EDITOR’S NOTE: The sixth and seventh paragraphs have been edited since the story was posted earlier today.
MIAMI (BP) — Three 40-foot containers packed with 83,723 Spanish-speaking Bibles to be distributed among Baptist churches in both Western and Eastern Cuba are expected to arrive in Havana March 25.
The shipment, slated to leave South Florida during the week of March 15, is the third Southern Baptists have sent to the island nation since 1999. This latest effort brings the total number of Bibles sent to nearly half a million, said Kurt Urbanek, IMB strategy leader for Cuba since 1997.
However, this represents the first time Bibles were shipped directly from the United States. The extensive process of seeking permission from the Cuban government to ship Bibles required a great deal of negotiation with government officials and the Cuban Bible Society, Urbanek explained. Clearance for this effort was given late 2014.
“We are grateful the Cuban government opened the doors for the Bibles,” Urbanek said.
In 1992 the Cuban government officially changed its status from an atheistic to a secular society, helping pave the way for the Bible distribution.
The shipment of the Bibles and Bible resources, coordinated by IMB, represents a collaborative partnership between IMB, LifeWay Christian Stores, Florida Baptist Convention, Church by the Glades in Coral Springs, Fla., and other individuals and groups.
Last year, LifeWay customers across the country donated funds to purchase 144,000 Bibles for distribution in several Central American and Caribbean countries. Of those Bibles, 60,000 were designated for Cuba. IMB provided $100,000 for the project. Florida Baptists contributed $2,000 from the Maguire State Mission Offering to purchase 600 leather-bound Bibles. Others provided funding for additional Bibles and resources, as well as the cost of shipment.
In the past, the Cuban government required Bibles to be distributed to all evangelical denominations in the country. But this time 75 percent — or 64,000 — of the Bibles will be allocated to the Havana-based Western Cuba Baptist Convention and the Santiago-based Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention, resulting in each group receiving 32,000 Bibles.
With the Eastern Convention reporting 29,063 professions of faith in 2014, Urbanek said the Bibles potentially will cover the new Christians and only a few more. The eastern churches also will endure a logistical challenge getting the books across the rough Cuban terrain to Santiago, about an 18-hour drive from Havana.
Urbanek reported the Eastern Convention added 1,300 new house churches and missions in recent years.
“The growth is so incredible, that’s why Bibles are so important,” he said, noting Western Cuba churches have expanded likewise.
The shipment also includes Bible commentaries, study Bibles and giant-print Bibles for the visually impaired.
Florida Baptists, who have an 18-year partnership with Cuba Baptists, have participated in other shipments of Bibles to Cuba, said John Holloway, team strategist with the Convention’s Partnership Missions.
He asked Southern Baptists to pray for “unhindered delivery; no problems at customs in Cuba; immediate distribution; and the salvation of many.”