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Western Cuba Baptists to begin mission board


CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (BP)–While the world wonders what changes may come from Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cuba in late January, Baptists in the island nation are responding to God’s spirit and moving to reach the world for Jesus Christ.
The Baptist Convention of Western Cuba voted to begin its own home and international missionary-sending agency during the denomination’s annual meeting Feb. 4-7 in Havana. In addition, at least 200 Cuban Baptists — about a fourth of those attending — made public commitments to mission service during the meeting’s closing session.
“It was like a river of people coming forward” to make commitments, said missionary Kurt Urbanek, Southern Baptist International Mission Board liaison for Cuba, who works out of an office in Coral Springs, Fla. In Havana, Urbanek attended the meeting and preached during simultaneous revival services in which 360 Cubans accepted Christ.
During the convention’s annual meeting, a “huge movement” of God’s spirit was evident among Cuban Baptists, Urbanek added. “There’s such an incredible vitality in their lives and pilgrimage,” he said.
Western Cuban Baptists already are sending home missionaries within Cuba, but the new mission board expects to improve that process and better support these workers, Urbanek said. The board’s leaders also hope to send missionaries — pending government permissions — to at least two other countries. The denomination hasn’t sent international missionaries since 1950.
As the convention shifts its focus back toward global missions, “My prayer is that Southern Baptists would make a commitment to pray daily for Cuban Baptists, especially for the convention’s leadership,” Urbanek said. “They are carrying a tremendous load right now — more than you can imagine.”
Part of their load comes from a shortage of trained pastors. The convention’s 65 pastors struggle to lead the work of 147 churches and 218 mission congregations. “Many pastors are leading three and four churches and riding a bike for miles between churches,” said Urbanek, from Bellaire, Texas.
“They live on a level of faith we (U.S. Christians) don’t really know.”
“We just depend on the Lord,” said a young Baptist pastor in Cuba’s Cienfuegos province. “We go to him for everything. We preach that the Lord has the answer for all the people’s needs.”
“We’re seeing how through our work, God himself is being glorified,” said veteran pastor Hermes Soto, a professor at the Baptist seminary in Havana.
The seminary is filled to capacity with about 40 students; another 150 are on a waiting list. But new seminary-trained pastors barely cover normal pastoral attrition. That’s why the convention recently began lay leadership training institutes in two cities — in which about 300 laypeople participate. Three more institutes, all started with IMB assistance, are expected to open this year. Plans also are under way to send some Southern Baptist seminary professors on short-term teaching assignments to these institutes and the seminary.
Urbanek sees signs of a spiritual awakening on the island. “People with no (religious) background are coming to the churches in droves,” he said.
During the papal visit, nine Baptist couples in one Cuban city made home visits to more than 3,100 Cuban families and distributed Christian literature to about 2,400 families. Through their outreach, 1,035 people accepted Christ. Cuban Baptists in other areas also distributed tracts, New Testaments and leaflets on Baptist doctrine.
As Cuban Baptists continue to share their faith, the prayers of Southern Baptists are especially important to them right now, Urbanek said.
History teaches there’s about a 10-year window of opportunity for reaping the harvest from a spiritual awakening, he noted. “We’re about four years into that window in Cuba, so we really need to pray for their continued effectiveness in evangelism.
“Instead of maintaining a status quo, we want to help Cuban Baptists kick this growth up to a new level, so they are able to reach their full potential,” said Urbanek.

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  • Mary E. Speidel