A few days ago, I spent several hours sitting and talking with Cuban Christians. Some of them lead registered, above-ground churches, others lead unregistered churches and others are simply active church members. All of them talked about the suffering they’ve experienced under communism since 1959 when Cuba became a communist nation.
Specifically, they were denied jobs, income, government help, schooling, homes and more, simply because they were known as Christians. One man even spent two years in a forced labor camp in the 1960s, when he was 20 years old. But when he got out, within months, he was leading another house church. He said he left the prison camp with a clearer vision for following God and with a stronger calling for serving him.
He was one of a few of the group who were born pre-communism, who saw the revolution and have experienced its whole cycle in Cuba thus far. This brother referred to himself as part of the “historic faithful generation.”
Some of the middle-aged men and women in the group were born in communism’s heyday in Cuba. They were the few who were not allowed to wear the scarf of the communist party membership in schools, because they were Christians. They were the ones denied entry into Cuba’s many prestigious universities. They were the ones who became adults in the 70s and 80s, when Cuba was an avowed atheistic state.
When they left secular jobs to shepherd churches, several of these men and women told of living in very tough times. For one family, breakfast might be a cup of water with a tablespoon of sugar. For another, breakfast was boiled yucca (a starchy tuber plant) and dinner was the water their yucca had been boiled in.
This middle generation and the historic generation faithfully continued to preach the gospel and disciple believers under communism and in spite of decades of pressure from the government. Their legacy now is the young people: young believers now living in a Cuba that is gradually growing more economically open to the world, but where Christians still face enormous pressure.
One member of the group, a woman in her 20s, told of her university experience. Though a believer, she was able to enter university, unlike Christians her parent’s age or even the 22-year-old son of a prominent pastor. (All universities are state-sponsored.)
This young woman and the other Christians in the university, about 40 people, met every day for worship in the afternoon. When the university would sponsor parties featuring alcohol and promiscuity, the Christians would meet together for their own parties.
The group hid in a basement for their meetings. However, they were soon reported to the principal, who threatened to expel them all if they didn’t renounce Christianity and stop meeting. Instead, the group wisely broke into smaller groups and continues to fellowship together.
This young woman is now a professional in her field, where she says Christians are highly respected for their honesty and good work. She and a few Christian colleagues pray openly together when they are faced with difficult work situations. While non-believing colleagues don’t join in, they hear the words of the prayer.
Three generations of Christians who have remained faithful to Christ despite constant pressure. One pastor’s wife told me, “We do pray and ask God to give us a different life.” But while they pray, they continue to serve God and reach out to those who need to experience his hope.
These men and women have suffered for decades, but the overwhelming sense I got from them was one of joy. Over and over they said that God had sustained them through every difficult moment.
While Cuba is in a season of increasing openness to the rest of the world, Christians there are still suffering for their faith, whether through bulldozing an unregistered church building, denying Christians the right to education, or sending faithful party members to infiltrate churches and report on church activities. Christian Solidarity Worldwide recently reported that there were as many religious freedom violations in the first half of 2014 as there were in all of 2013. Even so, the Church in Cuba is growing.
In 55 years of communist rule, the face of communism in Cuba has changed. But what hasn’t changed is God’s faithfulness. He is preserving and growing a remnant that will continue to testify to his goodness despite outside circumstances.
Dory P. grew up the daughter of missionaries in Ecuador, met her husband while working with another mission organization, and now lives in Oklahoma. Their family of four shares seven passports. Dory helps tell the stories of the persecuted through VOM's newsletter, and her husband serves with VOM's international department.