By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
HAVANA, CUBA (ANS) -- For many, Cuba is an island of mystery and for some Christians, a place of persecution.
A Cuban worshipper
The island was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and soon became a territory of Spain. In 1898, the U.S. claimed Cuba during the Spanish-American War. However, in 1902, Cuba gained its independence. The Cuban Revolution occurred between 1953 and 1959, which removed Fulgenicio Batista and installed a government run by Fidel Castro, who declared Cuba a socialist state in 1961. Castro remained in power until falling ill in 2008, at which time he relinquished control of Cuba to his brother, Raul Castro.
Back in April of 2009, President Barack Obama said that the United States wanted a “new beginning” with communist Cuba and was willing to work with its government on issues ranging from human rights to migration and the economy, and lately I have had memories flooding back about the first time I visited the island some years ago.
It took place when I was still living in the UK, and I had taken Bibles into Havana along with a team of Christians.
After a night’s rest in a government hotel, we set off to take our “precious cargo” to a downtown Havana church to hand over to the pastor so he could distribute them across the island.
My parents, Alfred and Ann Wooding pictured by their beloved River Mersey
“You’re the one,” he said rapidly. “I knew you would come and pray for me!”
My father’s gray-haired double, his eyes moist with tears, continued, “Yes, I had a dream that some visitors would come from abroad and that one of them — you— would pray for me so that I would receive a special blessing. It was your face I saw in the dream.
I put my arm around his frail shoulders and began praying for him. As I did, I spared a thought for my father, who was some 4,000 miles away. At the time, he was retired and living outside of Liverpool with my mother, Ann. Sadly, since that time, they have both passed away.
A packed Cuban Church
Suddenly the old man was sobbing deeply. Several other believers joined with our team of Bible couriers for a time of prayer. Soon another Cuban began weeping and for thirty minutes the two cried like babies.
At the end of this moving prayer time, the elderly man wiped his tears and then thrust his arms around me and hugged me tight. I don’t usually make people cry, and I was quite taken aback by what had just happened.
“Why are you so unhappy?” I asked him as he continued to hold me tight.
“I’m not unhappy,” he said as he loosened his grip, “These are tears of joy. You are the first believer from England to come here in the past twenty years to encourage us. You don’t know what it means to us to realize that we are not forgotten!”
It was at that moment, that I realized that God had put a new call on my life – to help persecuted Christians, like those living in Cuba.
Dan and Norma Wooding with Cuba believers
When Norma, my wife, and myself, started ASSIST some 25 years ago, the first country we visited was Cuba and we began a sister church program where we started linking Cuban churches with those in the United States. (Unfortunately, we no longer have this program.)
I fell in love with the Christians of Cuba and I went back two more times to bring more encouragement and Bibles.
But after I returned to my new home in Southern California after my third trip, I received a huge shock that I had been banned by the government to ever visit the island again.
A friend of mine had been arrested during a trip to the island and was eerily shown my business card by a member of the secret police who asked him if he knew “this person.” My friend didn’t answer the question, but was then told, “If you ever meet him, tell him that if he tries to come back to Cuba, he will be immediately arrested because of the bad stories he has been writing about us.” I guess in some ways that was a badge of honor as it seemed my stories had got under their skin.
Still, I am comforted with the news that the church there is still growing.
The headline of a fascinating story written by Nick Miroff for National Public Radio (NPR), was “Cuban Christians Taking Back What the devil Has Stolen.”
In the story, Miroff wrote: “At the height of Cuba's militant atheism in the late 1960s and early '70s, religious believers were fired from their jobs and sent to labor camps for ‘re-education.’ That kind of discrimination officially ended more than 20 years ago.
“Since then, the number of evangelicals in Cuba has grown from roughly 70,000 to more than 800,000 today, out of a population of 11 million, according to the Rev. Marcial Hernandez, president of Cuba's Council of Churches.”
“‘We're taking back everything that was given away to the devil,’ Hernandez says, explaining the appeal of modern evangelical Christianity, with its rollicking music and passionate sermons, in contrast to the more staid practices of the Catholic Church and traditional Protestant denominations. ‘Televisions used to be considered devil boxes,’ he says. ‘Telephones were the Antichrist. Universities were the devil's lair, even beaches.’”
Miroff added, “On Sunday afternoons at one church in Havana's Marianao neighborhood, hundreds of university students sing and sway at a special youth service. Jorge Ortega, a pastor at the church, explains the restrictions that churches still face. ‘We can't have services in public stadiums or invite foreign preachers to give sermons. We can't have Christian schools. But we can minister in hospitals, and spread the word of God in public places,’ such as parks and buses, Ortega says.”
Now that I can’t go back there, I am hoping and praying that as things begin to open up there, more and more Christians from America and other countries will visit the Cuban believers to not only help them, but to learn vital lessons from them on how they have been able to stand so strong despite so many years of persecution. They can teach us in the West so much!
|Dan Wooding, 70, is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 48 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and was, for ten years, a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. He now hosts the weekly “Front Page Radio” show on KWVE in Southern California which is also carried throughout the United States. The program is also aired in Great Britain on Calvary Chapel Radio UK and also in Belize and South Africa. Besides this, Wooding is a host for His Channel Live, which is carried via the Internet to some 200 countries and also provides a regular commentary for Worship Life Radio on KWVE. You can follow Dan Wooding on Facebook under his name there or at ASSIST News Service. He is the author of some 44 books. Two of the latest include his autobiography, “From Tabloid to Truth”, which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, press this link. Wooding, who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, has also recently released his first novel “Red Dagger” which is available this link.|
** You may republish this story with proper attribution.