Sunday, June 28, 2015

Cubans Hungry for Hope amid Potentially Big Changes

Cubans Hungry for Hope amid Potentially Big Changes
News Release from Christian Aid Mission ( For Immediate Release
Contact: Amie Cotton APR, +1 (434) 327-1240,
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (ANS – June 26, 2015) -- The United States and Cuba are on the verge of establishing diplomatic relations for the first time in 54 years, and commercial avenues between the two countries have begun to open. Heart-felt hope, however, must be found elsewhere, a local ministry director said.
While potential for economic change offers some cause for optimism for Cubans, most of the population continues to languish in poverty, he said. More Cubans than ever are reportedly braving rough seas to leave the island, driven not only by hunger but by rumors that restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States could eliminate the U.S. policy to allow Cubans who arrive on U.S. shores to seek residency (those apprehended at sea are returned to Cuba). Wages in Cuba are not high enough for most people to meet monthly expenses, many basic goods are lacking and the country's extensive social net does not protect many from hunger.
kids in Cuba Christian Aid“In light of the policy changes between the United States and Cuba regarding travel restrictions and local embassies, none of that seems to have affected or improved the situation of people who still have a life without hope, encouragement or food,” said the director of a ministry indigenous to the island. “The only ones who have hope for life are the ones that receive Christ as Lord and Savior.”
While U.S. President Barack Obama and previous administrations have dismantled some barriers to trade with the United States, analysts believe the decades-old U.S. commercial, economic and financial embargo on Cuba is far from being lifted. U.S. law stipulates that repeal of the embargo, which would require an act of Congress, is dependent on Cuba holding free and fair elections and transitioning to democracy with a government that excludes the Castro’s. Raul Castro, 84-year-old brother of former ruler Fidel Castro, has said he will leave office in 2018.
Raul Castro and Obama shook hands on April 11 at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, the first meeting between the heads of state of the two countries since Cuba and the United States severed ties in 1961. On Dec. 17, Obama had announced plans to restore diplomatic relations after 18 months of secret talks between the two countries. The last formal talks took place on May 21-22, and on May 29 the U.S. State Department announced that Cuba was removed as a state sponsor of terrorism, an issue that had presented a major obstacle to efforts at restoring diplomatic relations. U.S. officials have indicated no major, formal talks will be necessary before details are worked that will allow full restoration of diplomatic relations.
Human rights violations on the island of 11.2 million people, however, remain problematic. An increasing number of religious leaders are openly demanding religious freedom, which has led to crackdowns at local and national levels, according to a report this month by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Cuba signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in early 2008, but CSW noted, “Seven years later, Cuba has yet to make any move to ratify either.”
CSW chronicled 220 separate cases of religious freedom violations in 2014, up from 185 in 2013 and 120 in 2012.
“Unregistered religious groups have been a particular target of government repression, with religious leaders reporting harassment, fines and threats of confiscation or destruction of property,” according to the report.
While the number of violations of freedom of religion or belief has held steady this year, violations have grown in severity, according to CSW. For the first time since 2011, a church leader has been imprisoned, and the government appears to be targeting the property of religious organizations. Foreign students involved in religious activities linked to unapproved groups have been expelled, CSW reported.
Authorities may be cracking down on unregistered churches, but the indigenous ministry leader said he has seen the hand of God move mightily for the advance of the gospel. In a mountainous area not far from the place where Castro launched the revolution, 1,256 people put their trust in Christ as Lord and Savior last year through a church-planting program sponsored by a seminary on the island (name and location undisclosed for security reasons). The director of the ministry, which receives assistance from Christian Aid Mission, said that in the early days of the revolution, people commonly believed that evangelical churches would fade away as their elderly members died.
“Today, 270 young seminary students take the gospel to the mountains, causing a spiritual revolution,” he said. “The students receive Bible training, and they work in a church-planting program sharing about Jesus and delivering Bibles and New Testaments. Last year through this ministry, there were 26 new churches planted in the mountains.”
About 70 percent of the new congregations have no electric light, and with Christian Aid's help the indigenous missionaries were able to acquire lanterns. Two of the missionaries also bought mules.
“During the day the mules are used to farm cocoa and coffee, and at night they are used to travel to their congregations, located up to three hours of walking uphill,” he said.
Food scarcity persists in Cuba. In the past several months the ministry provided nearly 1,200 plates of food through its congregations in three different locations. For most of the children served, it was the only food they got, the ministry director said.
“Most children are guests from the local neighborhoods, and the food is a good testimony, because later they continue coming to church to attend Sunday school classes and worship meetings,” he said.
Along with soccer, baseball is hugely popular in Cuba, and the ministry engages children and their parents through both sports. Christian athletes teach young adults and children how to play baseball, which has a long history in the country and is linked with Cuban nationalism. Through daily contact with the kids, the athletes have had enough opportunities to share the gospel with them and their parents that in the past year more than 1,000 people have placed their faith in Christ, the director said.
With Christian Aid’s help, the ministry also provides soccer balls to a handful of churches fielding a total of 30 teams, he said.
“Missionaries and children hold worship meetings on the soccer field, and then they play and teach soccer to the non-Christian children,” he said. “Therefore, every Sunday the churches are filled with children and their parents, hungry for the Word of God. A congregation started this kind of outreach about eight months ago, and now it has 40 new children in their Sunday school class. Thank you very much for your prayers and financial support and for caring about our ministry in Cuba.”
To help indigenous missionaries meet needs, you may contribute online using the form below, or call 434-977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 115ALM. Thank you!
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Photo caption: Christian athletes in Cuba teach baseball as a way to reach kids and parents with the gospel.
Christian Aid Mission is an evangelical missionary organization based in Charlottesville, Virginia, that assists indigenous missionary ministries overseas through prayer, advocacy and financial support. Since 1953, Christian Aid Mission has identified, evaluated and assisted more than 1,500 ministries in more than 130 countries that are reaching the unreached for Christ in areas of the world where there is no witness for Christ, where Christians suffer from poverty or persecution, or where foreign missionaries are not allowed. Today, we assist more than 500 ministries overseas with tens of thousands of indigenous or native missionaries in the field. These ministries are currently working among more than 1,000 people groups in 100+ countries around the world. For more information, please visit
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Muslims flock to Jesus in response to Islamic State

