Today we visited River of God Baptist Church in Santiago de Cuba. We met with Pastor Alexander and his wife Selania, and we were honored to be invited to join a prayer service with them. Pastor Alexander shared with us about the importance of testimony. In Cuba one of the highest priorities of a church is to maintain a strong reputation in the surrounding community. At any time government officials can come and demand the church property be handed over to the state. The officials will then talk to people in the community, Christian and non-Christian alike, about the reputation of the church. Often, it is this “testimony” about the church that serves as the deciding factor.
For these churches, testimony is as much about the character and reputation of the local church as it is about what God has done, is doing, and will always do in the lives of faithful believers. It’s more difficult to confiscate the property of a church if the community says we need them here, they help people, they create goodwill, they are saving and changing lives. In many ways, churches here subsist on their reputation and the testimony of others. In America we sometimes ask if the neighborhood would miss our church if it was gone. In Cuba that question isn’t cliché, it’s sometimes all that matters.
There are 20,000 people who live close to River of God Baptist Church. On Thursday nights River of God sponsors and supports 20 house groups who gather for prayer in the neighborhood. For senior citizens they host soup suppers and deliver soup to those who can’t come. They work with people trapped by addiction, they support families, and they have a variety of ministries for people in need.
In many ways their church looks like yours and mine. They sing hymns and praise songs. They pray together and the rejoice during baptism. They even wonder what the best way is to handle announcements. And, they believe that God will forgive their sins and heal their land. Can I get an Amen? I mean it, speak an audible AMEN for River of God Church, for the testimony of the work God is doing here, and for the testimony of the community that this church is essential.
The image above is of a mural in their sanctuary. II Chronicles 7:24 begins with the word “if.” There is no “if” for a church like River of God in Cuba. The churches we have visited pray and fast and honor God, and they do so from a deep well sourced by the living waters of God. Come, let us draw life from the same well and experience the blessings of testimonies such as these.