I wish that as American missionaries to Cuba – believers who are dedicated to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ and deepening the church’s knowledge of Him and of the Scriptures – we were above the fray of international politics. But we operate within this context of two governments who hate each other, with each desiring that the other cease to exist.
That is a tough atmosphere to minister in, and was made far more difficult when the Bush administration published their Cuba transition report in 2004. Colin Powell states in the foreword of the report, “Our goal is a true democratic transition. We want to help the Cuban people put Castro and Castroism behind them forever.” Regardless of whether you personally agree or disagree with that statement, I think you can understand why Raul Castro would consider those words to be a threat to his government.
In the hundreds of pages that follow Powell’s statement, the US government laid out their plans to hasten a political change in Cuba, and unfortunately they indicated that Cuban churches could and should be a useful tool in those plans.
Here are only a few of the many statements in that document that reference the church:
“Recommendations . . .Use the humanitarian aid program to encourage the democratic transition by empowering Cuban churches, free libraries, civic centers, the media, and small businesses to assist in the effort.”
“Seven Foundations for Action in Cuba’s Transformation: There are seven overarching principles that are so fundamental to a successful transition that they cut across all other actions and issues. They are: … 3.Churches and other religious bodies have an important role in building a free Cuba.”
“Religious organizations can play an indispensable role in the transition to a free Cuba . . . the special importance of religious institutions in the transition is due to the fact that they are one of the few intact nongovernmental organizations on the island that have the trust of the people and the means to organize through an existing social network of communications and distribution channels at all levels of society.
“The churches can play a role in the initial planning and coordination of donor services for short-term humanitarian assistance. Ideally, they would have a ‘seat at the table’ in whatever intergovernmental and interorganizational committees are constituted to oversee provision of immediate transition assistance. Cuban church leaders, as well as members of sister faith communities outside Cuba, can play an important role in the diplomatic and organizational work accompanying the political transformation.”
“Within most communities, churches and faith-based organizations are a major part of the support system. The Cuban people during a transition likely will want to maintain and strengthen those systems. Faith-based organizations can provide emotional support, a sense of trust, and continuity. They can also be used to educate and to communicate information to individuals and communities on the subject areas covered in this chapter.”
There are other – actually, numerous – suggestions in the document as to how the church could be utilized during the transition to a new government. So many in fact that it is clear why the Castro government would be highly suspicious of American missionaries. The Cuba transition plan clearly gives the impression that:
- American missionaries could be sent by and financed by the US government. These missionaries would be at least as interested in political transition as in theological and material assistance to Cuban churches, and possibly that would be the real reason behind their travel to the island.
- Cuban churches would be willing partners in the US plan to transition Cuba into a new government.
So, American missionaries to Cuba, your own government has placed a big target on your back. Your travels, contacts, and conversations on the island will be monitored and scrutinized because the Cuban government has to determine who you really are. Did Jesus send you, or was it George Bush? Thanks in great part to the Cuba transition plan, your sincerity as an ambassador of Christ is under suspicion.
Although that report was written seven years and one president ago, it is fresh in the minds of the Cuban leaders. On August 1, 2011, Raul Castro said in a speech, “If anyone doubts this [these plans of the enemy], we remind them to read the Bush Plan for the transition in Cuba, which as far as we know has not been abolished, and the role they propose to give to all the religious organizations in their subversive strategy against our country.” [my translation]
What should you do, given these facts?
- Make sure your motives are pure. Yes, Cuba has a unique political system and Fidel Castro is a fascinating figure in world history. It is only natural that you will want to learn about both while you are in Cuba. But, when you converse with Cubans you trust, do you primarily ask questions about the system and about Castro? Or is it always Christ and the church in Cuba that is on your mind and in your speech?
- Make sure your pure motives are reflected in your prayer letters and blog entries.
- Do not be surprised or irritated if the Cuban government monitors your movements, friendships, conversations, and sermons. In fact, rejoice! Since you are only talking about your love of Christ and your concern for the Cuban church, perhaps one of those who monitor will give their life to Him and join His church due to you.
- Understand that when you enter Cuba on a religious worker’s visa (and you should always travel with the correct visa), you are considered a religious dignitary and certain conduct is expected of you. You should not deviate from the itinerary that was submitted to the government along with your visa application. (The authorities will expect you to be where you said you would be.) Do not preach at any church that is not part of the denomination that is hosting you (you can visit other churches, if your hosts approve it, but do not speak from the pulpit.) And if you want to visit a private home, make sure you get approval from the Cuban church leader(s) hosting you.
- Do not associate with any US organizations that receive funds from USAID, such as ECHO-Cuba. USAID offers grants for humanitarian assistance, but they also have the expressed purpose of “furthering America’s foreign policy interests.”
In summary, be a true ambassador of Jesus Christ, not of the United States, and the scrutiny you will be under will only serve to glorify the Lord as your speech and conduct will be judged to be above reproach.