My first trip to Cuba was in 1995. I was the Program Director on Bonaire and our broadcasts to Cuba were a vital part of our ministry. We had a Cuban family on Bonaire who produced specifically targeted content for the Cuban people, and listeners asked for someone from TWR to visit.
Getting to Cuba from Bonaire was not easy in those days. We flew to Curacao to Venezuela, but missed our connection and had to stay an extra night. We arrived in Havana the next day late at night. It was hard to tell where the city was from the plane because there were very few lights. We checked into our hotel and found the room dirty and full of cockroaches, but we were so tired we just fell asleep. The next morning we discovered the hotel was being used as a brothel. :/ We promptly packed our things and moved to a hotel with a better reputation. This was my first night in Cuba.
What was Cuba like in the 90s?
Due to colonialism, Cuba was predominantly Catholic leading up to and during World War II. Following the war, American influences grew under Batista, but were not popular among the people. The Cuban revolution began in 1953 and lasted until 1959, and came to be led by the Communist Party officially in 1965.
The 90s were an interesting period of history. The Berlin wall came down in 1992. In Cuba, Catholic baptisms at birth were at 12% in 1982, but were up to 47% by 1995. In 1992, the new Cuban constitution outlawed religious discrimination. The rules were loosening and open persecution waned.
But Cuban churches had struggled through more than 20 years of persecution, neglect, and lack of funding. I went into a church where the whole structure was held up with wooden beams so that the believers could still fellowship. They took me upstairs to meet the Pastor’s wife and when she saw me she started crying. I hadn’t said a thing. From a distance, I looked like her son whom she hadn’t seen in many years and so she thought her son had returned. When she got closer and heard my Spanish she knew I wasn’t her son.
I visited a Bible college in Havana, and a young man came and spoke to me in English. He was so excited to meet me. He had come to Christ through listening to Thru the Bible in Spanish, and learned English by listening to the English broadcasts.
In those days we could not leave Havana and, in fact, we suspected our every move was being followed. We attended church on a Sunday morning. I had only a visitor visa so all I was allowed to do was give a 3 minute greeting. This trip left a lasting impact on me. I have photos, but I can’t find them. When I find them, I will share a few with you.
Even though I spent 13 years in Africa, I always had a burden to help minister to the Cuban people.
Cuba in 2010
I didn’t have an opportunity to return to Cuba until 2010. In 2009, TWR Bonaire began broadcasting Messages of Faith and Hope produced by Alberto Gonzalez. The night the broadcasts first began, Alberto wrote, “Tonight we had a special gift. We listened to Messages of Faith and Hope in our own house in the city of Havana and with an incredibly strong signal!”
Things had improved greatly in Cuba between my first and second trip. I was able to travel outside Havana and meet local pastors across the island and hear first-hand stories of the impact of TWR. Our first stop was at a small house church. The leader there was ex-military, had heard TWR programs, and accepted Christ. It had changed his life completely.
Another evening, we met with listeners in a village. The service started late in the evening so I thought no one would attend, but I was assured that we would have good attendance. To my surprise, a large truck roared down the street and stopped in front of the church. Two dozen people jumped out of this pick-up truck.
The church was packed beyond capacity before we started the service. We heard testimony after testimony about how TWR had ministered to these rural people. Tears filled my eyes listening to the testimonies of how important our radio broadcasts were to the Cuban people. We handed out Bibles supplied by The Gideons International of Canada, and books and pamphlets written by our Cuba Ministry Director, Alberto.
I stood to share a greeting as I had done so many years before, and before I realized it 11 minutes had passed and I had shared the Gospel.
The next morning, the front desk at the hotel called. There was someone in the lobby waiting to speak with us. I was so excited. I thought someone had come to speak with me about what I had shared the night before.
The man was dressed normally, and the first thing he asked was to see my passport. I gave it to him, for some reason not thinking that a strange request. He pocketed my passport and identified himself as a police officer. I had to come down to the station with him.
I was in Cuba with a visitor’s visa which allowed me to speak for no more than 3 minutes. Someone had reported me to the authorities. I went down to the station and filled out a report and had to wait and see what would happen. I had never been detained by police before so I didn’t know what to expect. I had a supernatural peace about the whole situation that I cannot explain because it was Cuba, I had no idea what would happen.
A few hours later, an officer told me that it wouldn’t be much longer because the officials hate to be late for lunch. Sure enough, a couple of minutes later they called me in and told me that if I wanted to speak for longer than 3 minutes I needed to get the appropriate visa. They were quite nice to me so there were no hard feelings, but it was a stressful lesson.
That trip was a great blessing and rekindled my passion for Cuba. There are more churches than pastors in Cuba, so TWR plays a vital role in teaching and discipling the Church. Last week I shared a bit of Alberto’s story and how he came to serve with TWR Cuba. TWR Canada was able to purchase a house in Havana to be used as an office and residence for TWR Cuba. Here are some photos: