History has repeatedly shown when the Christian church undergoes persecution it thrives. We see this at the start of the early church in the Book of Acts where believers were martyred (Acts 7:54-60) and often thrown in prison (Acts 12). But as this was happening Luke says the church grew as people were added daily (Acts 2: 41-47).
This happens because during times of persecution, God will pour out His Holy Spirit resulting in miracles, healings, salvations and rapid church growth.
In a recent report on CBN.com, Heather Sells talks about the incredible growth in the Cuban church despite resistance and outright persecution by the Communist regime under the Castro brothers who have ruled Cuba for decades.
Believers in Cuba go one step further and claim their suffering has directly contributed to the church’s growth on the island nation.
According to the report, over 16,000 new evangelical churches have started in Cuba since 1995.
There are two styles of churches in Cuba.
On one hand there are churches that follow the traditional model of meeting in a separate church building. But since the government restricts a church’s ability to buy land, they find it difficult to expand, so these churches often take on a more unusual appearance, building upward instead of outward, resulting in multi storied churches.
Perhaps the most popular model and one recommended oddly by a government official are house churches. They meet in people’s homes and typically divide once they become too large.
This seems to be the style often followed in the early church as the Apostle Paul refers to churches meeting in Aquila and Prisca’s home (1 Corinthians 16:19), Philemon’s house (Philemon 1 and 2) and Nymphia’s house in Laodicea (Colossians 4:15). The Book of Acts also mentions house churches such as the one in Mary’s house, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:10-17).
But the Jewish practice of setting up synagogues in communities would also be a pattern the church followed once congregations reached a certain size.
According to CBN’s report, the rapid Christian growth in Cuba started after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, when it pulled its financial and favorable trade deals with Cuba. This resulted in severe economic difficulties for the average Cuban and many looked to the church for help.
Around the same time, Cuba changed its official philosophical position from an atheistic nation to a secular one. Though this resulted in the Cuban government becoming more open to Christianity, there were brief outbursts of persecution and pastors were thrown in prison.
After the change to a secular nation, some Baptist Christians approached the government about building churches, one official told them that was not possible but when he suggested they should start meeting in homes, the house church movement exploded.
Though there are thousands of house churches in Cuba, instead of dividing some have gone on to form larger churches. Pastor Miguel had a church meeting in his apartment and when it began to grow, they decided to meet in an empty lot beside the apartment. The church now numbers upwards of a 100 people, despite the difficulties associated with open-air meetings.
The Cuban church is also experiencing spiritual warfare particularly with a group called the Santeria. In his interview with CBN, Pastor Paul Nestor told of a time when a group of Santeria met outside their church during a morning service — chanting and beating their drums.
In the interview, Nestor said:
“It was kind of like a spiritual face-off. The church just started praying and then we prayed for rain and all of a sudden there was thunder so they had to leave.”
The Santeria is an African-Caribbean religion with elements of Roman Catholicism mixed in. Santeria believes in spirits called orishas who will guide a person’s life, if he or she develops a relationship with these spirits.
The orisha spirits, considered manifestations of the god olodumare, have one unusual feature — they will die if not fed. The participants are required to nourish these spirits through animal sacrifices, worship, dancing and drum beating. Santerians believe orishas will possess people during some of the rituals.
The Santeria religion has also incorporated several Roman Catholic rituals and beliefs such as the Yoruba goddess of the River being represented by Our Lady of Charity.
But despite the political and spiritual challenges, or maybe because of them, the church in Cuba is thriving.