Thursday, June 30, 2016

Christianity has 'grown in the shadows' inside Cuba

Christianity has 'grown in the shadows' inside Cuba
By Billy Hallowell
Published: Wednesday, June 29 2016 12:10 p.m. MDT

Christianity in Cuba has "grown in the shadows of culture for many
years," but a number of organizations are working to help invigorate
that growth by equipping and training pastors and churches, alike,
inside the Caribbean nation.

From Bible distributions to gospel trainings, efforts to grow the faith
have ramped up over the past two years with Christian organizations
seeing unprecedented opportunities to help Cuban citizens and churches
gain biblical knowledge.

As these initiatives grow, a number of institutions, including The Luis
Palau Bible Institute, the International Bible Society, the Luis Palau
Association and Logos Christian University will host a historic
gathering in Cuba this November that will offer ministry training to
scores of local pastors.

It's an event that will be a first for the region, and one that is made
possible due to the growing freedom inside Cuba, according to Dr. Carlos
Barbieri, director of the Luis Palau Bible Institute.

Rather than simply offering online and video classes to pastors — which
are often ineffective due to technological constraints — the
organizations involved will come together to run free, on-site courses.

Barbieri told Deseret News that the effort comes at a pivotal time.

"The church in Cuba has grown in the shadows of culture for many years.
Many of the churches and church leaders were born in the trenches and
underground," he said. "They are bold and persistent. They are
undoubtedly a living example for others, committed to the scriptures and
passionate about the Lord."

The Luis Palau Bible Institute had previously trained a small number of
pastors inside Cuba, but the task was quite difficult, with many
barriers impacting the effectiveness and scope of those efforts.

"We have been training a very small group of Cuban leaders who can
access our materials and training online," Barbieri explained. "It has
been a very small amount — no more than 40 pastors and leaders
throughout the entire nation."

But the on-site classes planned for November are slated to accommodate
220 pastors, offering a broader reach for the institute's ministry training.

Barbieri said that emails and letters from pastors and faith leaders
over the past few years have told the Bible institute that the trainings
are much-needed, with a lack of access to technology creating problems
for those attempting to consume the content online.

"We have attempted many times to send DVDs, old-school computer disks,
or even hard drives to help with training," he explained, noting that
internet access is not always widely available in Cuba. "None of them
were very effective."

So, the organization started thinking about on-site efforts to help
bridge the divide. And changing political winds have, in many ways,
helped in organizing the Luis Palau Bible Institute's November plans,
Barbieri said.

As previously reported, the Obama administration has taken steps to ease
decades-old restrictions on Cuba — regulations that have kept the U.S.
out of Cuban affairs and had essentially isolated the country.

According to Barbieri, warming relations between the U.S. and Cuba have
led the Cuban government to be more open to Bible training courses and
more willing to grant religious visas to teachers. Additionally, the
scenario has helped create smoother travel inside the island, while also
profoundly impacting Cuban Christians who are looking to spread their faith.

"Most important of all is that Cuban Christians feel more free to engage
in these events and participate in these training courses without fear,"
he said.

More open communication has also allowed Barbieri and his team to better
assess churches' needs inside Cuba. With that information in mind, the
Luis Palau Bible Institute will bring in educators this November to
offer Bible instruction.

"The idea is to take several teachers and have three days of intensive
studies on specific topics of unique interest to Cuban pastors,"
Barbieri said. "We figured that if pastors cannot access the studies
online, we will bring the studies directly to them."

One of the keys to the training will be the cultural elements that the
Bible institute has kept in mind throughout the organizational process.
Despite being "semi-isolated from the world for the past five decades,"
Barbieri said Cuba is still a Latin culture and that this must be taken
into account when training churches.

"Their culture is as Latin as any other Latin American country and needs
Latino leaders and teachers, who understand their mindset and can help
in very specific issues within the church," he said. "Issues like
pastoral counseling, counseling through domestic violence, dealing with
adultery, fighting against child abuse, or breaking addictions."

The changing relationship between the U.S. and Cuba has led many
Christians to further explore what's been happening inside the Caribbean
nation for the past 50 years when it comes to church growth and

Similar to Barbieri's claim that Christianity has had a healthy growth
in the region, CBN News also covered the issue earlier this year,
concluding that the church has fared "amazingly well" during the
country's isolation period, with the outlet adding that "many believe
the hardships and suffering have paved the way for an explosion of
church planting."

Other organizations have sent tens of thousands of Bibles to Cuba over
the past two years as well, seeing newfound opportunity after relations
between the U.S. and Cuba started to thaw.

In fact, the American Bible Society called the situation an
"unprecedented opportunity for the church," announcing in 2015 that the
organization is hoping to send 1 million Bibles to the region over a
three-year period.

Source: Christianity has 'grown in the shadows' inside Cuba | Deseret
News -

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