Rick Grover, Senior Pastor of East 91st Street Christian Church, recently returned from a compelling visit to Cuba with Overseas Council. We were blessed by the thought-provoking lessons he learned and wanted to share them with you. May you be richly blessed today!
I just returned from Cuba late last night where I spent a week with some U.S. businessmen and church leaders visiting Cuban house churches and seminaries. We met with a number of pastors and their wives, students, seminary leaders and their staff. An anonymous donor made it possible for me to make the trek through one of our ministry partners, Overseas Council. Through Overseas Council, the church I serve supports one of the Cuba seminaries and leadership training centers.
Part of our visit came to me as no surprise, but other parts opened my eyes and heart to pray for our Cuban brothers and sisters in Christ. I expected to find a country oppressed by communism and the Castro regime. I expected to see poverty and a lack of infrastructure for economic growth and community development.
What I didn’t expect, however, was the mindset of so many Christians that in spite of their suffering, they will walk with joy in the leading of the Holy Spirit. In spite of the uncertainty of the future of their nation, they will walk with humble confidence that God is sovereign. In spite of a lack of resources such as the Internet and printed resources, they will find a way to overcome, believing they truly are “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37).
This past Sunday morning we worshiped in a house church that had about thirty people crammed onto a concrete porch sitting in plastic chairs that most suburban Americans would have thrown away long ago. This porch was attached to one of the innumerable houses draped in the grey drab of communism but filled with radiant colors of faith in Jesus Christ.
These resilient Christians sang with no instruments, but the songs were carried by the passionate melody of their voices. They shared testimonies with each other and welcomed a new woman who was not a believer but came through the invitation of a friend. The preacher spoke about how this small band of Christ followers is part of a movement of the Spirit of Jesus to penetrate all of Havana with His eternal love, joy and peace.
So what does this have to do with us? It gives us perspective. If I told that Cuban house-church pastor of the woes I’ve faced in ministry or of recent financial challenges affecting our 250,000 square foot facility, programming and personnel, I imagine he would look at me with a blank stare. I could hear him say, “So, people have more than enough food to eat, more bedrooms in their homes than people who sleep in them, and a building in which to worship God, and your complaint is what exactly?”
Our Christian brothers and sisters in Cuba are actually praying that Christians in America would not bow to the gods of materialism and consumerism. The Cuban church is growing and vibrant with little to no financial resources, church buildings, parking lots, or paid staff. With all of our resources, buildings, programs, and staff, many American churches are in decline. What are we missing? I believe the answer is reliance. When we rely on our resources, budgets and buildings rather than on the power of the Lord God Almighty, He turns us over to reap what we have sown. But when we completely rely on the God of the universe who has sent us His Son, Jesus Christ, and empowers us through His Spirit, we are unleashed in the world as the mightiest force known to mankind.
This heavenly force overthrows earthly governments, principalities and powers not through the use of physical weapons that destroy but by spiritual weapons that defeat the darkness and bring God’s marvelous light (cp. Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 2:9). The Cuban church is bringing light to the darkness, and it is changing the nation. We have the same opportunity if we cry out to God Almighty, place our reliance upon Him, and utilize His power to overcome our struggles and change our nation. As the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).