From time to time colleagues send me links to internet articles describing supposed “persecution” of certain Cuban pastors. This week someone sent me another link, that taken out of the larger context of what is happening in Cuba, could possibly cause great concern that the government is “cracking down” on the Church. I see these articles frequently enough that I sent my colleague the following reply, which I will also share with you, for your knowledge and encouragement:
Friend to friend, I will tell you something blunt that I don’t say too often publicly.
The church in Cuba is no longer a persecuted church. It is a monitored and regulated church, but not a persecuted church. Times have changed.
When you read articles like this about crowds outside someone’s house, or a pastor being detained, it is due to one of two circumstances:
1) The pastor is a member of the New Apostolic Movement, an extreme group which the government might actually be accused of “persecuting.” These pastors are known for speaking out publicly against the government. What is worse, from a Church perspective, is that this movement has caused great damage and division within the Lord’s body.Unfortunately, most of the pastors who have joined this movement have followed the example of their leader, pastor de Quesada, who –when he decided he was an apostle and not just a pastor– notified the A of G that he was taking over ownership of the church building and renaming it according to his new movement.
Similarly, my friend Eliseo Navarro, president of the Christian Pentecostal Church of Cuba (ICPC), had a pastor join this New Apostolic Movement, then declare that both the congregation and the church building were no longer part of that denomination. Eliseo and his top leaders had to go and physically dislodge this man and his family in order to keep the property under the ownership of the ICPC. In addition, Eliseo had to speak to community leaders who had become greatly concerned by all the upheaval caused in the city due to these circumstances. It was a tense situation and a “black eye” for the Church in that community of Banes. Thankfully now, a couple of years later, things are calm under the leadership of the new pastor.
2) The other reason pastors are “persecuted” in Cuba is that they belong to a group such as Pastors for Change (Pastores por el cambio) or another politically-motivated organization. Pastors for Change is comprised of pastors from very small, often independent churches. They are not well-known or well-regarded among the Christian community. Pastors for Change receives money from the US government, perhaps funneled indirectly from USAID, and this money allows this small group of unknown pastors to have a large voice (on the internet at least — they are not having any impact whatsoever in Cuba.)
So, my response to you is that pastors in Cuba who get into serious trouble with the government these days are the pastors who are publicly anti-government (especially in their posts on the internet) and/or members of the New Apostolic Movement (who are considered as bringing unwanted divisions and social upheaval).
The rest of the pastors (99%), have a hassle sometimes getting visas, getting permits for events, or getting construction permits, but that is about the extent of it.The current reality in Cuba is that believers are not confined to the four walls of the church. They can knock on doors to evangelize and they can share their faith in public places. In 2012, for example, ACTION finished a five-year project in which our teams handed out 1.2 million tracts in public spaces (streets, bus stops, sports fields). ONE POINT TWO MILLION. People handing out tracts were watched, but over the five year project there were no problems. The printing and distribution continued, unhindered.
In addition, more and more permits are being given for open-air meetings and large gatherings in public buildings. Last year in Santiago there was a multi-day worship gathering of 9,000 in a public building. Yes, it took some negotiating to get the permit. But the event happened.
One friend of mine, who also pastors in Camaguey (like the pastor in the article you sent me), has this year alone hosted numerous interdenominational conferences with over 200 in attendance and has been allowed to start a monthly ministry to children in the cancer ward of the local hospital. He takes a team of helpers (including clowns) and they play with the kids, give them crayons and coloring books, have cake with them, preach the Gospel and pray for each one and their family members.
I see the doors open wide in Cuba for those who want to preach Christ and do good.
I usually avoid speaking this truth publicly because I can be accused of being an apologist for the Cuban government, as if I were defending them. But as someone who has ministered in Cuba for 13 years, spends 8 to 10 weeks per year with pastors from numerous denominations, and coordinates 7 to 10 interdenominational events each year, I can tell you that the Church is flourishing and there are amazing new opportunities in Cuba that were unavailable to believers even four or five years ago. Times have changed.
True, if a pastor crosses the line and makes anti-government statements, he will find himself back in the old days, of public repudiation and other difficulties. But for those preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there are actually more opportunities to impact Cuban society than the church has the vision and resources to take advantage of!
For example, ACTION has been asked by the government to become more involved in Cuban society in the following areas: help the youth recover values and ethics, assist the elderly and the handicapped, minister to alcoholics and drug addicts, grow food for the hungry. And these opportunities are not just for foreigners, I am in touch with Cuban pastors who have also been asked to become more involved in these areas.
Believers now comprise about 10% of the population, up from about 1% when I first visited Cuba in 2000. There are cities in Cuba where — even according to government census reports — over 25% of the population identify themselves as evangelical Christians. Times have changed.
You may not notice the changes if you focus on politics. But if you look with Kingdom eyes then Cuba is vastly different than even a decade ago and the opportunities to preach Christ and minister to the needy are nearly mind-bending.
Sorry this reply got so long but I decided to write this up rather formally so I can share it with others who have come across similar articles on the internet.