Pray for Cuba

For most of my life, Cuba has been shrouded in a dark curtain of mystery and associated with frightening words like communism, sanctions, and dictatorship. After reading Pastor Rick’s posts about his visit there this summer, I felt like I was getting a peek behind that curtain.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. But what I saw so clearly, is that God is not limited by the status of diplomatic relations, by government, or by the lack of religious freedom. His purposes have always been and always will be to bring the nations to Himself.
I was also reminded that all of us can participate in God’s work in Cuba, right from where we are. Most of us may never have the privilege to travel to that nation, but we can pray. Through our prayers, we can support our brothers and sisters who are living out their faith in difficult circumstances. Our prayers can make a difference! Please take a moment to click on the link below and pray for Cuba today.

“Cristo de la Habana”


Standing on the hilltop of the San Carlos de la Cabana fortress in Cuba (the place where Che Guevara was appointed supreme prosecutor), I recently took a picture of “Jesus of Havana”. On Christmas Eve 1958, the statue was placed here overlooking the bay to the city. Just 15 days later, Fidel Castro marched into Havana with a proclamation of victory for the Cuban Revolution.


Shaming the Wise and the Strong

The “26th of July Movement” was the revolutionary organization led by Fidel Castro (with Raul Castro, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos) that overthrew the U.S. backed Fulgencio Batista dictatorship in Cuba by the end of 1958. Initially, the revolution was supported by the church (“Social justice, yes; communism, no!”) which was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic (72% of Cubans declared themselves to be Catholic, but only 24% actually attended mass on a regular basis). By 1960, the revolution showed its true intentions. Fidel Castro, enjoying his enormous popularity with the masses, declared that there would be no free elections…for “the people already decided”.


Cuba aligned itself with the Soviet Union and declared itself Atheistic…the diplomatic and economic war with the United States began. Castro proclaimed that the church was dead.

Churches were closed, property was nationalized, pastors were taken to rehabilitation camps and foreign missionaries were deported. In addition, printing Christian literature was prohibited and Bibles were not allowed to enter the country. Christians were discriminated against in seeking employment. Great limitations were imposed on Christian gatherings and approval by the government was required for any religious activity.


“Hasta la Victoria Siempre”, Che Guevara’s rallying cry during the revolution (“to victory always”; “never give up”), ironically characterized the fledgling evangelical movement during that time…but with this movement, resistance and advancement was in the power of the Holy Spirit! The Apostle Paul boldly proclaimed, “We are pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:9)

Castro’s decision to suppress the church…declaring it to be dead…actually planted the seeds for growth…explosive growth! The few public churches that were allowed to remain open began meeting every night of the week to accommodate the crowds. The lack of meeting space unified the believers and created the house church movement which began multiplying exponentially.

A spirit of prayer and evangelistic zeal persisted and spread across the country. While other pastors and religious leaders were fleeing the country, the pastors of Los Pinos Nuevos stood firm…not one of them defected!

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27)

Los PINOS Nuevos

As I mentioned in an earlier post, any thought I had of Cuba, was dominated by fear, threat and invasion. The fact that the church (evangelical, gospel centered) might exist was the last thing on my mind. I just assumed that it didn’t exist….or at best, that it had been snuffed out, pushed far underground, or just small and insignificant. I don’t ever recall hearing anything about it in the mainstream media.

I do have to confess my own ignorance and lack of knowledge of the global church as I write this. It’s embarrassing to say that I first heard of the rapid growth of the Cuban church about 6 or 7 years ago. I was very excited to learn what was happening. Little did I know at the time, that I would be seeing it for myself.

The reality is that the church in Cuba is strong and healthy. It is growing. Lives are being changed. The denomination, “Los Pinos Nuevos” (“New Pines”), who we as The Compass Church are considering to come alongside in partnership, has been in existence for 87 years.


This church movement began in 1928…primarily focusing on evangelism and church planting in rural areas. It’s name, “New Pines”, was given by founding missionaries in 1936 after seeing how new pine saplings withstood the ferocious winds of storms and hurricanes. They would bend, but would not break. Their vision was to raise up a new generation of church planters who would withstand the challenges emerging within the country. By 1941, there were 100 churches spread throughout the the country.

But then came the revolution.

In 1958, Fidel Castro declared Cuba to be an atheistic state and claimed that the church was dead. He seized 90% of church properties (both Protestant and Roman Catholic), closed churches and many pastors were taken to rehabilitation camps. Foreign missionaries were expelled. Printing of Christian publications was prohibited and Bibles were not allowed into the country. Christians were heavily discriminated against in seeking employment. Government approval was required for any religious activity.

