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Western Cuba Baptists reap spiritual harvest

HAVANA, Cuba (BP)–For the second time this decade, the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba has added to its membership 10 new churches in one year, moving the group closer to its goal of reaching Cuba for Christ.
During the convention’s annual meeting in Havana, Western Cuba Baptists welcomed those new churches into their fellowship and rejoiced over other signs of God at work on the island. One of those signs: 345 Cubans accepted Christ through a citywide evangelistic emphasis held in tandem with the annual meeting in early February. Another: During one of the convention sessions, more than 200 Cuban Baptists made public commitments to vocational Christian ministry.
“God is working marvelously in Cuba. We are the fruit of the prayers of thousands of people all over the world who do not speak our language,” said Milagros Hernandez, president of the convention’s women’s department.
“We’ve always had the theme ‘Cuba for Christ.’ We’ve always been praying and working. Now we’re reaping the harvest,” added Dulce Gonzalez, administrator of the Baptist seminary in Havana. “The work that was done in difficult times was not in vain. We see with a tremendous joy our full churches and people coming back to the Lord. The new ones are coming and the old members are coming back.”
The convention’s church growth statistics reflect that spiritual harvest. During the past decade, the denomination’s total number of churches has grown nearly 50 percent, from 106 to 157. Membership totals have more than doubled, from 6,104 in 1990 to 14,129 in 1998. Last year churches reported 1,240 baptisms. An additional 2,844 Cubans are enrolled in pre-baptismal classes.
“The climate of the country has created a favorable response to the gospel. This is the time we can do the most good. This is the greatest window of opportunity that we’ll ever have,” said Raul Vazquez, head of the Florida Baptist Convention’s language missions department, who spoke to the nearly 860 convention delegates at Havana’s Calvary Baptist Church.
Vazquez also preached during simultaneous revivals that drew nearly 3,300 people to services at 29 Baptist churches in Havana. After his sermon at Cerro Baptist Church, 45 Cubans — what appeared to be about half of those in attendance — stood to show they wanted to accept Christ.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Vazquez said.
Vazquez was inspired by “the sense of evangelism, the sense of revival, the sense of response to the gospel that I experienced here, which I’ve never experienced to this degree anywhere in the world.”
Currently the Florida Baptist Convention is involved in the second year of a three-year partnership with Western Cuban Baptists, in cooperation with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. That partnership has brought volunteers from Florida and other states to help with projects at a Cuban Baptist camp and retirement home.
As a leader of that partnership, Vazquez has traveled to Cuba numerous times. He recalled some of his experiences.
During his first trip to the island, “they took me preaching in 10 or 12 churches of the interior. Every night people were walking 15 or 20 kilometers to get to the meetings. All they knew was that some guy from Florida was preaching, not that I’m famous or anything. They would flock. They would be watching through the windows … even in the rain,” he recounted.
“Whenever I would make an invitation, they just floored me. Half the church would come up. I said to myself, ‘I’m not doing something right. Something’s wrong.’ And then I realized there’s really a response to the gospel such as I’ve never seen in my life.”
But that response doesn’t tell the whole story. While Cuban Baptist work is flourishing, pastors are in short supply. Currently the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba has only 65 pastors to lead its 157 churches. Its seminary is filled to capacity with 56 students; more than 200 Cubans are on a waiting list to attend. In order to accommodate more students, Cuban Baptist leaders hope to gain government permission to add on to the seminary’s facilities.

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