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BWA meeting in Cuba proposed; Lotz calls for end to U.S. embargo

WASHINGTON (BP)–Baptist World Alliance General Secretary Denton Lotz has announced he will recommend that an invitation from Cuban Baptists be accepted for the BWA General Council’s July 2000 meeting to be held in Havana.
Lotz’s announcement followed his return from a visit to Cuba Nov. 25-Dec. 1. Daniel Carro, BWA regional secretary for Latin America, and Emmett Dunn, BWA youth director, were also on the BWA delegation that visited Cuba.
Lotz also issued a statement calling on the United States to end its longstanding embargo of Cuba, calling it “a failed policy.”
Lotz’s Dec. 2 statement, in its entirety, reads:
“The embargo of Cuba by the USA is a failed policy which hurts precisely the people we want to help, the children, the poor, and the elderly. As a Christian concerned about the lives of people and relief of suffering, it seems to me that it is time to lift the embargo. Children and elderly and many patients in hospitals suffer from lack of antibiotics and other medical supplies. American Christians should be given freedom for quick and easy access to minister in Cuba. The embargo prevents Christians from performing their Gospel requirements of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick. If China and other more repressive countries are open to trade why not Cuba? The embargo hurts the hurting. With Canada and most Western European countries involved in trade and construction, with thousands of tourists (more than one million!) coming from Europe, the only effect of the embargo is to prevent American Christians from ministering in Christ’s name. I urge the United States President and Congress to end the embargo and travel restrictions and allow citizens of the easier access to Cuba!”
The invitation to the BWA to hold a General Council meeting in the Cuban capital was extended by the Western, Eastern and Freewill Baptist conventions, the BWA reported in a Dec. 2 news release.
While BWA leaders have visited Cuba and held different kinds of meetings, this would be the first BWA global gathering in Cuba since communist rule began there and the United States broke off relations with Cuba in 1961.
The historic Calvary Baptist Church in Havana would host the July 2000 meeting.
Lotz’s recommendation will be considered during the BWA General Council’s March 8-11 meeting in Washington.
In their visit to Cuba, the BWA delegation met with the Western Convention’s president, Leonico Veguilla Cene, and general secretary, Victor Samuel Gonzalez Grillo; the Eastern Convention’s president, Roy Acosta Garcia, and general secretary, Ernesto Fernandez Gonzalez; and the Freewill Convention’s president, Ramon Sanchez Carril, and general secretary, Vidal F. Hernandez Diaz.
The Baptist leaders discussed hurdles they would need to overcome to hold the BWA meeting in Cuba in the light of the U.S. embargo and additional economic hardship in the Caribbean nation caused by the loss of economic support from Russia.
While hotel space would not pose a problem because of many new hotels in Cuba, the large numbers of Americans who attend BWA meetings could become a cause for concern. A government minister has told Cuban Baptist leaders this would not be a Cuban problem, but it would entail approval from the U.S. State Department for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba.
Lotz also made an appeal to the government on behalf of Cuban Baptists who want Billy Graham to visit their country. “Billy Graham should not die before coming to Cuba,” one Baptist leader said.
Leaders of the three conventions reported continued church growth in Cuba, while they still struggle with some restrictions.
In the Western Baptist Convention, aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention, there are 153 churches and 15,000 members. Additionally, there are 218 missions and 800 houses of worship in a convention community encompassing about 50,000 people.
Houses of worship have been confiscated and churches closed, the Western Convention leaders reported. Often there is no place to meet and it is impossible to get a new sanctuary, they said, and thus emphasis is placed on the work of the laity.
In the Eastern Baptist Convention, affiliated with the American Baptist Churches, USA, there are 195 churches with 16,000 members, with a convention community, overall, of about 50,000 people, more than half of whom are under age 25. By January 1999, the convention hopes to report 17,000 members.
Already more than 32,000 people attend Sunday school, a significant factor since until recently, Sunday school was not permitted, the Eastern Convention officials said. People also meet in about 1,000 unofficial houses of worship, which can grow into churches.
The Baptist seminary in Santiago, which currently has 90 students, has started an extension in Camaguey to meet the growing need for theological training, the Eastern Convention officials reported.
Before the 1960 communist revolution, there were 40 churches and 2000 members in the Freewill Baptist Convention, which, by 1990, had dropped to 600 members in 15 churches. Now, there are 2,200 members in 24 churches, the officials reported. They said evangelism is their emphasis and in 1997 there were 226 commitments and 117 were baptized.

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  • Wendy Ryan