Historic Visit Highlights Cuba's Quest for Hope
March 24, 2016
While the international spotlight on a U.S. president visiting Cuba this week may have given Cubans some cause for optimism, in the shadows another kind of hope was rapidly spreading.
Barack Obama's historic visit to Cuba, the first by a U.S. president since 1928, was meant to crown the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries and help boost economic reforms and U.S. investment. Cubans weary of decades of poverty told international media they would feel more confident when their standard of living improved, while dissidents lamented ongoing repression.
Obama's address on Tuesday (March 22) aimed to offer them some glimmer of hope – before Cuban officials and dignitaries, his address was broadcast nationally to Cuba's 11.2 million people. Urging continued economic opening, freedom of expression and an end to the United States' 55-year-old economic embargo, Obama said lasting change must come from within the Cuban populace.
"I've made it clear that the United States has neither the capacity or the intention to impose change on Cuba," Obama said. "What changes come will depend on the Cuban people. It also depends on the free and open exchange of ideas. If you can't access information online, if you cannot be exposed to different points of view, you will not reach your full potential, and over time, the youth will lose hope."
Far from the media spotlight, Cuban youth and others have found hope as Cuba's Christian leaders reported a surge of people putting their trust in Christ. Church leaders look forward to their personal transformation contributing to a more just and prosperous society.
"In the past year there has been a great spiritual awakening of thousands of people," the director of a Cuba-based ministry said. "Athletes, children and youth, tired of the rhetoric of more than 50 years of socialism, have now given their lives to Christ as the only hope for life. They raise their eyes to heaven for a confident future with Christ, living as in Psalm 121, lifting their eyes above the difficulties and arriving at the throne of grace and mercy of God."
The director said he has met many young pastors who have demonstrated their passion for Christ.
"They go out to the streets with guitars and tracts and share the gospel," he said. "Also, they pray for the sick, and where there is no medicine, Christ is medicine; where there is no food, Christ is the Bread of Life."
He said a young pastor in Matanzas Province who works with youth recently reported that he spoke at a Bible training and spiritual retreat to 500 young people who, since receiving Christ two years ago, have been thoroughly transformed.
"Castro's revolution wanted to make a new man, but 50 years later, the jails continue to be full and people want to emigrate," the ministry director said. "On the other hand, through the blood of Jesus Christ, God has conquered the hearts of young people and children and made them a new creature according to the image of the One who created them."
A young couple from the Matanzas pastor's church showed their commitment, he added, by moving 200 kilometers (124 miles) in order to plant a new church in Hatillo.
An affiliated sports ministry saw a total of 5,000 decisions for Christ made in baseball and soccer stadiums the past year, he added. Initially reaching children and then their parents with the gospel, the ministry helped bring people to Christ. As a result, more than 20 pastors began cell groups and house churches.
The indigenous ministry, with assistance from Christian Aid Mission, oversees the sports outreach and other ministries. In the past year, the ministries provided Bible training to local missionaries and leaders; helped support seven local denominations and ministries; bought two horses for indigenous missionaries; distributed food items; purchased 11 bicycles for native evangelists; gave 45 pairs of shoes to evangelists; bought and distributed 156 Bibles; visited children in hospitals; and provided 30 flashlights for indigenous missionaries in rural areas, enabling them to see rough paths as they traveled back at night after sharing the gospel, teaching the Bible and visiting the homes of new believers.
A pastor on another part of the island also reported rapid spread of the faith, as the affiliated ministry he heads planted more than 25 churches in the central and eastern parts of the country in the previous six months. Proclaiming Christ in villages, on roads and at parks, indigenous missionaries distributed New Testaments and tracts that began to turn the hearts of people toward God.
Reforms in Cuba have yet to improve the lives of most Cubans, analysts say. Though some barriers to trade with the United States have been dismantled and Cuba has begun to open its economy, the decades-old commercial, economic and financial embargo on Cuba remains. Ending it would require an act of Congress, with the prerequisite that Cuba hold free and fair elections and transition to democracy with a government that excludes the Castros. Raul Castro, brother of former ruler Fidel Castro, has said he will leave office in 2018.
"Politically speaking, many say that the beautiful island of Cuba is close to the United States, but the reality of the Cuban people is that they are very far from the so-called changes and approaches between the two countries," the ministry leader said. "The needs of my people are felt at all times in communications, at the table at mealtime, in transportation, in the deplorable living conditions of thousands of Cubans, and in the lack of essentials such as rice, cooking oil and milk."
Wages in Cuba may not be high enough for most people to make a living, and many basic goods are lacking, but the spread of the gospel allows them to transcend their immediate surroundings, he said.
"My coworkers and I want to thank you for your faithful support in the past year," he said. "Your support is literally 'means' for us; as Psalm 37:25 says, "I was young and now I am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread."
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!