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Statement by BWA’s Lotz recaps Baptist faithfulness in Cuba

WASHINGTON (BP)–Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cuba
hopefully “will open wide the doors to religious freedom for
all Christians,” Denton Lotz, general secretary of the
Baptist World Alliance, said in a Jan. 21 statement on the
Roman Catholic leader’s visit to the island nation led by
Fidel Castro.
Lotz, In his statement, also voiced hope that the
economic boycott of Cuba by the United States will end. “It
is my personal feeling that the boycott is not helpful,” he
said. “It hurts the people who need the most help.”
Lotz cited the book, “Fidel and Religion,” by Brazilian
journalist Frei Betto, in which Castro was quoted as saying,
“I’m sure a visit by the Pope would be useful and positive
for the Church and for Cuba and I also think it would be
useful for the Third World in general.”
While the eyes of the world focus on Catholicism in
Cuba, Lotz said he wants the world also to know of the
faithful witness of Cuban Baptist leaders through their long
night of struggle.
With some new freedoms in recent years, baptized
believers have more than doubled, to more than 35,000, in
the Western and Eastern Baptist conventions, both of which
are BWA member bodies.
The numbers are accurate, Lotz said, because “Baptist
membership is strict and evidence of rebirth must be
publicly acknowledged before the congregation.” The overall
Baptist community in Cuba, including a third BWA member, the
Freewill Baptist Convention, encompasses more than 100,000
worshipers in 400 churches across the island, according to
the BWA.
In the last two years, Lotz said, “the prayers and
suffering of the Baptist people have resulted in a revival,”
which has been reported on by many BWA teams visiting Cuba.
Lotz credited the revival partly to the economic
hardship in Cuba and a
grasping for freedom. “A certain desperation had set in and
people became hopeless,” he said. “No longer were they
afraid. There was a feeling the party was a failure.
Searching for hope, many people began to visit Baptist
Lotz continued, “Many people had recognized the holy
and devoted life of Baptists, their honesty, their
compassion, and thus with the new freedom were
drawn to Baptist churches.” Among the converts, Lotz said,
is Castro’s sister who was baptized in the Baptist church in
Havana and now lives in Miami.
Cut off from Western help, Cuban Baptist seminaries and
Bible schools still were able to train pastors and “raised
up an excellent faculty and indigenous ministry,” Lotz said.
But while the churches and seminaries are growing, they
face continued restrictions, especially with buildings and
meeting in homes, Lotz said. Like all others, they suffer
from the effects of the embargo, and churches function with
little or no materials especially for Sunday schools and
seminary training.
Lotz recounted that after the enthusiasm of the Castro
revolution had died down and “the struggle to exist became
the name of the game, religion became even more despised by
the party and the people.” During this time, “evangelicals,
especially Baptists fought and in some cases died for their
faith,” he said.
“Baptists continued to meet all over the island,
sometimes in secret in homes and apartments. While there was
a certain amount of religious freedom,
especially for worship in churches, religious freedom as
in the West was strictly prohibited.”
Throughout this time, the BWA worked to help Baptists
get Bibles and
gave support and encouragement to the leaders and churches
survived. Ten years ago, for example, when Lotz visited Cuba
as part of a religious delegation, he met Castro, who spoke
of his love for the Bible during the conversation. “Every
educated man ought to read the Bible,” Lotz quoted Castro as
saying. When Lotz visited students at the Baptist seminary
in Havana the next day, they complained they had no Bibles.
After Lotz wrote and received permission from Castro
officials, 50,000 Bibles were sent to Cuba. “What a joy to
meet our Cuban Baptist leaders later in the year in the
Bahamas who reported joyfully of the permission to grant
Bibles,” Lotz recalled, noting there is now no problem in
importing Bibles into Cuba.
Today, Lotz said the BWA continues to work with its
three member bodies in Cuba by sending various worldwide
delegations to the island nation. “On every visit,” he said,
“the BWA makes an effort to dialogue with Cuban government
leaders, expressing our concern for continued growth in
religious freedom and seeking permission to give
humanitarian aid.”
Most recently, Paul Montacute, director of Baptist
World Aid, visited Cuba and obtained permission to send
humanitarian supplies directly to the Baptist churches
there. Powdered milk is especially needed.
If indeed the visit of Pope John Paul II contributes to
more freedom for all believers, and if, like after the fall
of the Berlin wall, Cuba does open up completely, Lotz said
“the BWA is concerned that we empower and enable Cuban
Baptists to carry on their ministry of reconciliation
without diluting their message with negative aspects of
Western Christianity.”
“I would be concerned about an unhealthy flooding of
Cuba with well-intentioned evangelists who, because of their
lack of understanding of the past 40 years, may do more harm
than good to the growth of true evangelism and Christian
witness,” Lotz said.
“We must allow Cuban Christians to stand on their own
feet and witness in their own context,” he said. “We do this
by supporting them in prayer, sending in necessary
literature, supporting them with humanitarian help, making a
plea for further religious freedom and by encouraging growth
in contact. The BWA is committed to doing all of this for
our brothers and sisters in Cuba.”

    About the Author

  • Wendy Ryan