By David Friswell, World Church Relationships for the Methodist Church in Britain
What is a church to do when the state severely limits all its activities? Thrive!
The Methodist Church in Cuba continues to grow at around ten percent year on year despite facing various state restrictions. This is due in part to a passion for one-to-one evangelism, along with a seriously well structured programme of preparation and learning at all levels throughout the church. Members establish local cell groups; over time, these grow in number and become ‘missions’ – each
with its own cell groups. Eventually, as growth continues the ‘mission’ becomes a church; initially with a lay pastor, then with an ordained minister.
Much of the education is carried out locally through the Church’s extension programme. They do not aim to train academics but rather to equip members at all levels for mission and evangelism. These centrally coordinated programmes draw in thousands of participants each year with most churches having at least 10% of their number involved at any one time.
The building of new churches is controlled and restricted. In the residential outskirts of Havana, one of
the local residents has opened up part of their garden for mission meetings to take place. A corrugated iron roof on metal poles acts as protection from sun or rain. Walls are not allowed as the government would then consider it a church!
Worship started at 8pm with a time of praise led by an excellent keyboard player and a wonderful
young husband and wife singing together. The Bible reading and the preaching of the word followed
on the theme of intercessory prayer. More praise, singing and dance led us to the offertory and
then into prayers for others and the church members. After the service, I was able to chat to a
young woman called Ruth who is one of a small group from the mission currently preparing for
baptism and for membership.
The social outreach of the Church here is also restricted, but the Church is allowed to operate a home for elderly people. This currently serves around 15 residents and another 10 or so day clients. One of the staff members specialises in music therapy; during my visit, an enjoyable (and useful) session was
had by all – regardless of ability. One or two pensioners danced while others exercised from their
chairs. Special attention was paid to rhythm and reactions in time with the music from drums, shakers and, of course, guitar. There was a good feeling of a very caring community which hopes to be able to grow and offer more places for those who need care.
This article was originally published in the March 2016 edition of the Methodist Church in Britain’s World Church News.