A few days ago, I spent several hours sitting and talking with Cuban Christians. Some of them lead registered, above-ground churches, others lead unregistered churches and others are simply active church members. All of them talked about the suffering they’ve experienced under communism since 1959 when Cuba became a communist nation.
Specifically, they were denied jobs, income, government help, schooling, homes and more, simply because they were known as Christians. One man even spent two years in a forced labor camp in the 1960s, when he was 20 years old. But when he got out, within months, he was leading another house church. He said he left the prison camp with a clearer vision for following God and with a stronger calling for serving him.
He was one of a few of the group who were born pre-communism, who saw the revolution and have experienced its whole cycle in Cuba thus far. This brother referred to himself as part of the “historic faithful generation.”
Some of the middle-aged men and women in the group were born in communism’s heyday in Cuba. They were the few who were not allowed to wear the scarf of the communist party membership in schools, because they were Christians. They were the ones denied entry into Cuba’s many prestigious universities. They were the ones who became adults in the 70s and 80s, when Cuba was an avowed atheistic state.
When they left secular jobs to shepherd churches, several of these men and women told of living in very tough times. For one family, breakfast might be a cup of water with a tablespoon of sugar. For another, breakfast was boiled yucca (a starchy tuber plant) and dinner was the water their yucca had been boiled in.
This middle generation and the historic generation faithfully continued to preach the gospel and disciple believers under communism and in spite of decades of pressure from the government. Their legacy now is the young people: young believers now living in a Cuba that is gradually growing more economically open to the world, but where Christians still face enormous pressure.
One member of the group, a woman in her 20s, told of her university experience. Though a believer, she was able to enter university, unlike Christians her parent’s age or even the 22-year-old son of a prominent pastor. (All universities are state-sponsored.)
This young woman and the other Christians in the university, about 40 people, met every day for worship in the afternoon. When the university would sponsor parties featuring alcohol and promiscuity, the Christians would meet together for their own parties.
The group hid in a basement for their meetings. However, they were soon reported to the principal, who threatened to expel them all if they didn’t renounce Christianity and stop meeting. Instead, the group wisely broke into smaller groups and continues to fellowship together.
This young woman is now a professional in her field, where she says Christians are highly respected for their honesty and good work. She and a few Christian colleagues pray openly together when they are faced with difficult work situations. While non-believing colleagues don’t join in, they hear the words of the prayer.
Three generations of Christians who have remained faithful to Christ despite constant pressure. One pastor’s wife told me, “We do pray and ask God to give us a different life.” But while they pray, they continue to serve God and reach out to those who need to experience his hope.
These men and women have suffered for decades, but the overwhelming sense I got from them was one of joy. Over and over they said that God had sustained them through every difficult moment.
While Cuba is in a season of increasing openness to the rest of the world, Christians there are still suffering for their faith, whether through bulldozing an unregistered church building, denying Christians the right to education, or sending faithful party members to infiltrate churches and report on church activities. Christian Solidarity Worldwide recently reported that there were as many religious freedom violations in the first half of 2014 as there were in all of 2013. Even so, the Church in Cuba is growing.
In 55 years of communist rule, the face of communism in Cuba has changed. But what hasn’t changed is God’s faithfulness. He is preserving and growing a remnant that will continue to testify to his goodness despite outside circumstances.
Dory P. grew up the daughter of missionaries in Ecuador, met her husband while working with another mission organization, and now lives in Oklahoma. Their family of four shares seven passports. Dory helps tell the stories of the persecuted through VOM's newsletter, and her husband serves with VOM's international department.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. Acts 1:8
Since Abdullah accepted Jesus, his family had tried very hard to change his mind. After all, his father was a respected man in their village and in all of Bangladesh, having built a mosque right next to their property.
When talking didn’t convince Abdullah to return to Islam, they resorted to beating him. When beating didn’t work, they called others in to beat him more severely. Nothing worked; Abdullah tenaciously hung on to his faith in Christ. Finally, in exasperation, his mother stopped feeding him, putting only ashes on his plate. Abdullah prayed for God’s strength, and he stood strong.
As a last resort, the family called on the mullah (an Islamic religious leader) to come and hold an Islamic ceremony to rid the boy of the “devil” that had taken over his life. The mullah came to their home and recited Muslim prayers over the boy. He chanted. He laid hands on the boy. He danced and he yelled. The Spirit inside Abdullah stood fast. After five hours, the mullah gave up, exhausted.