The new pines were bending to the ground in the storm…no church was to be planted for the next 30 years.

Arriving in Havana

Citizens of the United States can legally enter Cuba through 12 categories that include family visits, professional research, educational activities, humanitarian projects and religious activities. These visas are not guaranteed and any one individual can be denied entry.

“Religious Activities?” Entering a communist country on a religious visa seems contradictory to an ideology that, in our minds at least, seeks to oppress religion and eliminate “God” from discussion.

Certainly we would expect at least, that gathering for worship would have to remain secretive and underground. But that is not the case in Cuba. In fact, Fidel Castro can be credited (although unknowingly) with starting the house church movement that has spread rapidly throughout the country (more on this in later posts)!


Being approved for a religious visa means that we can meet with pastors, churches and speak openly about why we are there. Nothing to hide.

Havana, the Capitol, is a city with a population of 2 million. Before the revolution, it was considered as one of the world’s most advanced cities. But that was then. Today, some have described it as the Caribbean version of Detroit. The average working-class income is about $20.00 (USD) per month. People do get food cards, subsidized utilities, free schooling and health care. Yet, most apartments are in need of extreme repair and have multiple families living in them.

Families pool money together to purchase common household goods (rice steamers, refrigerators, electronics, etc.). Some goods require months, or even years of savings.


Havana is the center for arts and culture. Above is the “Gran Teatro de la Habana”, home of the Cuban National Ballet. The great Italian operatic tenor Enrico Caruso performed here.


Seen through a maze of apartment buildings, “El Capitolio” (National Capitol Building), completed in 1929, was modeled after our own U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. After the Cuban Congress was disbanded following the revolution, it is now being restored to once again house the seat of government, the Cuban National Assembly.


Old Havana…artists abound.


Images of Che Guevara can be seen throughout Cuba. Guevara played a pivotal role in the Cuban Revolution…including training militia forces who repelled the Bay of Pigs invasion and bringing the Soviet nuclear armed ballistic missiles to Cuba which precipitated the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Photographs and paintings of him hang in most homes. Most Cubans appreciate the revolution’s intentions. Egalitarianism for the masses seemed like a good idea. But in reality, it reinforces the lowest common denominator…everyone is poor.


Above is the Jose Marti Memorial at the Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana. Marti, a poet, journalist and revolutionary philosopher is a Cuban national hero. His death in 1895 sparked the revolution movement of independence from Spain. He longed for Cuba to be a democratic republic, free from any outside control, including that of the United States.

Castro, Cigars, and Classic Cars

For many of us, when we think of Cuba, one (if not all) of these images perhaps come to mind. At least, that has been true of me. Growing up in the early 1960s, the nation of Cuba was very much in the mainstream of my awareness…even as a first and second grader! I had little knowledge of anything else that was happening in the world, but I did know about Cuba.

Cuba scared me.

While I was too young to understand much, semi-regular nuclear attack drills at my school brought a very real life application to the times. As eerie sirens howled to announce those drills, as I think about it now, I’m not sure how getting under my desk would have actually provided any protection.

But I felt safer.

There was one home in my neighborhood that had a nuclear fallout shelter in their backyard (I could see the entrance hatch as I often rode by on my bike). My friends and I would have serious discussions concerning how all of our families were going to fit into that tiny shelter. We didn’t realize that we wouldn’t have fit…that it wasn’t for us. But of course, there was always the option of getting under our desk!


Little did I know that decades later, I would be walking around Havana (Habana) and traveling deep into the country…on a religious visa. To this day, travel to Cuba remains restricted to citizens of the United States. While there are visa options to enter from the United States legally, tourism is not one of them. The economic embargo initiated by President Kennedy in 1962, remains intact.

As we have seen over the past few years, Cuba once again, has been very much in the news. The countries’ embassies reopened in Washington and Havana. Then came visits by Pope Francis last September and President Obama in March (the first sitting U.S. President to visit since 1928 and since the revolution, 1953-1959).

Obama’s visit was soon followed by Mick Jagger…and while we didn’t get any press…staff from The Compass Church and EFCA ReachGlobal visited in April…obviously, the level of important dignitaries dropped significantly and quickly! Just a week ago, the first U.S. cruise ship docked at the port of Havana with over 700 passengers.


Beyond the discussion of politics and ideologies, which have severely impacted people’s lives, what has been happening spiritually in Cuba? What is the condition of the church? Could the very ideology of a communist system actually have served to propel the church forward? This will be the topic of future posts. Stay tuned.