Cuba (MNN) — Cuba seems to be betting that opening its doors will help move economic reforms toward entrepreneurship.
President Raul Castro has been making headlines over the last few days with easing travel restrictions and modifying agriculture land use rules. It's a cautious, free-market experiment meant to help streamline an inefficient economy.
FARMS International Executive Director Joseph Richter explains, "They released new rules that allow farmers to re-lease up to 165 acres of fallow government land. This is way up from the 98 acres previously." Not only that, but the change "allows farmers to build homes on the land, which was previously prohibited in that country." This has opened a whole new realm for those in agriculture. Selling directly to the market is the key to increasing production and efficiency.
The new measures go into effect December 21. Another change is actually good news for farming families. The length of the leases remains 10 years for individuals and 25 years for cooperatives. In the case of disability or death, a farmer's properties will be transferred to the surviving family. Richter says that's also good news for the believers they help. "It offers a real continuity for the financial stability of families and for long-range planning with the families, which probably was not possible in the past."
FARMS took a different approach to assistance with Cuba. Rather than do micro-loans, Richter says they're "working through the churches to provide teaching and consulting on how to run small businesses as well as improve farming practices and increasing production on farms."
These new freedoms could mean self-sustaining church bodies sooner than later. "It opens up a whole new area for them as far as increased production. I think the idea of training and consulting with them on how to take advantage of this and how to take advantage of markets that might open up is something new for Cubans."
Although Cuba remains a Communist regime, "There is limited religious freedom and the ability to teach and disciple people through the churches that are allowed in Cuba," says Richter. He adds that "many Cubans are farmers and depend upon agriculture to some degree." FARMS' connection with agriculture reforms means "there's a whole part of the population that is open to that type of discipleship."
There are communities of Christians who frequently share their faith in Christ and teach the principles of good stewardship. It's an answer to the spiritual hunger born of the time spent in an oppressive atmosphere. That also brings its own challenges, notes Richter. "Pray for the Church in Cuba. It's a large percentage of the population, and it's facing new opportunities as well as new temptations. Pray that the church stands strong and doesn't lose sight of their need to evangelize and to reach out to the rest of the population."
Praise God for the growth of the church here. Pray that it would continue. The growing numbers of unregistered house churches have little access to Bibles, which are distributed through official channels only. Pray that God's Word will reach them. Also pray that church leaders would continue to receive biblical and discipleship training. You can see more of FARMS' work at our Featured Links Section.