Cuba for Christ—Ahora!
Take a Friday night walk through Havana's Parque G to see up close how much Cuba needs Christ. By day, the downtown park offers a pleasant stroll along a wide, tree-lined boulevard down to the gulf coastline. By night, Parque G becomes a murky zone where Cuban teens, dressed somewhere between hipsters and goths, cluster to smoke, drink, and exchange drugs. Young couples hide in the shadows of bushes as musicians hold jam sessions under streetlamps.
But in dramatic contrast to the surrounding activity, at 1 A.M. 25 young Cuban Christians form a circle to pray. Holding hands, they shout forceful prayers toward heaven for the salvation of Cuba. Across the intersection, a uniformed police squad watches with interest, but does nothing to stop their outreach.
The youth belong to Alcance Victoria, an evangelical Cuban church formed in 2003 based on the inner-city models of evangelist Nicky Cruz and Victory Outreach, an international ministry. Most of the youth are new believers and recovering drug addicts thanks to the church's weekly evangelism walks.
"Too many churches live their faith inside their walls, when the church needs to be here in the street," says dreadlocked evangelist Obeda, a former street kid whose brilliant white grin contrasts with his ebony skin. "We're out stealing souls from the Devil."
Speaking enthusiastically with visiting Christians, the teens point to each other along the organic human chain of who brought who to faith in Christ. Their style is direct—"Hi, I'm a Christian, and I'd like to tell you about Jesus"—and brings results. The church is 500 strong, and leaders hope to add another 500 by year's end.
Their leader, Manuelito, shows no fear of arrest. He says Havana police need their help in confronting the recent wave of street drug abuse. "If I wasn't afraid when I was doing drugs in this very park," he says, "why would I be afraid now that I have the truth?"
The edgy street evangelism in Cuba's capital reveals that Western perceptions about Cuban Christianity seem woefully outdated.
"Here in Cuba the church is alive, growing, faithful, and active, persevering through difficulty," asserts a prominent evangelical leader. "We are working inside Cuba now, and someday we will join everyone else in the missionary activity of the world."
Since the 1959 Revolution, Castro's Communist government has placed numerous restrictions on religious expression in Cuba—a reality illustrated by most sources' requests for anonymity (see "More Freedom But Not Free," page 28). Yet the Cuban church is thriving despite its limitations, and its leaders ask that their church not be used as a geopolitical pawn. "We are part of the body of Christ in the world, yet people see us only with political eyes," said one leading Cuban evangelical. "To those people we say: 'Come and see.' "
Christianity Today traveled throughout the island from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. The journalistic Holy Week pilgrimage revealed a surprisingly healthy church with a new generation of young pastors boldly pushing old boundaries. Their current evangelistic zeal is best summed up in the recent modification of a common evangelical rallying cry: from "Cuba para Cristo" to "Cuba para Cristo—ahora." Cuba for Christ—now.
Joy In His Presence
Since the 1990s, major changes have buffeted Cuba's 11.4 million people. After the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba's heavily subsidized economy collapsed, causing Cuba's "Special Period" of economic crisis, famine, and more than a decade of hardship.