’t have much outside of Cuba to model. I think we are in position to make a real difference for Christ’s Kingdom work in Cuba.”

“What struck me was how similar they were to HOPE Church,” Pastor Rick Court, mission organizer, said. “Their ‘attractional’ approach to ministry, where they create interesting and fun events to draw people in, is very much like how we do things around here,” Rick said. “Our horseshoe tournaments and barbeques are their dominoes and soccer tournaments.” The local church outside of Havana where HOPE’s mission team worked has a mostly 20-something demographic, Rick said.

Fourteen adults traveled to Cuba from HOPE during the second trip, joining up with three adults from a North Jersey church to form the team. They spent their days digging footings for additional church buildings and teaching children art, dance and even origami. At night, they led adult Bible studies and leadership workshops. One first-time mission team member said of his experience, “This was by far the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Our own Emily Talley provided invaluable translation during the week-long trip. On Thursday afternoon  before lunch, the Cuban girls conspired with the American females to attack the guys with water balloons. They shyly asked Emily if she thought it would be okay to aim at the Americans too. With Emily’s wink and nod, the timid start of a small water balloon fight quickly escalated into a hilarious, hour-long drenching where buckets and roof-top advantages were utilized. “It was such a great visual to see everyone together enjoying themselves. We joked that we had just experienced a Cuban baptism,” Jeff said.

Addressing the church on the team’s final worship night, Jeff told the worshippers, “Last year we came as strangers and left as friends. This year we came as friends and leave as family.”

A mission team is scheduled to return to Cuba November 2015.



Filed Under: Missions