By Sharon Mager
EASTON, Md.—Drew Jensen, executive pastor at First Baptist Church, Easton, never dreamed a partnership with Iglesia Bautista La Palabra in Corona, N.Y., would lead him to Havana, Cuba.
While the New York team was helping First Baptist, Easton with Vacation Bible School, Jensen met Jans Morales, who had moved from Cuba to plant a church in New York. The two became friends and Morales invited Jensen on a vision trip to Cuba with three pastors, Chris Gardner, Brooklyn, N.Y., Juan Carlos Suero, Corona, N.Y. and Sean Wentley, Maryville, Tenn. Jensen returned overwhelmingly excited about the Holy Spirit’s movement on the island.
Interestingly, Morales’ pastor is the executive director of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, and the team was invited to attend their meeting as guests. The convention, Jensen discovered, has existed since before Fidel Castro came to power and has close to 500 churches with over a million believers.
Christian churches in Cuba are growing by leaps and bounds. They’ve had a surge in the past two decades and now, Jensen said, they can’t keep up with baptisms.
The convention was held at the historic Calvary Baptist Church in downtown Havana, just a block and a half from the capitol building.
“When we walked in, there were 1,000 people on their knees praying. The worship, the preaching, everything was just amazing—beyond what I could believe,” Jensen said.
Jensen observed humble yet powerful praise and petitions. and he saw God answer prayers. He was with a pastor and his wife, who minister in a humble church that basically was an aluminum roof over a small area. They prayed early in the morning, “God, we love You, and we know You love us. We’re praying because we have no food today; but we know You’ll give us food.”
“And day-after-day, God provides for them,” Jensen said.
Suero brought a few items from the U.S. that he thought might be useful. When he gave them to a Cuban pastor and his wife, they fell to their knees and cried. “For three months they had been praying for what Suero brought. He had no idea,” Jensen said.
Even before they arrived, as they were traveling, God was moving. Their Visas were in Cuba, but the airport insisted on photocopies. The clerk said she could not enter them into the computer system without the Visas. The team prayed and returned. The clerk sighed, tried to refuse, but at their insistent request checked again, and she was able to get them their boarding passes.
Jensen said Cuban Christians are people of the Bible. They meet regularly to study and often quote large passages of scripture together.
And they can worship! Jensen said. “It’s traditional, and more formal. They wear nice dresses, and they have choirs. It’s similar to where American churches were 50 to 60 years ago,” he said. “They have orchestras, violins, trumpets… it’s amazing!”
During the worship time at the convention meeting, about 1,500 people crammed into the 800 capacity church. People were crowding on the second floor and balcony.
“It was during a time of 85 to 90 degrees in the day with high humidity. We worshipped for three hours,” Jensen said. “There were no complaints.”
Praise even continued out of church. “We’d go to have a meal then someone would bust out a guitar, and we’d be worshipping.”
For evangelism, churches send out buses at 7 a.m. with hundreds of people with Bibles. They go out around the countryside sharing the Gospel, and the bus picks them up at 11 at night.
“Cuban people are special. They’re resilient, proud, but not arrogant. They didn’t have much but they fed us well. The best of what they had. They invited us into their homes and you felt like you had brothers and sisters in a week’s time. I miss them. I’d love to go back,” Jensen said, adding he now better understands the Apostle Paul’s words, “I long to see you.”
Jensen is leading FBC Easton to sponsor people who do outreach in Cuba. They typically recieve only $20 a month, which doesn’t cover all of their expenses. The church seeks to sponsor 20 “missionaries” at $30 per month. If other churches or individuals are interested in joining in this effort, there is plenty of opportunity.
They’re also connected with Cuban churches that need prayer and financial support as well as specific items, such as construction materials and Bibles.
“We’d like to partner and have ongoing partnerships, that are relational, biblical and practical. We’ve had a lot of success with that model,” Jensen said.
In addition to the churches in Cuba, and in New York, the church partners with churches in the Dominican Republic and in Baltimore.
Jensen does hope to take a team to Cuba in the future.
He cautions others who want to minister on the island. Cuban church leaders are cautious, and hesitant about Western culture he said, and churches need to build trust. He suggests listening to the needs before suggesting action. Referencing the Old Testament, Jensen said Nehemiah surveyed and prayed for a long time before moving forward to build.
“Cubans don’t need Americanization; they need Jesus. We need Jesus.
“What is happening in Cuba is one of the world’s great awakenings. People will look back and say what’s happening is a historic movement of God.”