Cuba Libre?

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CWN - Cuba ― The change in Cuba's leadership is sparking debate over changes in foreign policy at the highest levels of the U.S. government, meanwhile U.S. Christian groups and Cuba's churches are preparing for a spiritual harvest.

Cuba's acting President Raul Castro was confirmed as the new head of state by the National Assembly on Sunday, after Fidel Castro announced his retirment last week.

With a new leader in charge of the island nation, members of Congress want to re-examine the United States' policy of isolation toward Cuba.

But some have already been forging new relationships. Compassion Radio's http:/ Norm Nelson says they're partnering with Global Connection and the Denver Baptist Seminary to train new church leaders because the church is preparing for a great harvest.

Nelson spent time with many different churches all around Cuba, but a stop at a seminary in Havana completed the picture. "The same thing was true there. [It's] very much 'on-fire,' very evangelical and a growing church. So the prognosis for the Gospel and Christianity in Cuba is 'all systems are go!' The church is alive and well!"

Since Castro's takeover in 1958, Cuba's governmetn has not proven friendly to Christians. As recently as Spring 2005, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom states that crackdowns on religious freedoms had increased. So the country remains on the Watch List because of violations of religious freedoms either tolerated or instigated by the government.

Despite the oppression, people are responding to the hope of Christ. Rev. Moises, Pastor of the Methodist Church in Cienfuegos, reports that "people find Christ in every service." Nearly 3000 House Churches are firmly established, and many more are being started--which means trained church leaders are needed.

Not long ago, the Cuban government gave the evangelical Methodist Church a large three-story building which will will house a new seminary, "The Christian Center for Theological Formation." This building will house classrooms, a new library, and housing for faculty meeting rooms. On the main floor, a church has already been formed.

Nelson says the only thing holding them back now is money. "We are involved in raising funds to help that seminary rehabilitate the building and to draw an aggressive young student body into its halls."

"We work through strategic partnerships," Nelson said. "First of all, we partner with radio listeners who are not content to be just listeners. They respond to the stories of need that we share on our broadcasts. Once informed, they care, then they give, and pray, and consequently, they change the world through the compassion of Jesus. Second, we partner with volunteers. They pack boxes, sort and address mail, and sometimes travel with us. And third, we partner with relief and development agencies and with churches at home and in the countries where we work. Partnerships are the key. They make us stronger, smarter, more efficient, and more effective than we could be on our own."

The goal is to provide good theological training and to equip pastors to preach and evangelize Cuba. Pray that the church in Cuba will continue to reach out with the news of God's grace, despite the opposition from the government.

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