WASHINGTON (BP)–Baptist leaders from around the world will meet in Havana Cuba, July 3-8 at the Calvary Baptist Church for the General Council meeting of the Baptist World Alliance.
During their six-day meeting, Baptist leaders will discuss issues of importance to Baptist life and demonstrate their support for the Cuban Baptist community of more than 35,000 members. Baptists are the largest Protestant group in Cuba.
Denton Lotz, BWA General Secretary said that the BWA is going to Cuba, “to experience revival, encourage the Baptist family in Cuba, learn from them and proclaim the Word of Christ.”
The BWA is a global organization of Baptists that represents more than 43 million baptized believers in 196 member bodies in 110 countries.
Among the major topics of discussion will be plans for Baptists to champion racial equality and work for peace in the world among ethnic groups. Religious freedom, aid to developing countries and Baptist growth will also be addressed.
The Baptist guests will also hold evangelistic meetings in 40 local churches in Havana and other cities.
Highlights of the meeting will include an open-air rally, the first for Cuban Baptists in many years, and the global guests will be treated to Cuban music and other aspects of the rich Cuban culture. It is expected that Fidel Castro will speak to the gathering on Wednesday evening at 8:00 p.m. during the Opening Ceremony.
While this is the first BWA General Council meeting to be held in Cuba, the BWA has been actively involved with Cuban Baptists.
In 1988 after a visit from the BWA, the Government of Fidel Castro allowed a shipment of 50,000 Bibles into Cuba and in 1989 a delegation of Baptists from the BWA visited Cuba to deliver the Bibles. These were distributed to all Protestant groups there.
Since that time the BWA has held a number evangelistic meetings in Cuba and conducted a theological conference led by the Study and Research Division of the BWA.
Baptist World Aid has also taken medicines and powdered milk to Cuba and provided support for some of the ministries of Baptists there.
The Baptist community in Cuba is divided into three main parts: The Baptist Convention of Western Cuba that is aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist Convention of Eastern Cuba aligned with the American Baptist Churches USA, and the Free Baptist Convention of Cuba aligned with the Freewill Baptists. All three conventions will participate in the BWA meeting.
In the past years the two larger conventions have grown from approximately 8,000 members to 16,000 members each. The Free Baptist Convention has another 1,500 members. Another group, called the Fraternidad, has more than 2,000 members.
“For many years due to ideological struggles around the world Cuban Baptists had been cut off from many brothers and sisters,” Lotz said, “therefore with great joy we have accepted the kind invitation of the Cuban Baptists. It is the Cuban Baptists who invited us, who are hosting this meeting, who have opened their hearts and churches to Baptists worldwide. In accepting this invitation we pray that this will be an encouragement to our brothers and sisters.”
Lotz notes that the meeting is not being held in Cuba “to affirm a particular philosophy or a system of government. We do not affirm a culture or ideology; we go to affirm the movement of Christ among our people,” he said.
Lotz hopes that Baptists will learn from Cubans that “growth in Christ, growth in maturity and numbers are not related to budgets but related to open hearts and open minds and to the complete reliance on the Spirit of God moving in one’s midst.”