By Franco Gennaro
Published April 26, 2008
Champions for Christ – Latin America
Church thrives despite hardship and persecution
HAVANA (FRI) – As I stare out the window of my shabby 12th-floor hotel room overlooking the city of Havana, Cuba, I think through this past trip which has been both exciting and sobering. I have had the privilege of not only ministering in various unregistered (non-government) churches, but also encouraging pastors in private meetings.
These men and women are the heroes of today. They have faced persecution, poverty, sacrifice and terror and are still living through it. These brothers and sisters often go without food due to the economic crisis. This is especially sad when I realize that they live just 90 miles from the United States.
In spite of these incredible hardships, there has been an explosion of revival and an incredible outpouring of the Holy Spirit on this island. Most church buildings are jam-packed, with standing-room-only crowds. While in the 1960s and 1970s many church buildings were closed down, today lines of people go out the front doors of churches – even into the streets. Recently, many congregations have doubled, and even tripled, in attendance.
Even more exciting is that fact that 70 percent of church membership is under 30 years of age. There is a spiritual hunger among youth in Cuba like never before. However, because of this growth, the government is now beginning to crack down on the local churches, as it perceives Christianity to be a threat to its future existence.
On my first trip to Cuba in 1993, there was more of an openness to Christianity in the government. Now, there is growing suspicion, fear and worry that this Christian revolution is getting out of hand. Restrictions and harassment toward ministers have become commonplace, with some churches being closed by the government. Though a good international public relations image has been recently created by the country’s leadership, behind the scenes there is great concern that allegiance to communism is faltering.
Another method being waged against the phenomenal church growth is the promotion of a substitutionary religion in Cuba – Witchcraft. The government now openly states that Brujera/Santeria is the “official cultural religion” of the island. In any government store you can find entire sections devoted to the sale of artifacts, dress and instruments for the practice of this demonic spiritual substitute. Moreover, Cuba has sponsored international conferences and workshops on the introduction of Santeria.
Missionary Hudson Taylor said, “The Great Commission is not an option to be considered, it is a command to be obeyed!” The trumpet sound is clear. In addition to sending Champions for Christ evangelism teams to Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Peru and Nicaragua, we will proceed this year with an outreach to Cuba.
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