HAVANA (BP)–World Baptist leaders met with Cuban President Fidel Castro in a two-hour private meeting one day after Baptist World Alliance General Council members adopted a resolution encouraging “initiatives to ease sanctions on food and medicine affecting the people of Cuba.”
The meeting with Castro came on the final day of the BWA’s July 3-8 General Council meeting in Havana. Meeting with the Cuban leader were BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz, new BWA President Billy Kim of Korea and immediate past BWA President Nilson Fanini of Brazil as well as leaders of Cuba’s four Baptist conventions.
The BWA, founded in 1905, is a global umbrella organization of Baptists. It represents more than 43 million baptized believers in 110 nations. The early July annual council meeting and related events attracted more than 400 international participants from 60 countries.
The BWA event was the first-ever international Baptist gathering held in the socialist nation of Cuba. The meeting featured simultaneous evangelistic services in 40 Cuban Baptist churches. A public evangelism rally attended by more than 3,000 people reportedly was the first such Baptist event since Castro came to power in 1959.
Lotz said the July 8 meeting with Castro signals the Cuban government’s growing recognition of Baptists’ influence as the largest evangelical group in Cuba.
Castro “understands religion can play a significant role in the life of people, in Cuban society and even in helping international relations,” Lotz said.
Emphasizing that BWA participants “were not here to affirm any ideology or government, but to affirm the people of Cuba,” Lotz said the resolution opposing economic boycotts recognizes that “the Cuban people are the ones suffering from the boycott.” Withholding food and medicine from people in need “should not be used as a form of government policy,” he insisted.
Lotz described conversations with government leaders as a form of “pre-evangelism.” Noting that Baptist leaders were able to tell Castro that “Baptists believe in the separation of church and state and are concerned about the spiritual conversion of people,” the BWA leader added, “It’s much better to talk than to snipe at one another.”
Lotz said the BWA meeting in Havana and the dialogue with Castro “give credibility and visibility to Cuban Baptists, which is very significant for a minority movement.” Cuban Baptists have more than 400 congregations and 900 mission sites, with a total of 38,000 baptized believers in a nation of 10.8 million people.
BWA President Kim said the BWA General Council meeting, which is held in a different nation each year, helped Cuban Baptists “strengthen their profile among their people because they have been under less freedom for the past 40 years.”
Additional BP photo posted in the BP Photo Library. Photo title: CASTRO DIALOGUES WITH BAPTIST LEADERS (1 of 2).