HAVANA (BP)–Celebrating their first public evangelistic rallies in more than 40 years, Cuban Baptists packed into two evening services held in conjunction with the Baptist World Alliance General Council’s July 3-8 meeting in Havana.
“This is an historic event for the Cuban people,” declared Victor Gonzales, general secretary of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba. “This is the first time that all the Cuban pastors, seminaries and missionaries are together in one meeting. It is the first time we have celebrated open meetings since revolution times in the past 41 years.”
Baptists in Cuba are organized into four conventions with a total of 418 churches and 901 mission sites. With approximately 38,000 baptized believers, Baptists are the largest evangelical group in Cuba.
The two rallies, held at “Kid Chocolate” Sports Arena in Havana, attracted up to 3,000 people each evening. The events featured a variety of Cuban musical groups, pageantry and sermons by BWA President Billy Kim of Korea and immediate past BWA President Nilson Fanini of Brazil. General Council members also spoke in 40 evangelistic services held in area churches.
“It’s an impact in all of Cuba, especially the people of Havana, to know that all Cuban Baptists are working to win Cuba for Christ,” Gonzales noted. “I praise the Lord that this has been a great, great dream come true.”
BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz said the organization’s meeting in Cuba has helped strengthen “bonds of friendship, partnership and fellowship.”
“We have come to listen to our brothers and sisters in Cuba,” he said. “We’ve come to give solidarity to our brothers and sisters here and we have come to worship with them.”
Kim said the gathering of 400 international participants from 60 countries will “help Cuban Baptists strengthen their profile among their people because they have been under less freedom for the past 40 years.”
Theo Angelov, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation in Sofia, Bulgaria, compared Cuba’s political and economic conditions to life in Bulgaria before the fall of communism a decade ago.
“Coming from such a country which was 50 years under communism, I am aware of the significance of such a gathering for the people of Cuba,” Angelov noted. He said the council’s meeting was “a symbol of change, unity and of hope for the future.”
Citing gradual changes in Cuba since the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991, Angelov added, “Cuba cannot survive alone, so changes are inevitable. The problem will be what will happen.
“From our experience in Europe, freedom does not always bring better times but changes for which we are not prepared. I’m concerned for the future in Cuba as well as countries in Eastern Europe and many others.”
Alexander Kozynko, president of Moscow Theological Seminary, said the BWA events provided “another step in recognition for Cuban Baptists.”
“It is a good witness for society here that Baptists around the world are behind Cuban Baptists and are supporting them,” Kozynko said. “We are one family.”
“For Cuban Baptists, this meeting has been a tremendous blessing,” Gonzales declared. “It is the Lord opening the doors in Cuba. The only answer for Cuba is Jesus Christ.”