Earlier this month I had the privilege of traveling to Cuba with a group from United Theological Seminary. We accompanied a mission team from Trinity Family Life Center, a United Methodist Congregation in Pickerington, Ohio, led by Rev. Tim Burden.
There aren’t sufficient words to describe what is happening there. On almost any night of the week, Methodist churches are packed full of people of all ages. They are worshipping God, preaching, reading scripture, singing at the top of their voices, prophesying, and praying over one another for blessings, healing, and deliverance. In many churches, people are lined up in the aisles, standing at the back of the sanctuary, and even standing on the steps outside. Worship takes place in large churches, small churches, and even in grass-roofed pavilions outside the city. People who have generations of atheism or Santeria in their families are coming to Christ. As in the Book of Acts, signs and wonders are abundant. This is a powerful, historic revival which has been going on for over a decade and only seems to be gaining steam.
The spiritual leader of this revival is Bishop RIcardo Pereira, who is a visionary, preacher, pastor, and evangelist. In addition to overseeing all of the Methodist churches in Cuba, he also pastors a large congregation in Havana. If you’d like to meet or hear Bishop Pereira in person, he will be one of the keynote speakers at the Aldersgate Renewal Conference this summer.
A few years ago Bishop Pereira launched a new seminary in Havana with several extension centers, training both clergy and laity for the work of ministry. The professors in this seminary teach for free. They are utterly dedicated, at times driving for hours across the island to teach at one of the extension centers. The Cuban model of seminary education (at least among Methodists) is different than ours in the United States. In Cuba, if you wish to be a pastor, before enrolling in seminary you must start and lead a church for two years. Then, if the bishop feels you are ready and your congregation has shown sufficient growth, you may start seminary.
In addition to his other gifts, Bishop Pereira has a skill that I have observed among other successful leaders: he is able to identify and empower people with the gifts of leadership. He is raising up a tremendous group of spiritual sons and daughters who will lead the church in subsequent decades. The people on the bishop’s staff are not only intelligent and capable, but kind, humble, and deeply committed to Christ and the church.
During our trip, our students and Pastor Tim preached at various churches in and around Havana. We were always greeted warmly and received with gladness. It was a bit of a challenge for many of us, however, because Cuban Methodists are very animated in preaching and worship. Most of us had to amp things up quite a bit. I had the privilege of preaching in Bishop Pereira’s church. I preached through an interpreter to some 900 people, and that morning seven people accepted Christ. At the church of the district superintendent the same morning, 48 people accepted Christ.
At the risk of becoming political, I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the Cuban embargo, which Cubans call the “blockade.” Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Since that time, the socialist government of Cuba has remained solidly in place. After Fidel could not not rule any longer, he transferred power to his brother, Raul. If the purpose of the embargo was to weaken the Castro government, it hasn’t worked. In fact, I was told when I was there that the socialist government uses the embargo as an excuse for its inability properly to provide the security and equality that socialism promises. The embargo has strengthened the hand of the Castros, not weakened it. The people of Cuba have been hurt by the embargo, but the government has not. I’m very pleased to see relations with Cuba beginning to normalize.
(Oh, and yes, the classic American cars really are there, and many are in mint condition. Unfortunately, most have been converted to diesel, which contributes a great deal to air pollution in Havana.)
This trip made clearer to me than ever before that revival in the United States will only come by a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit. No program, no church growth model, no style of worship will renew the church. I don’t believe we will receive this outpouring, moreover, until we humble ourselves, repent of our self-sufficiency and arrogance, and begin to pray for the renewal and sanctification of our life together.