In October, I was invited along with Mark McArthur, a fellow member of Crossroads Church of the Nazarene in Ellicott City, Maryland, to join the Severn, Maryland, Grace Point Community Church's (GPCC) Work & Witness team to Cuba. For the 14 team members (pictured left with four Cuban workers), the October 1 arrival date was the beginning of our very first visit to Cuba, a moment that I will cherish for a lifetime. This team was the first of many Work & Witness teams that Bob Prescott hopes to send to Cuba in 2013 and beyond.
According to Prescott, the Cuba Work & Witness team leader, "The Church of the Nazarene in Cuba is alive and well." This was his fifth trip to Cuba in 2012; his four previous visits involved leading a total of 19 Americans on Vision Trips. Prescott leads two kinds of Vision Trips. One is for potential donors looking for projects to fund. The other is for leaders interested in bringing Work & Witness teams to Cuba.
The 1959 revolution in Cuba, which made it mandatory for Nazarene missionaries to depart the island, also marked the beginning of a 50-year period in which government-imposed travel restrictions did not permit most Americans to visit Cuba.
Despite this isolation from the U.S. church, the Cuban Nazarene churches have witnessed dynamic growth over the past 20 years. Today, there are 81 organized Nazarene churches in Cuba and 21 church-type missions with over 8,200 worshipers. These numbers are expected to grow substantially in 2013. New church plants and new house churches are multiplying; this is where people are introduced to the reality of a Living God who knows and loves them. As of January 2012, the Cuba Nazarene district reported 35 “churches of children” and 461 house churches and preaching points, with the newest church organized in Guantanamo.
The Cuban Nazarene Theological Seminary (Seminario Teológico Nazareno Cubano)graduated 37 students in 2011. Their current enrollment stands at 335 students in all programs; most are studying in extension training centers which are strategically located along the length of the 800-mile island.
Our Work & Witness team’s project involved construction work at the seminary. Over previous decades, many Canadian Nazarene Work & Witness teams had erected numerous campus buildings. Our team worked on two sleeping rooms, or bunkhouses (pictured left), at the seminary. This additional housing space was to be used in January when an estimated 625 Nazarene delegates would assemble for the island’s annual district assembly, compared to 525 delegates in January 2012. The 2013 assembly was to convene in the seminary’s chapel, which is only equipped to seat about 350 people. One of the projects for future Work & Witness teams will be to expand the chapel into a 1200-seat district tabernacle. (Editor's note: The 625 delegates at the January assembly were joined by over 75 visitors. Since everyone in attendence was not able to fit inside the chapel, voting took place through the windows!)
The next scheduled Work & Witness team will begin replacing the current Parcelacion Moderna church, located about 10 miles from the seminary and near Havana. This church, which is much too small for the growing congregation and has significant structural problems, such as a rotting roof, will be torn down by the next team. Several follow-up teams will construct a new church with parsonage and classrooms located on the second story on the building. The new facility will be named the Prescott Memorial Church in honor of Prescott’s parents who were pioneer missionaries to Cuba from 1945 to 1957. That original church was built by his father in 1952.
Our team experienced the tremendous joy of fellowshipping and worshipping with the Parcelacion congregation and in playing a baseball game. These are courageous Christians who are committed to God. It was privilege to make new friendships while worshipping with them.
For McArthur, this was his second Work & Witness team. Previously, he served as a construction manager for a team that I led to Dominica in February 2012. I have been a member of several Work & Witness teams and have traveled to many third-world countries while employed as a vice president for World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals.