Fidel Castro recently turned 75, and the once tireless Cuban revolutionary is starting to show his age. In June, while speaking at a communist rally in Cotorro, he briefly passed out and had to be helped from the stage. In August, while celebrating his birthday in Venezuela, he noticeably stumbled.

Though both events were followed by visible displays of health and stamina, many Christian leaders are now asking how Cuban and American churches will respond to the eventual death of Castro and the likely lifting of the U.S. travel and trade embargo of Cuba.

The lessons of the former Soviet bloc suggest that communist countries do not undergo significant change with ease. Cuba's situation is particularly uncertain and affected by American politics. The U.S. House of Representatives voted 240-186 in July for a bill that would end the ban on most travel to Cuba. American experts on Cuba estimate 1.5 million Americans (many of them tourists) would visit the island within 12 months of the U.S. travel ban's abolition.

The opportunity to minister in Cuba may attract many missions-minded American churches, few of which have historical ties to Cuba. Given the island's small size and struggling economy, such attention may prove overwhelming from the Cuban perspective

"If the embargo is lifted quickly, you will likely have chaos," says Marcos A. Ramos, a professor of church history at the South Florida Center for Theological Studies and a Cuban who fled the island in 1966. "Every church from Juneau, Alaska, to Paducah, Kentucky, will send someone. And you can be certain that they'll all find a Cuban willing to pastor a new church or spearhead a new relief effort. This is not to say that it shouldn't happen. ...

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