For World Relief Executive Director Jerry Ballard to be received by foreign dignitaries is nothing new. But Ballard counts his recent meeting with Cuban leader Fidel Castro among his most important exchanges with foreign heads of state.

In September, Ballard led an eight-member delegation that spent more than six hours with Castro. Ballard’s original purpose in going to Cuba was to assist the Fellowship of Evangelical Seminary Presidents in exploring the possibility of holding a seminar in a Marxist nation. In making arrangements for the trip, however, Ballard discovered that a World Relief staff member knew of a number of political prisoners in Cuba. Many of those prisoners are lay pastors, some of whom have been in jail for 20 years.

Raising the issue of these prisoners eventually became Ballard’s top agenda item. In response, Cuban officials requested World Relief’s help in resettling Cuban prisoners in the United States. Ballard says World Relief is interested, and is in the process of negotiating with the governments of the United States and Cuba to determine its role.

While in Cuba, Ballard also met with two representative groups of Protestant pastors, and explored with government officials World Relief’s possible role in providing disaster aid to Cuba.

The meeting with Castro, whose revolutionary forces toppled the military regime of Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar in the late 1950s, began with a tour of a new hospital. Ballard said Castro’s strongest domestic commitment is to transform Cuba into a health-care leader among Latin American countries.

After the tour, the Americans listened as Castro addressed a “town square” assembly of about 4,000 Cubans. “He spoke for ...

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