by Timothy Bonner, 2017 D.Min. Cohort Scholar
We DMin students knew we would see plenty of 1950s American cars, but we weren’t sure what else to expect. We found Cuba to be full of surprises. First was the amount of horse traffic there is, both in the city and the rural areas. Also, a lot of horse or tricycle-pulled taxis, hitch-hiking, and van-buses, as most people do not own a car.
Cuba’s economy is doing fairly well, and the socialist government provides free electricity, as well as monthly food rations, medical care, and schooling – most males and females complete high school, we were told. We were able to stay there on the cheap at $550 for a whole week of room, board, and transportation – all high quality.
Our hosts were the Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention. They provided access to 19 churches, their seminary, and the newly opened nursing home that mainly served pastors’ widows. That church system really knows how to grow the church. Their innovative strategic plan was working well, as they had opened 40 new churches in the previous two years, despite the government not allowing public advertising or evangelizing. They did it by, “Preaching the word of God that changes lives,” they said repeatedly. Also, each church sponsors “missionaries” who go out and start what we would call a “house church.” Our guide, Pastor Joey’s, church of 44 members was sponsoring five missionaries. Joey was their mentor.
The entrepreneurial spirit is alive there –they can make anywhere into a church. We saw a church in a former auto garage, on patios of small homes (several), in a small apartment, in a rickety shack with literal holes in the walls, and even one that met under a large tree! In contrast to many churches in the U. S., most of the churches in Cuba are overflowing with people on Sunday mornings.
Another one of our surprises was that we did not see or hear about the Catholic Church there. We found out that although 85% of Cubans are considered to be Catholic, only a small portion of them ever go to church. Usually their religious label simply meant that they were baptized in the Catholic church as an infant. We saw and heard of no interaction nor collaboration between the Baptist churches and the Catholic churches.
We observed that Cuba is clearly a male-dominant society. The seminary did not teach women, for they are forbidden from preaching there. Almost all transportation was driven by a male. I made a point of looking one day to see if that conclusion were true. I saw one woman riding alone on a motorcycle in the city – that was all.
We were all delighted with the hospitality we received in the Eastern Cuba Baptist churches, as the women served us coffee and cookies almost everywhere we went. We wondered if the women were not the real backbone of the church, as the church service we participated in was mostly women. Also, their lay leader/music leader was a woman. By the way, they used the same praise songs that many of us do, but the lyrics were in Spanish.
Cuba is a second-world, developing country that is largely an agrarian society, outside of Havana. Its main natural resource is being a Caribbean island with sub-tropical climate. They are improving their tourism industry, as it is popular among Europeans. Americans can still go there for religious, educational, or service reasons and can also do day-trips from cruise ships.
The Cuban government has “control” over everything. However, they no longer require party members to be atheists. The pastors we visited said they know the government has spies, probably in their congregations, but they don’t know who they are. The pastors were very well versed in what they can and cannot say, as well as what they can write. The government owns the printing presses. Thus, everything is censored. However, the pastors proclaimed, “When we have an active church in a community doing God’s work, they know that they can’t stop us!” Amen to that.