Cuba Today

Spring 2015
Written by T. S. Ashley Milne - CUBA

55 Years After Assembly Missionaries Left

In January 1961 when Fidel Castro and his men marched into Havana, "the Revolution" was declared a success. The missionaries who were, for the most part from Canada, were forced to leave the island. This year the Work of the Gospel in Cuba is celebrating. 75 years since assembly missionaries first arrived and it is most encouraging that the Gospel is still being preached.

In February of this year, my wife and I were able to visit Cuba. After arriving at Varadero airport and passing through Cuban customs, we were met by brother Luis Felipe, a self supporting, full time worker among the five assemblies in Cuba. We then set out on a two hour drive from the airport, and arrived at the Gospel Hall in Vedado, Havana. This brother and his family live behind the hall in the suburb known as Vedado. Jean and I were able to rent an apartment, across the street from the hall. This is very centrally located a short distance from the "Plaza de La Revolucion".
Luis Felipe had requested ahead of time for me to be granted a "religious visitors visa" which allowed me to visit and speak publicly at any church, or assembly registered with the Cuban authorities. This special visa must be requested by a local church in the country. I was surprised and impressed with the liberty, safety and privileges granted one with such a visa, providing one stays within the requirements of the law.

The Vedado Gospel Hall, where the assembly meets in Havana was built in 1944, and has weathered many storms and trials as well as the Revolution, yet the doors are still open. The believers that meet there today are happy, very welcoming, but at the same time, very poor. It was a Thursday evening when we arrived, and about thirty or so had gathered for a meeting. We sang hymns for 20 minutes, then we were introduced and I shared a word from Psalm 103, followed by a time of prayer for the last part of the meeting.

People live on a government issued ration book intended to allot a certain amount of basic supplies per month. When those limited quantities run out they must buy the extra, if they can find what they need. Much time is spent in line-ups for basic food items, and the stock often is depleted before they are served. Today there are many shortages, particularly of things that we take for granted such as breakfast cereal, and potatoes. We were told that potatoes have only been available twice this year in Havana, and the line-ups were a city block long - so French fries are not to be found in Havana. The stores run out of items very quickly, and they never know when more will arrive.

The Airline allowed us to take 50 extra pounds of humanitarian items per person. The only item the Cuban authorities questioned, but let it through, was a new amplifier, microphone and cord, we brought to replace the old one in the Gospel Hall in Havana.

Saturday children's work in Havana, Cuba

On Saturday morning we visited a very poor district of Old Havana where much evil is practiced including, devil worship and Santeria, an African/Cuban form of spiritism. Superstition and witchcraft are widespread in Cuba.

In spite of the prevailing Satanic influence, two brethren from the assembly have carried on a weekly children's work in this district for fifteen years with 15 to 20 children from age two to fourteen who are able to hear the Gospel every Saturday morning. When we arrived, some children were waiting in the narrow street, in front of a narrow passageway that led to the little house where the meetings are held. Luis Felipe and brother Enrique Betancourt went out to tell other kids we had arrived. My son Ashley and grandson Austin, accompanied them. A little while later they returned to the house with a large group of kids. The little room where the meeting was held was about two metres by three metres. They all listened, with so much attention, to the Bible story of the fiery furnace, and the way Luis brought in the gospel right down to their level, was a delight to see. The joyful singing of these dear happy kids, filled the air. Jean gave them all a little bag of candy, soap, toothpaste and other things they just can't get. They all had a big smile as they waved good-bye.

I could hardly believe that this was Cuba - as many in the homelands seem to think that Cuba is straightly shut-up, like Jericho, of old. Not so! We were reminded, of the words of Christ, "the poor have the Gospel preached unto them." This is certainly true in Cuba today.

Believers in the assembly in Vedado, Cuba

On Lord's Day morning, we met to remember the Lord with the believers in the assembly in Vedado, only a few city blocks from Revolution Square. A total of about 50 were gathered including some from the other assembly in Havana known as Vivora. It was impressive to see and hear these dear brethren one after another, taking part in the morning meeting. The setting was most unique, with the doors and windows wide open to the street outside. Following the morning meeting, as is their custom, everyone greeted one another; they all went around from one to another in a deliberate effort not to miss greeting anyone. There is a very strong bond of friendship and fellowship among these dear people.

