“In a few minutes we will be landing at the Jose Marti International Airport at Havana.” Even hearing that announcement, it was still hard to believe that I was going there. Of the many places I have imagined visiting, I never thought of Cuba, so I was surprised when Moishe Rosen asked me to go there to preach.
He explained that due to Cuba’s bad economy, it was not a suitable place to seek financial support for our Jews for Jesus ministry, but he expected me to find Christians who would understand and appreciate the nature of our ministry and pray for us. It would not be a place where Christians could help us as much as we could minister to them and to the Jewish people who lived there. I was to schedule some meetings and find out what God is doing in that country.
Over a period of several months, I contacted some Cuban pastors, and everything was set up for my visit. Upon my arrival, I got in touch with Jorge, the pastor of a Baptist church in one of the heavily populated neighborhoods of Havana. Jorge was my host throughout my stay.
To say that the economic situation in Cuba is difficult is an understatement. Some very basic supplies, such as soap, toilet paper and medicine are extremely difficult to find. Food and gasoline are also very scarce. The lack of gasoline causes transportation problems. Few buses circulate in Havana. Hundreds of people wait for hours for a bus. Many go to school or work on bikes, which can be seen by the hundreds on the streets. Buildings that look partially demolished or at least in desperate need of paint are common sights. Power blackouts are normal, and many of the houses have no electricity during the day.
In spite of these hardships, enthusiastic Christians are filling the churches of Havana. On my first Sunday there, I preached at a downtown Baptist church. I described how Christ is clearly shown in the Passover. Following my presentation, the church was celebrating the Lord’s Supper, and so many people had come that they ran out of communion supplies.
At another downtown church where I spoke on a Thursday evening, 300 enthusiastic believers came to worship despite the lack of transportation and street lighting. I was excited to discover that the number of people that night was the same as attended a Sunday morning “main” service.
My pastor host gave me a chance to preach at his church twice—once on a Saturday night and once on a Tuesday night. Both times the church was packed with 200 people. Some had to walk five miles to come to services, but they were happy to do it. The worshipers had an enthusiasm I had seldom encountered before. I think that every time a hymn was sung, it could be heard a block away.
The Jewish Community in Cuba
I needed matzah (unleavened bread) for my Christ in the Passover presentations, and I realized that I had not brought any. How could I find matzah in Havana if regular bread was already hard to get? A synagogue seemed like a good place to try. I found out that there were three— ne downtown and two in the old city. Those in the old city were Sephardic (of Mediterranean origin). I chose to try the downtown Ashkenazic (Eastern European style) synagogue. Not only did I get the matzah, but I also got statistics about the Jewish community. (I learned there are 1,300 Jewish people in Cuba.) I also accepted an invitation to attend Sabbath services on Saturday morning.
The downtown synagogue still held traces of its former grandeur. One of the elders of the synagogue invited me to read the Torah blessing, which I was glad to do. By the end of the service, most of the congregation knew that I was a visitor from Argentina. Several people engaged me in conversations, and some asked me to take letters to their relatives outside of Cuba. Several people even invited me for coffee at their homes, and I gladly accepted.
As I set out to visit those who had invited me, I could see the hand of the Lord already working. Many of them lived very close to where I was staying. The first family I visited was eager to meet me because, of all things, their son had left Cuba to live in Buenos Aires! I promised to take back some letters and books for him.
As soon as I could, I shared the gospel with them. I was surprised at their openness to the words of Jesus. Like most Jewish people, they had carried a distorted image of Jesus and were surprised to hear from the Scriptures that He was Jewish and cared for the Jewish people. I visited this family twice and left them a New Testament so they could read more about Jesus. When I came back to Buenos Aires, I visited their son and was excited to find out that he, too, was very open to the gospel.
Another person who invited me to visit her was a synagogue youth leader and a doctor at one of the hospitals in Havana. After some small talk, I asked her what she thought about the Messiah. She said she had been taught that the Messiah was not a person but a time when peace and justice would prevail on earth. I told her that the prophets had said something different, and I read her Isaiah 53. At that, she responded, “But then the Messiah is Jesus! It cannot be possible, because we Jews are not supposed to believe in Jesus.” However, she was not able to explain how the description the prophet had given about the Messiah fit Jesus if He was not the Messiah. She also wanted to keep in touch and know more about Christ.
A high point in my trip came when I met another Jewish person, Frank. He had been invited by a neighbor to attend one of my church meetings and had come mainly because he was surprised to hear that a Jewish person would be preaching. Frank was interested in hearing more, and I invited him to meet with me the first day he was free. The following Tuesday he came to another of my meetings and brought his mother. I preached, and one person responded to my invitation to make a commitment to Christ. It was Sara, Frank’s mother! After the meeting, I met with Frank, Sara and the pastor of the church to explain more about the gospel to Sara and to talk more with Frank. We agreed to meet again the following morning, at which time I explained the gospel to Frank.
Frank was concerned that to accept Christ was un-Jewish. He recognized his need for God, especially in the circumstances under which he lived in Cuba. He was surprised that, despite the harsh conditions there, his Christian neighbor always found time to take care of others, always had a word of encouragement and, whenever possible, shared some of the small amounts of food or medicine he had. I explained to Frank that Jesus was the One who lived in his neighbor’s heart and put that special love in him. I told Frank he could have the same love and joy if he would give his life to Jesus. At that, Frank prayed a commitment of faith in Jesus as His Messiah and Savior.
What a blessed trip it was! As the plane was taking off and I was getting my last sight of Cuba, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the Jewish people I had met who were so open to the gospel and all the enthusiasm I had found in the Cuban believers. Even now I can still hear in my mind the loud, clear and joyous singing I heard at every meeting. I can still see the radiant faces of the Christians at every church as they met for services.
Please pray for Cuba. Pray for the believers and for the many Jewish people there who need to hear the gospel.