Despite Castro, Cuban Church Grows

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CWN.org - HAVANA, Cuba -- In the communist country of Cuba, the Church has undergone 50 years of persecution. Dictator Fidel Castro declared atheism the state religion and Christians were arrested, sometimes killed.

In recent years, Cuba has eased up, and churches are freer to worship. On a recent trip to the island nation, CBN News saw that the church is beginning to grow.

Castro and Christianity

When Fidel Castro launched his revolution against the Batista government in the mid-1950s, he said Christian principles had motivated him and his brother Raul to fight for change.

Catholic priests served as chaplains in the Castro rebel force, but shortly after Castro came to power his government took over all Catholic schools and banished priests. That step was just one of many taken to impose Marxist/Leninist beliefs on the island nation.

It was in the mountains where Raul Castro and his band of guerillas in northeastern Cuba advanced the revolution. That was 50 years ago. Today, there's a new revolution sweeping these mountains and across Cuba and it's not a political one.

Ten-thousand Cubans attended a two-night Christian concert in the city of Jolguin last June. Such events are still rare in Cuba, but less than 10 years ago they were not allowed at all.

Christian leaders say the Cuban government is finding it more difficult these days to slow the rapid spread of Christianity here.

One Cuban church leader agreed to talk to CBN News on camera only if we protected his identity.

"Many people are empty in their hearts," the church leader told CBN News. "They have lost hope in the humanist philosophy. They are angry, sad and hurting and they want something real. They are thirsty and they are coming to Christ."

The Island Nation's Fastest Growing Denomination

The people's thirst is such that today the Penecostal church is perhaps the fastest growing denomination in Cuba.

Less than 20 years ago the Assemblies of God denomination had about 12,000 members and 90 church buildings here. Today some AG leaders claim more than 3,000 registered and unregistered churches with well over 100,000 members.

Christians say they've seen a slight improvement in religious freedom since Castro handed the reigns of power to brother Raul last February.

Restrictions Remain

Yet according to the U.S. state department's latest religious freedom report, many restrictions in Cuba remain.

Among them:

--Cuban churches are still required to register with the government or risk closure.

--The government rarely grants church construction permits.

--Bibles and other Christian literature may only be imported and distributed through registered religious groups

--Religious schools are not allowed

--The government uses survelliance, infiltration and harassment against religious groups and laypersons.

--Unregistered groups are continually harassed, threatened and fined.

"They have a program to stop our church from growing," the Cuban church leader explained. "They have organized that for more than forty years. They use all methods to make the church disappear, to destroy the church. But there is a verse in the Bible, "The gates of Hell will not prevail against it," the person continued.

One Christian prayed that God would protect his church from confiscation. Government officials have threatened to shut it down, because it is not registered.

Prayer Making a Difference

The pastor of a small, unregistered country church was a teacher. He made a good salary and was pursuing a master's degree. He says he gave it all up to advance the Gospel.

"I like computers, but my passion is to serve God," the pastor told CBN News.

He conducts seven church services a week and spends a lot of time in prayer.

"When I pray, I pray that God will turn this nation to him and I pray that I may be a part of it," he said.

Christians say it's prayer that is making a big difference in their country.

Another pastor says his church building was destroyed by a hurricane 10 years ago. Since then he's prayed that the congregation would be given permission to rebuild.

"One of the brothers in the church kept praying 'When God, when, when, when will we rebuild?,'" the pastor said. "I told him to stop petitioning and start giving thanks to the Lord. When we started to praise the Lord, he opened the door."

The pastor says even local officials were pleased last year when the central government finally gave the okay for the church to rebuild.

"Even the authorities were joyful, because they knew we had waited for many years," he said. "We had paid the price with many tears, but it was a day of great joy!"

A Revolution of Miracles

Today it is far up into the mountains where Cuba's Marxist revolution once advanced, that a revolution of miracles is taking place. It's happening in small country churches.

One man says he could barely walk, but found healing and salvation at a small country church.

Christian leaders say the future of the Cuban church is to prosper and grow.

"While it is necessary to suffer sometimes, the Lord will perfect and establish his purpose in this," one church leader said. "Our hearts remain open to God, so men may come to know that Jesus Christ is the truth and the life."

*Original broadcast October 28, 2008.

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