Muslims flock to Jesus in response to Islamic State
By Mark Ellis, Special to ASSIST News Service
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (ANS - June 25, 2015) -- Some experts predict Islam will be the largest religion in the world. But Islam is facing a dilemma because of the atrocities committed by Islamic State in the name of Allah, which has left some Muslims questioning their faith.
Mission scholars say more Muslims have converted to Christianity since 9/11 than during the entire 14 centuries of Islamic history, according to a report by CBN News.
Many keep their faith in Jesus a closely guarded secret, fearing retribution from other hardline Muslims. In London, CBN News talked to Imram (no last name given to protect his identity), a British college student from a Pakistani immigrant family.
Imram left Islam after his study of the Koran left serious doubts about its veracity. “If someone leaves Islam and becomes an apostate, he is thrown out of his family; his family will be the first ones to abandon him,” Imran told CBN.
“His friends will reject him and he will be killed or he will be persecuted. A lot of my friends said, ‘This is the last time I’m talking to you because you disrespected the prophet Mohammed, you disrespected Islam.'”
Imran is studying the Bible and has concluded that Christianity is more credible than Islam, even though he hasn’t yet decided to follow Jesus.
Some disenchanted former Muslims are becoming atheists. But others find the grace, truth and power of God’s love is irresistible.
In Sweden, Pastor Fouad Rasho of Angered Alliance Church, himself an immigrant from Syria, has baptized more than 100 ex-Muslims. He said because of Islamic State, many Muslims are coming to Christ.
“Every week I meet one or more persons who come to me and want to know more about Christianity and the Bible because they are very angry about being a Muslim. They don’t want to continue to be Muslim,” Imran told CBN.
About the writer: Mark Ellis is a senior correspondent for the ASSIST News Service and also the founder of,  a website that shares stories, testimonies and videos from the church around the world to build interest and involvement in world missions.
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