Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Adventists in Cuba use baseball as outreach tool

Adventists in Cuba use baseball as outreach tool
Apr. 29, 2013 Silver Spring, Maryland, United States
Mark A. Kellner, News Editor, Adventist Review

What would you do to attract young people to church, particularly in a
nation where overt witnessing is difficult?

How about a game of baseball?

That's the recent experience of Seventh-day Adventists in Cuba, where
baseball has long been a popular sport. Starting, and growing, a league
of baseball teams is bringing newcomers to the church, local leaders say.

In Cuba, baseball is a highly regarded sport: the country has its own
amateur league, and a Cuban national team was a finalist in the 2006
World Baseball Classic competition, losing to Japan in a game played in
San Diego, California.

"The program began in 2009, as a way to help young Adventists enjoy
sports without harming their Christian witness," said Dayami Rodriguez,
Communication director for the church's Cuban Union Conference.

Shirts and caps may not always match, and there are other challenges to
be met, but Cuban Adventists have found that baseball is an ideal
outreach tool. In fact, the peaceful nature of the games even attracted
a local government official, who offered words of welcome.

"Games are conducted with respect for all sides; team members pray
before games. The fighting and rough language sometimes associated with
other leagues is absent from the Adventist practices and competitions,"
Rodriguez said.

The peaceful atmosphere also attracted non-Adventists, who wanted to
participate. Church leaders agreed, but with conditions: players must
demonstrate good behavior, their speech and attitudes would be in line
with Adventist standards, and all players would attend daily, morning
Bible studies and evening seminars.

Players remove their hats for the national anthem, a baseball tradition.

According to Rodriguez, "It worked! Onlookers – ranging from local
umpires, professional baseball players, and members of the public who
happened upon the games — were all absorbed to see men in the heat of
the game praying for each other before a game, holding hands, embracing
and congratulating each other after the game."

Some spectators approached the teams, asking to learn more. The
youngsters identified themselves as Seventh-day Adventists, and invited
those interested to the evening meetings. In the first year, 28 people
gave their hearts to the Lord as a result of the effort. Last year, 100
people made a Christian commitment as the games and outreach took place
in Palmarito, Holguin, in the eastern part of Cuba.

Rodriguez said, "Each night the little town was paralyzed by what was
happening in the humble Adventist church atop the valley. Everyone was
running to hear the preacher, carrying their own chairs to find a little
place in the midst of so many people who crowded the windows and doors
of the sanctuary. And at the end of the week of an evangelism series
titled, 'Jesus the Conqueror of All Time,' the church rejoiced to
receive within it many who decided to cast their lot with Christ forever."

Local authorities – at first reluctant to permit a religious group to
use local facilities – finally relented, and volunteers cleared the
designated area for play. In fact, the local Communist Party first
secretary attended the opening, giving a welcome. The president of the
Adventist Church in Cuba and other pastors joined him.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been active in Cuba since 1905.
According to world church statistics, more than 31,000 baptized members
worship in 297 congregations across the island nation.

—with reporting by Dayami Rodriguez


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