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Cuba

Triumphing Through Suffering

“I think this is World War III, kids,” my sixth-grade teacher announced gravely. “President Kennedy just announced that the Air Force will stop any Russian ships headed to Cuba. Russia’s leader, Nikita Khrushchev, has ordered the ships not to turn back.”        

I remember the fear of atomic war, the fallout shelters being dug in the yards of homes, people stocking up on food in their basements — the symbols of the Cold War in the early 1960s.         

Those memories drift back as our plane descends to the Havana airport. I wonder what Cuba will be like now — more than 50 years later. I couldn’t know that, within just a few days after our trip, negotiations for the restoration of relations with Cuba would make headlines throughout the world.

I eagerly anticipate walking the streets, meeting the people, and — most of all — witnessing firsthand the incredible miracle that has taken place in the body of Christ during the last two decades.

I am traveling with Dave Ellis, regional director for Latin America Caribbean. Our guide is missionary Danny Irizarry, who ministers regularly in Cuba.

I had heard about the 1950s-era American cars in Cuba, but their abundance takes me by surprise. Surrounded by the familiar cars from my childhood, I feel I am in a time warp.

Havana seems frozen in time.

A few of the cars are meticulously preserved and rented for tourist transportation. Most, however, are just kept in basic working condition and give evidence of multiple body repairs. No cars have been imported from the States since 1960 when an embargo was placed on U.S. goods shipped to Cuba.         

Some buildings are modern, but most are very old. Many are built in classic, even ornate designs. A few are restored, but often they are deteriorating because occupants can’t afford maintenance. I try to imagine what the buildings looked like when they were new, but their present condition makes it difficult.

Despite Cuba’s appearance, time has not stood still — neither in the nation nor in the church.

Thirty years ago, about 90 AG churches were in Cuba, and believers met under difficult circumstances. Today that number is estimated at more than 5,000 churches. A definitive number is hard to assess because churches multiply so rapidly.

What made this explosive growth possible was a sovereign move of the Spirit that began in the 1980s. AG churches were packed with spiritually hungry Cubans who experienced healings and miracles. Multitudes came to Christ.

As people gathered in homes to pray and worship, the revival accelerated. Homes filled to standing room only. Residents sacrificed living space so more people could get inside to worship. In many cases walls were knocked down so the congregation could expand. Sometimes homes next door were acquired and walls removed to make room for even more worshippers.

“The continuing zeal for evangelism is the greatest proof this revival has been an authentic move of God,” says Danny Irizarry. “Beyond the initial crowds and miracles, the revival has brought maturity to the church and a commitment to take the gospel to the nations.”

“What we see in the leadership in Cuba is a sense of tremendous boldness to do all God has called them to do,” Dave Ellis says. “They are going to preach the gospel and plant churches. There’s just no stopping them.”

In 2013 the Cuban government eased travel restrictions for citizens. For church leaders, this new development is a key component in fulfilling their vision to reach the world in missions. A growing number of believers are sensing God’s call to serve as missionaries — often to restricted-access countries. Church leaders have asked every believer to give $1 a month to support missions. Considering the average monthly income in Cuba is less than $25, such a commitment requires great sacrifice — a sacrifice these dedicated believers are willing to make.

Churches in the United States have prayed for Cuba during years of economic hardship and restrictions on worship. But through these hardships, believers in Cuba have gained a perspective on suffering we need to understand.

“Suffering is one of the most fruitful and even beautiful things that can happen to the church,” a Cuban pastor tells me. “In the context of suffering, God exalts His Son Jesus and we enter into the school of Jesus. Jesus was the paradigm, the gold standard, for triumphing through suffering. In our suffering, God promises to strengthen, perfect, establish and affirm us.”

Through the comfort and empowerment of the Spirit, the church in Cuba has more than endured; it is seeing explosive growth. It exemplifies single-minded love for Jesus and a passionate commitment to spreading His message — to Cuba and far beyond. 

Continue to pray for our spiritual brothers and sisters in Cuba. Pray also that the Spirit will grant us the simple and pure devotion to Jesus that characterizes the Cuban church — a church that has triumphed through suffering.

RANDY HURST is communications director for AGWM.

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