5,000 Western Cubans walk into new year with new life in Christ

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WESTERN CUBA–As 2024 dawns, close to 5,000 Western Cubans are walking into the new year with new spiritual life found only in Jesus Christ.

During a recent mission trip to the island nation, eight Florida Baptist leaders came right beside Western Cuba Baptist leaders for eight days of evangelistic outreach and preaching, resulting in 4,820 professions of faith. While there, the Florida Baptist leaders divided into teams of two and preached in 45 churches and missions scattered across the provinces of Villa Clara and Cienfuegos.

Florida Baptists have partnered with the Western Cuba Baptist Convention since 1997. It is a “true partnership” characterized by Florida Baptists’ “heart of servanthood,” said Kurt Urbanek, International Mission Board strategy leader for Cuba.

In his several visits to Cuba during the partnership, Myles Dowdy, Florida Baptists’ catalyst for missions and ministries, stated that he has met many Cubans who are yearning for “the hope of Jesus Christ.”

Mission team member Zach Terry, pastor, Fernandina Beach First Baptist Church, agreed with Dowdy, saying in a social media post, “Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is always hope.”

Reflecting on the Florida Baptist team’s trip to Cuba, mission team member Phillip Hamm said, “I was amazed at how receptive the people of Cuba were to the gospel. Not only were they very hospitable and friendly, but they also have a sincere hunger for spiritual things.”

I was amazed at how receptive the people of Cuba were to the gospel. Not only were they very hospitable and friendly, but they also seemed to have a sincere hunger for spiritual things.

Phillip Hamm pastor, First Baptist Church, Palmetto

Fred Pitts, recently retired pastor of Ancient City Baptist Church in St. Augustine, added, “I was impressed with the commitment of the Cuban ‘missionaries’ working alongside us during the day and the receptivity of the people to gospel. These missionaries were laypeople from another part of Cuba as well as members of the churches we served.”

This mission trip marked Pitts’ first visit to Cuba. The pastors there, he said, “were not only very committed to Jesus, to their churches and to Cuba as a nation in need of God’s love, but they were also well trained and solid students of Scripture.

“And the people were so very receptive! They were welcoming and friendly and excited to hear words of hope from God and His word. It is clear that God is moving among the churches and people in Cuba.”

It is clear that God is moving among the churches and people in Cuba.

Fred Pitts recently retired pastor, Ancient City Baptist Church, St. Augustine

Pastor Manuel Barahona had not planned to go on the Western Cuba mission trip; too many details seemed to be getting in the way of him going. Yet, the issues keeping him at home were resolved, and he joined the mission team.

“This trip in many ways changed my life,” said Barahona, pastor of Westside First Baptist Church in Boynton Beach. His takeaway? “The church in Western Cuba is alive and well. All I can say is, ‘Praise God.’

“Our priority while we were there was getting the word of God out and supporting our brothers and sisters. I’m ready to continue to do anything and everything I can to help. I’m in.”

Barahona recalled preaching one night as he held a lantern to read Scripture. The church was dark due to an unexpected power outage.

“Although we came and wanted to preach and bless the people; it was the other way around. I received the blessing,” he said.

The recent mission trip was the fourth time in Cuba for Al Fernandez, Florida Baptists’ Southeast region catalyst. This time, in particular, he said. “We saw evidence of the gospel spreading like wildfire.”

Fernandez agreed with his fellow team members that the Cubans he met on this trip “were so receptive to listening and accepting the gospel.”

His time in Cuba reminded him to be grateful, Fernandez said, recalling an experience that he believes God orchestrated. When he left for the trip, Fernandez, not knowing why, packed an extra pair of shoes; the shoes were a bit too big for him and he rarely wore them. In Cuba he felt compelled to offer the shoes to a Western Cuba Baptist leader. The next day, the leader, with a huge smile, stated that the shoes fit perfectly and added that the pair of shoes he had been wearing had broken the previous day. He had tried unsuccessfully to glue the shoes back together. Fernandez’ unexpected gift of shoes came at just the right time.

Fernandez stated boldly that the trip to Cuba “was a revival for my life.”

For pastor Mark Rodriguez, pastor of Love Unlimited in Miami, his trip to Cuba was personal. Both of his parents were born in Cuba. On this trip, he met six family members for the first time, with one family member making a profession of faith.

On the Sunday following his return from Cuba, he preached to his Miami congregation, describing Cubans’ passion for the gospel.

The relationships built over the eight days in Cuba will be “ongoing,” he said, as he receives regular messages from pastors he met while he was there.

Challenges

To be sure, in spite of the spiritual harvest, the trip had its share of challenges. Whenever there is a spiritual harvest, “Satan will show up … and he did,” said Dowdy.

The group at times had to go without electricity and, thus, running water. The heat and mosquitoes were relentless. “We would shower by filling 1.5 liter bottles with well water and pouring them over ourselves. Let me testify to the fact that well water is quite cold!” Terry said.

Long days, starting in the early morning with team members heading to the churches being served, and then returning back to their lodging at sometimes midnight or later, became routine.

The church in Western Cuba is alive and well. All I can say is, ‘Praise God.

Manuel Barahona pastor, Westside First Baptist Church, Boynton Beach

“While rewarding, it was a very exhausting trip,” said Pitts.

Language barriers were real, but were overcome. Hamm recalls boldly preaching from Luke 15 about how Jesus left the 99 sheep to go after the one lost sheep. Toward the end of his sermon, his translator suggested that he might want to preach about that very topic and Scripture.

“I was sure nothing I had said had been communicated, and prayed to get off the stage before I embarrassed anyone else. But after the invitation was given, eight men came forward to give their lives to Christ. I don’t know what my translator, Thomas, said, but I decided that he definitely was a good preacher!”

Preparation and follow up

Western Cuba Baptist leaders had done extensive preparation prior to the arrival of the mission team, handling all logistics and details for the trip, which included securing lodging, translators and host churches. Additionally, Western Cuba Baptist leaders trained groups of their own leaders and church members in evangelism, discipleship and prayer so that they could be a part of the movement of God right where they live.

“You can tell a great amount of preparatory work had gone into the events,” said Hamm, pastor of First Baptist Church in Palmetto. “The local pastors and denominational leaders were eager to see their communities and all of Cuba impacted for Christ.”

Just as Western Cuba Baptist leaders prepared for the evangelistic harvest, they are now discipling and training the new believers in Christ. Often the discipleship of Cuban believers is complicated because of their diverse spiritual backgrounds.

Barahona has received photos from Western Cuba pastors of new believers being baptized, being discipled and now serving.

As he returned home to Florida, weary yet gratified, mission team member Chris Bonts, pastor of First Baptist Church in Middleburg, said his prayer is that the eight-day evangelistic outreach trip will be a “legacy event that will impact the area for years to come.”

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