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God’s hand evident in Cuba, former missionary relates

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–When Hugh Hurt returned to Cuba this winter after a 37-year absence, he saw the hand of God at work, even in the midst of oppression. “It is not God’s desire for people to suffer like they are suffering,” he reflected, “but he uses those times to call his people to him.”
Hurt recalled how people unable to find a seat lined the walls in every worship service he attended. Nearly 200 Cubans crowded into the 110-seat sanctuary at Los Pinos where Hurt led revival services, some even standing outside to listen through the windows. Twenty-six people made professions of faith. These were part of 360 professions of faiths made that Thursday night in the Havana churches as part of simultaneous revivals held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba in February. Hurt reported the simultaneous revivals brought greater evangelistic results than a citywide crusade held in the past.
Another 2,000 people attended the convention meeting at Calvary Baptist Church in Havana, with a sanctuary that seats 1,000. They stood for hours to hear the Word of God proclaimed, while others sat in the stairway, on the podium or on the floor. At least 200 Cuban Baptists made public commitments to missions service during one of the sessions.
During the meeting, the Cuba convention voted to create its own home and international mission board to send missionaries from their country to other countries. The denomination hasn’t sent international missionaries since 1950. Hurt said that decision illustrates the enthusiasm and commitment of Cuban Baptists.
Hurt, of Jacksonville, Fla., attended the convention meeting as the fraternal representative of the Florida Baptist Convention, which sponsors a missions partnership with the 147 churches and 218 mission congregations in the Western Cuban Convention.
The trip was a bittersweet return engagement for Hurt, who served as a Southern Baptist home missionary to Cuba from 1957-61, as he witnessed the poverty of the island nation. “The Cuban people have found they have no hope in material things. Now they’re looking for hope beyond that,” Hurt said.
Forty years ago, his family had lived in a thriving, busy Havana, but that “city now doesn’t exist,” according to Hurt. Cars are time-warped models from the 1950s and ’60s, but much of the transportation is by bicycle, Hurt reported. “There are no shops, no stores, no clothing in stores and very little food to buy. Medicine is nonexistent. It’s a tragic time.”
As a Home Mission Board-appointed missionary teaching at the Cuban Baptist seminary in Havana, Hurt departed Cuba in 1961. He had lived through four years of the nation’s most troubled times, as Fidel Castro waged a guerilla campaign which resulted in a bloody revolution against the government of Fulgencio Batista.
The former missionary recalled the sight of tanks rolling down busy streets, the sound of gunfire heard throughout the day and having soldiers randomly interrupting his worship services in Managua where he was a pastor. Bullets often hit the Hurt family home.
One day while going to the neighborhood grocery store, his wife, Eva, saw three uncovered bodies — gunned down by Bautista’s soldiers. When Bautista fled Cuba on New Year’s Eve 1958, angry mobs ransacked homes of the highest government officials.
It was a time when there was no law and order, Hurt said. “It was a country where one day you had police, and the next day the police were in hiding.”
When the revolution ended and Castro ascended to power, Hurt observed, “everyone had such high hopes.”
Then in 1960, Castro proclaimed he was Marxist-Lenninist, a political theory embracing a socialist government order and classless society.
That winter, members of his church met with Hurt and urged him to leave, knowing that a U.S. invasion was a possibility. As pastor of a church in Managua — site of the nation’s largest military installation — they said Hurt would be in danger of Cuban government reprisals.
Four months after the Hurts left Cuba, the U.S. government launched the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion. Afterwards, thousands of people, including two Southern Baptist home missionaries and 48 Cuban Baptist leaders were imprisoned, accused of crimes against the government. Countless Cubans were executed.
After four years of service in Panama, Hurt came to Florida in 1965 where he directed the state’s language work, first under the appointment of the Home Mission Board (1965-74) and then as an employee of the state convention from 1974-80 and 1981-90. When Hurt arrived in Florida, ethnic churches in the state included 29 Hispanic congregations. At the time of his retirement the number had increased to 127 and now stands at 204. Hurt cited the growth of Florida Hispanic churches as further evidence of God’s hand at work.
During his homecoming trip, Hurt renewed many friendships. Former student Jorge Comesanas, pastor of Coral Park Spanish Baptist Church in Miami accompanied him on the trip. He discovered other Cuban Baptist leaders who were former students and children of former students.
Although Hurt observed “a new openness, or permissiveness, from the Cuban government” in allowing the work of the church to progress, he acknowledged the church does not have the same freedoms as U.S. churches.
“Cuban Baptists are filled with both joy and sadness but are excited about the future that awaits them,” Hurt said. “One day there will be a different Cuba and a better Cuba, but they are most excited about the coming of the Lord.”

    About the Author

  • Barbara Denman
    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.Read All by Barbara Denman ›