“Abdullah’s Spirit is more powerful than my spirit,” he told the boy’s father as he left. Abdullah couldn’t be turned away, and he couldn’t be stopped from sharing that powerful Spirit with others. In a few short months, he had led twenty-seven Muslims to faith in Christ, infusing them all with the Spirit of Christ!
In an attempt to creatively deal with a potential energy crisis, modern engineers are attempting to design cars that run entirely on battery power. The hitch is that the cars must have access to a power source to recharge their batteries. As it is, the concept is still so new that the stations with the auxiliary power chargers are few and far between. Without a power source, the car is helpless. In the same way, Christians who attempt to be effective witnesses apart from the power of the Holy Spirit are equally helpless. Along with learning the word of God, we must rely on the Holy Spirit for wisdom, protection, and power in our witness. Are you trying to do things in your own strength for Jesus instead of allowing his power to flow through you?
Each week VOM department directors meet to discuss the ongoing business of the ministry and update each other on various projects and priorities. Each meeting begins with a short devotional led by one of the directors. Last week that director was Jill from VOM's financial services area. She shared how God used a VOM donor and a well-timed phone call to answer her prayer and encourage her heart. Here is her devotional:
Last Wednesday, as I sat in the darkness of the early morning, I started my God time listing all the stress in my life: “God, I am following the path You set before me and You really think I can have July’s books closed AND the reports ready for the audit committee AND You want me to greet visitors at VOM’s chapel service, have the audit committee meeting AND do the devotional for the directors’ meeting all in the next week? REALLY?!?!”
Then, I moved on to personal things: “You want me to send my youngest daughter to Kansas City with a smile on my face, knowing she knows no one? What if.....?”
I will stop with that list because it became a very long and whiney list with too many I’s and me's.
God patiently listened and reminded me: "Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).
And Philippians 4:6-7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Ok, God, I get it...You’ve got it.
So, I thought I had done just what He said and moved on with my day. My morning was very busy and I had a meeting at 10 am. The meeting went well and I was so thankful and feeling the peace God had placed in my heart. After returning from my meeting, I looked at my phone...and there was a message.
I listened to the message and I immediately went back to that morning place of fretting and questioning. “Really God? You want me to talk to a donor? I have only talked to a handfull of donors since I began working here! She wants to know what are the fees that VOM has to pay if she pays by a credit card and what are the fees if she pays by a check. I’ve never had to answer one of those questions. I don't even know the answer! Why does it even matter? It costs VOM both ways. Where do I even begin? I don't have time for this! What if I say the wrong thing?”
Again God patiently reminded me that He was with me: Luke 12:25 “And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span?”
Ok God, here we go....
I picked up the phone and called Stacey. After I identified myself to Stacey, she thanked me for returning her call and proceeded to tell me what she wanted. She hardly took a breath between her words. She told me she was sitting at her computer, about to donate to VOM by credit card. She wanted to use her credit card because it would add airline miles to her account. All of a sudden she realized that she was sitting before God and was about to use the card for her own gain. She realized that she had to know which method of payment was best for VOM. She wanted to use her money for God in the best way possible.
We talked about the fees charged for each method and she determined what she would do. Then, still hardly breathing between words, she started thanking me for all that VOM is doing for Christians in Iraq.
Then, she started crying and thanked me again for calling her back as it was important that she not use her donation to benefit herself but to glorify God. She said her family is so thankful for VOM’s ministry and that they pray for us.
We ended our conversation by each of us telling the other what a blessing it was to talk today. We both believed God placed us on each other's path on that day at that time.
After I hung up the phone, I sat in my chair in awe of our God. How, just that morning, I had needed Him for so many reasons and He was there each step of the way. Just that morning, I did not know how I was going to give a devotional at directors’ meeting. He so-politely conked me on the head showing me that I was supposed to share Stacey's story.
VOM donors believe in our ministry. Just like Stacey, many of them agonize over how to use their dollars in the best possible way to further God's kingdom. May we always do the same as we spend the dollars entrusted to us!
Thanks be to God for leading His people on the path that intersects ours!
You can learn about VOM's stewardship and financial accountability here.
Yesterday VOM's Todd Nettleton was a guest on In the Market with Janet Parshall, aired nationwide on the Moody Radio Network.
In the 30-minute interview with Parshall, Nettleton shared updates about the persecuted church, focussing particularly on Iraq and what Christians there are facing with the advance of the Islamic State (IS).
Please click here to listen to this interview (a new window will open; Nettleton's interview begins at about the 27:00 mark). We are thankful to our media friends who help VOM share the stories of our persecuted family.