Cuba (MNN) — Cuba is a nation in mourning this week, following the death of Revolutionary leader turned Communist dictator, Fidel Castro.
Although Castro seemingly embodied Cuba and vice versa, it could be argued that under his leadership, the rise of an age of persecution began. A decade ago, Fidel Castro handed power to his brother, Raul. What followed was a beginning age of austerity, mainly to try and get the country back on track economically.
There was some freedom of religion, with the Roman Catholic Church as the largest denomination. However, the Voice of the Martyrs notes there has not been a Christian bookstore on the island for 53 years, and Bibles are only imported through churches that are members of the Ecumenical Council (an association of churches that collaborates with the government and includes only 10 percent of all churches).
Meanwhile, VOM contacts say the government has begun seizing church buildings in a crackdown that involves over 1,600 religious freedom violations. Many church leaders have been subjected to arbitrary detainment, harassment, and the confiscation or destruction of their church and personal property.
Vision Beyond Borders’ Dyann Romeijn says, “There’s apparently a list of about one thousand churches slated to be destroyed. Some have already been destroyed. It’s very, very difficult to get permission to build a new church or anything like that. It’s kind of not allowing the churches to grow. It’s difficult to get Bibles and religious supplies.”
Romeijn advises people not to put too much stock in the speculation of immediate change. “There was some speculation that Raul may have wanted to do more opening of relations and things like that, and was afraid to do much — that it would upset his brother — so, some of that might actually take place now.”
It has become very difficult to register evangelical churches and obtain building permits. House churches are regulated and aren’t allowed to be within two kilometers of another house church, which is hard to comply with in congested cities.
VBB Director Patrick Klein shared this story recently:
“A man came to one of our friends in #Cuba recently and was in tears as he explained the government was going to destroy his church that week. He then explained that despite the increasing persecution, ‘We will continue to praise God no matter what! We can serve Him without a church building!’”
Then Klein asked this question:
“If #persecution increases in America after this upcoming election, will we rise and serve our Lord faithfully like our brothers and sisters in Cuba? Will the Church in America stand fiercely against all evil and stand up for His truth? “
While teams continue traveling with VBB, one fact remains the same: no matter the change that might arise, Christians are still restricted in their belief and worship of Jesus Christ. And yet, despite the depravity they endure and the persecution faced, Christianity is thriving and the Gospel being proclaimed.
The believers are resilient, she adds. “There are a lot of churches that are growing there, fairly rapidly. It’s difficult for them to get Bibles, so [we’re] bringing in a lot of Bibles and then just supporting the pastors there with the Pastors’ Sponsorship Program.”
What does the Pastors’ Sponsorship program do? Romeijn explains, “A person in Cuba makes about $25 per month, and so it doesn’t go very far. They have very limited rations and things. If we can come along and sponsor with the Pastors’ Sponsorship Program, it allows them to concentrate on full-time ministry.”
She’s asking others to pray that the believers of this country will not fear government reprisal, but live in unconditional surrender to the Lordship of Christ. “It’s encouraging to the Christians there to know people in America are praying for them and helping to support them.”
Ask God to provide wisdom to Cuba’s church leaders, specifically requesting that they will exemplify grace toward all governmental authorities while remaining bold in their presentation of the Gospel. Pray, too, for the salvation of the current governmental leader, Raúl Castro, as well as those who work under his leadership.