It was a great joy for me to translate for my son Ashley and grandson Austin who gave a word in the Gospel, and ministry, followed a time of singing. Lunch was then served, and a group picture taken.

We visited a number of other assemblies during our second week. One of these was a place called La Salud 40 Kms. from Havana. La Salud is an agricultural area, where they grow sugar cane. The work in La Salud was established by David Adams during the years, 1938 to 1940. George Walker and his family also worked and laboured there until 1961 after which all the missionaries were forced to leave Cuba. The oldest brother, who was there from the start of the work, Cilvano Fleitas age 83, died recently. We also met Francisco Estevez (a self supporting worker who has spent 25 years in the work in this area and who also lives in La Salud.) His father, now with the Lord, was an elder in that assembly. About 45 attend regularly.

Gospel Hall in La Salud, Cuba

From La Salud, we continued on to Gabriel, a town of about 2000 inhabitants. We arrived at the home of brother Alfredo Capote and his wife Maria. Gabriel is about 50 kms from Havana. Capote, as he is called and his wife and family gave us a great welcome. They had invited us for dinner and what a feast they had prepared. After dinner we sat around the table and shared many stories together; we sang for a long time. It was really encouraging to see how these Christians love to sing.

The assembly in Gabriel, Cuba

At the time of the revolution in 1960 around forty young people from different Evangelical churches, and three from the assembly in Gabriel were rounded up and sent to a "forced labour detention camp." Capote was one of them. They were taken by rail, in box cars, on a journey of 23 hours to the other end of Cuba, where they were incarcerated for seventeen months, before being released. Brother Capote's best friend during the ordeal was a Baptist fellow his own age, Alberto Gonzales who years later wrote a book, describing their experience. The book is entitled "Dios No Entra Mi Oficina" ("God does not Enter my Office"). It has been translated into English and is now available through "Amazon. com". Capote told us, that all of the five guards that rounded them up from the town of Gabriel, came to a very bad end. They all died a most agonizing death and were despised by the people of the town.

The Gospel has flourished in Gabriel and they expect to baptize four new believers in the very near future. The afternoon we were there, the brethren arranged a meeting, as brother Luis did not want to drive back to Havana at night in the dark, due to recent eye surgery. Yet in spite of the time change for the meeting, 36 gathered for fellowship, singing and ministry. They have a very nice Gospel Hall.

On the Friday, of the second week of our visit, two brethren came to Havana which is a three hour journey (about 180 Kms) from Pinar del Rio, to take us to visit the assembly there. When we arrived in Pinar, they had arranged a Welcome meeting for us. Brother Ivan, a full time worker in Pinar who is well informed, well read and keeps in touch with assembly brethren in different places was very happy to see us.

Jean with three sisters in Pinar del Rio, Cuba

This part of Cuba has not changed much since I960 when David and Agnes Adams lived there. We stayed in the very house, where they lived; my wife Jean and I occupied the actual room that housed the printing press in those early days. Life goes on much as it did, back then. The next morning we awakened to the sound of roosters crowing, and the galloping sound of horse drawn buggies on the road adjacent to the house.

While in Pinar del Rio we met a number of older believers, that remember the days when missionary brethren worked and laboured in Cuba before the Revolution. Brother Pedro Flores, now 85 was a young man of 18 who worked with David Adams in the print shop and also knew Doug and Kay Reid, during the years they spent in Pinar del Rio. He remembered when he and brother Doug Reid travelled with the Gospel through many towns and country places before they were forced to leave. In those days the Reid's lived in a trailer as they went from town to town with the Gospel. We also saw the house where they lived in Pinar del Rio after brother Arnold Adams and his wife moved East in Cuba.
At the end of the breaking of bread meeting, on the Lord's day that we were in Pinar, brother Ivan Hernandez gave everyone in fellowship five or six tracts each, to distribute during the following week as they continue to spread the good news to others.

Do pray for the assemblies in Cuba.
They are worthy of our support,
as they continue to reach out with the Gospel.


Spring 2015
Written by T. S. Ashley Milne - CUBA