I had the opportunity to visit Cuba in 2002 and meet persecuted Christians. I got a glimpse of what life must have been like for the 1st century Christian church. ♦
Why are they distorting the truth?
Cuba is and has been a sad and tragic mess since 1959 when Castro succeeded in his Revolution.
Don’t let anyone tell you that the Cuban education system or the healthcare services are superior or something to emulate. They are not. They suffer under the weight of Castro’s stifling communistic regime, fraught with low wages and inferior facilities, where capable people today earn less than $20 per month (in 2002 an able Cuban made $10 per month).
This small but stubborn nation suffers under the strict US economic trade embargo put in place by President John Kennedy in 1962. President Obama recently opened up diplomatic ties with Cuba via an executive order. President-Elect Donald Trump has vowed to reverse these executive actions if US demands are not met: “Those demands will include religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners.”
I wouldn’t bet on it in the near term. Cruel regimes die hard.
How I Got into Cuba in 2002
In the summer of 2002 I was just starting my current sales consulting business. God had just given me an amazing miracle of 2 new customer projects within an hour of my ultimatum prayer that encouraged me to keep pressing forward with my fledgling business. (Note: for that whole story see my Biblical Viewpoint post, God and Vocational Direction).
That God-blessed first phone call was from the VP of Business Development at CityTeam Ministries in San Jose, CA. They ended up being my first customer for sales training with my own developed sales training materials. Training a team of Christian fund-raisers was a pretty easy and forgiving gig for me.
At the end of the training day, the president of CityTeam told me I needed to come to Cuba with him that summer as he was taking a small group of Christian businessmen (at our own expense) to meet with 40 evangelical Christian church leaders from throughout the island.
It didn’t make a lot of sense to me at the time (nor my wife) but who was I to not follow the door-openings of God?
My Cuban Observations
We arrived in Cuba via a flight from Mexico City. We got accepted through Customs under CityTeam’s non-profit, humanitarian charter carrying 18 suitcases full of children’s toys and clothing. Driving through Havana was like seeing a town caught in a time-warp. A town that hasn’t had a paint-job in 40 years. There were Che Guevara posters all over and propaganda billboards telling people to persevere for the sake of the Revolution. All the cars were vintage 1950’s. It was eerie, sad and depressing.
We stayed at a hotel for tourists (Europeans vacation in Cuba) on one of the beautiful beaches on the north coast. Indeed, when this Communistic island falls (and it will someday) and turns to Capitalism, I believe Cuba will become a cross between Hawaii, Las Vegas, and Atlantic City.
It’s clear that the US embargo has greatly hurt this country, yet the real villain is Castro and his government State that leaves its people trapped in a clearly inefficient socialist system. People supplement their low-income with money from relatives living in Miami.
A real Black Market exists for products and services. Young, sharp Cuban men, who in the Silicon Valley would be capable high-tech engineers and entrepreneurs, are instead pig and chicken farmers who secretly trade eggs undercover to make ends meet. But there is paranoia for all and little hope among the common people, as underground citizen/government agents live literally on every block.
Incidentally, these men, trained with “advanced university education” in “engineering” studied 1950’s Soviet truck technology. Much of their trade education has little relevance to the real world, particularly when there are no jobs of consequence for an archaic economic society.
A Cuban Christian’s Observations
We met for two days in another town with 40 evangelical Church leaders of all ages who traveled from around the island to meet with us for prayer, worship, and an impromptu business workshop we put together to raise up their skills and discuss how they could progress even in their oppressive environment.
I had lunch in the home of a 65 year-old pastor who gave me a rundown of all he saw and lived through as a Cuban evangelical Christian pastor over the previous 40 years during and since the Revolution:
- Churches are now allowed, they were destroyed in the 1960’s.
- Castro, an atheist, specifically wanted to eliminate God and the church from the island.
- This pastor lived with 2 shirts over a 5-year period as pastors could not buy or sell in the community, “like the mark of the beast,” he said.
- Food was distributed through employment centers.
- There was pressure on students – no education if you were a Christian.
- There was pressure on employees and employers – people turned each other in (his Christian friend’s career as a doctor was truncated).
- One could be sent to jail for reading the Bible.
- In Cardenas, there were 12 Christians meeting in houses in 1981; 35 Christians in 1990; 4,000 Christians in 9 churches in 2002.
- The average pastor is 20-30 years old, only 3 years as a Christian.
- 5% to 75% of the people are Christians, depending on the Province.
- In 1987 many spiritual healings (dental pains, cancer, vision, deafness) took place in his church and many people became believers (for 2 months people waited in lines wrapped around the block; 70,000 people came for healings, only 20 stayed with the church).
- This broke the myth of atheism in Cuba as then many miracles took place all over the island between 1987 and 1992. Even the government officials took notice and believed. News went to Castro about “the miraculous ones,” officials saying “we’ve never seen anything like this!”
- In the early 1990’s the Cuban government started to slightly back off its persecution. All Cuban people had been taught that there was no God, now they saw that this was not true, pastors became to be perceived differently.
- In the 1990’s the Cuban government allowed home churches, but not more than 15 people meeting at a time, and no singing.
- Cell/home church multiplication started.
My week in Cuba in the summer of 2002 was a real eye-opener. My faith blossomed as I had now witnessed deep faith as it faced a persecuting culture and authority. Much like the early Christian Church as described in the Book of Acts in the midst of a dark and oppressive Roman Empire. Additionally, my business blossomed as well after I returned home a renewed man with redirected purpose, faith, and strength.
Can you imagine living as a Christian under persecution?
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. – Acts 2:42-43