WESTERN CUBA (BP) – As 2024 dawns, close to 5,000 people in Western Cuba are walking into the new year with new spiritual life found only in Jesus Christ.
During a late 2023 trip to the island nation, eight Florida Baptist leaders came alongside Western Cuba Baptist leaders for eight days of evangelistic outreach and preaching, resulting in 4,820 professions of faith. The Florida Baptist leaders divided into teams of two and preached in 45 churches and missions scattered across the provinces of Villa Clara and Cienfuegos.
Florida Baptists have partnered with the Western Cuba Baptist Convention since 1997. It is a “true partnership” characterized by Florida Baptists’ “heart of servanthood,” said Kurt Urbanek, International Mission Board strategy leader for Cuba.
In his several visits to Cuba during the partnership, Myles Dowdy, Florida Baptists’ catalyst for missions and ministries, said he has met many Cubans who are yearning for the hope of Jesus Christ.
Mission team member Phillip Hamm, pastor of First Baptist Palmetto, Fla., said he was amazed at the Cuban people’s receptiveness to the Gospel. “Not only were they very hospitable and friendly, but they also have a sincere hunger for spiritual things,” Hamm said.
For Fred Pitts, recently retired pastor of Ancient City Baptist Church in St. Augustine, the trip was his first to Cuba. He was struck by the commitment of those he worked with.
“These missionaries were laypeople from another part of Cuba as well as members of the churches we served,” he said, adding that the Cuban pastors “were not only very committed to Jesus, to their churches and to Cuba as a nation in need of God’s love, but they were also well trained and solid students of Scripture.
“And the people were so very receptive! They were welcoming and friendly and excited to hear words of hope from God and His word. It is clear that God is moving among the churches and people in Cuba.”
Pastor Manuel Barahona had not planned to go on the Western Cuba mission trip; too many details seemed to be getting in the way. Yet, at the last minute, things worked out for him to go.
“This trip in many ways changed my life,” said Barahona, pastor of Westside First Baptist Church in Boynton Beach. “The church in Western Cuba is alive and well. All I can say is, ‘Praise God.’
“Our priority while we were there was getting the word of God out and supporting our brothers and sisters. I’m ready to continue to do anything and everything I can to help. I’m in.”
The recent mission trip was the fourth time in Cuba for Al Fernandez, Florida Baptists’ Southeast region catalyst. This time, in particular, he said, “we saw evidence of the Gospel spreading like wildfire.”
For pastor Mark Rodriguez, pastor of Love Unlimited in Miami, his trip to Cuba was personal. Both of his parents were born in Cuba. On this trip, he met six family members for the first time, with one family member making a profession of faith.
On the Sunday following his return from Cuba, he preached to his Miami congregation, describing Cubans’ passion for the Gospel.
To be sure, in spite of the spiritual harvest, the trip had its share of challenges. Whenever there is a spiritual harvest, “Satan will show up … and he did,” said Dowdy.
Struggles included going without electricity at times, which also meant no running water. The heat and mosquitoes were relentless, and the days were long, from early morning until after midnight. And of course, language barriers were real, but were overcome.
Hamm recalled one instance when it appeared his sermon on Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep had been lost in translation.
“I was sure nothing I had said had been communicated, and prayed to get off the stage before I embarrassed anyone else,” Hamm said. “But after the invitation was given, eight men came forward to give their lives to Christ. I don’t know what my translator, Thomas, said, but I decided that he definitely was a good preacher!”
Preparation and follow up
“You can tell a great amount of preparatory work had gone into the events,” Hamm said. “The local pastors and denominational leaders were eager to see their communities and all of Cuba impacted for Christ.”
Just as Western Cuba Baptist leaders prepared for the evangelistic harvest, they are now discipling and training the new believers in Christ. Often the discipleship of Cuban believers is complicated because of their diverse spiritual backgrounds.
Barahona has received photos from Western Cuba pastors of new believers being baptized, being discipled and now serving.