I recently discovered that it is possible to go back in time: all you need to do is visit Cuba! “I’ve gone back in time, surely?!” was the thought that crossed my mind as I arrived on the island for the first time. And it wasn’t just me who thought this: the other pastors I’d travelled with from our country, Ecuador, were feeling the same way.
It’s difficult but let’s put aside, for a moment, the great needs that exist in Cuba, some of which our project (described later) seeks to address. Let’s focus, for a moment, on its beauty. Havana is a city full of the charm of 50 years ago, a paradise for classic car enthusiasts.
There’s nothing more pleasant than strolling through ‘Old Havana’, enjoying its architecture and breathing the very air of the past. You can either take a walk along the shore, enjoying the sea view and gentle Caribbean breeze, or you could hop aboard one of the classic cars that function as taxis, and explore the city that way.
But its people are what make Cuba so special. One of the Ecuadorean pastors described it well: “It is here that I have seen the widest and most dazzling smiles in the world – true Caribbean beauty in every sense.”
He’s right – the appeal of the Cuban people goes beyond their physical beauty: they radiate kindness and they have a gift for service – and mischief, too! With few opportunities open to them in terms of employment, they’ve also proved masterful at improvising and finding different ways to make a living.
Yes, it is well known that Cuba has needs. Many articles have been written about this. But there is news of another kind, too, which needs to be shared: the Gospel is growing in Cuba!
According to Dr Marco Antonio Ramos, an expert in Cuba’s religious history, there are now between 20,000 and 30,000 house churches in Cuba. These groups meet regularly in people’s homes to study the Word of God, and have become a very important part of the Church body in Cuba. Many of the leaders and pastors in these house churches haven’t had the opportunity to undergo formal training, and there is also a massive shortage of Bibles because people simply can’t afford them.
That’s why we, as United Bible Societies in Ecuador, together with our sister Bible Societies in other countries, are part of an unprecedented project to bring God’s Word to the Christians of Cuba. Together, we aim to provide one million Bibles.
So far, we in Ecuador, working with people from different churches and organisations, have delivered around 50,000 Scripture resources, including Bibles, Lectio Divina booklets, textbooks for pastors, and thousands of digital Scripture resources. We’ve also helped train around 2,000 leaders in 15 provinces on the island. And, most importantly, we’ve seen lives being changed by the Word of God.
Serving on the island of Cuba over the past 18 months has been such a rewarding experience. All the hard work and lack of sleep has been worth it because I’ve witnessed the smiles of Cubans receiving their very first Bibles. What better food for the soul than seeing a person’s eyes light up with delight, or a smile so wide that it can barely fit on their face?
The next phase of the project will soon be under way, a new group of missionaries will be formed to work with us in Cuba, and they, too, will experience Cuba for the first time. They may be going to Cuba to serve and teach Christians there, but they will find that they themselves will be served and taught by Cuban Christians, too. They won’t be the same when they return home. Jesus was absolutely right when he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ This project is a clear example of that.