Cuba (MNN) — Over the last few years, United States and Cuban relations have improved — to an extent. But it turns out what we see in the United States isn’t the whole picture.
Patrick Klein of Vision Beyond Borders says while there’s an outside perception of growing freedom, there is actually growing religious persecution in Cuba.
“We’re given the impression by the media in America, the mainstream media, that Cuba’s opening up, and with the relationship with America that things are better.”
After the United States reopened the U.S. Embassy in Cuba about a year ago, John Kerry said the United States would keep pushing for democracy in Cuba.
Klein says this comment was not well received. The Cuban government has no intentions of leaving communism. With mounted pressure, Klein says they looked for someone to blame.
“The backlash actually came against the Church,” he says.
Tearing down Churches
Being a Christian in Cuba is not easy. Christian Solidarity Worldwide says religion inherently conflicts with communism. They also noted earlier this month that church demolitions are becoming more frequent. They report 1,606 religious freedom violations in the first six months of this year.
Klein says their team met up with a pastor who was crying. The government was going to tear down his church, claiming that because it wasn’t an actual church, it had to be demolished.
“He was heartbroken, but he said, ‘You know what? No matter if they tear it down, persecution is good for the Church because it strengthens the Church.’ He continued, ‘We’ll find another place to meet.’”
Part of the reason Cuba is so restrictive against Christianity is because it’s often associated with Western civilization, freedom, and democracy. This is not the first time Christians have been targeted due to this misunderstanding of the geographic origin of Christianity.
Boko Haram, by their very name, condemns Western Civilization. Their actions condemn and kill Christians.
Klein says it’s not just Cuba experiencing increased persecution. He tells of a recent event in China where a church was destroyed with a pastor and his wife inside. That pastor got out alive, but his wife didn’t. Klein says similar things are happening in Laos and Vietnam.
What the western Church doesn’t want to hear
Relative to what’s happening in other countries, Christians in the United States and other Western countries have a comfortable faith. Because of this, it’s all too easy to ignore the persecution that’s going on elsewhere. But this, Klein says, is a mistake.
“Persecution is breaking out more and more. And I think as Christians we need to be prepared that it’s coming to America. And we need to get in the Word of God, we need to be in prayer, and we need to do all we can to help our brothers and sisters in closed countries around the world and stand with them.”
Knowing what’s going on helps us know how to pray. And, it helps us support them through simple acts, like providing them with Scripture.
“If we value the Word of God, we need to make sure Christians around the world have access to God’s Word. But also, we need to be prepared.”
The big question is, what happens if someday we can no longer go to church? What if we lose our religious freedom? Are we going to keep serving God?
Persecution and its relationship to the Gospel
The pattern we continue to see is persecution drives the spread of the Gospel. Although we don’t celebrate adversity, we are grateful that the hope found in Jesus is greater. This is true in Cuba, too.
“The Church is very vibrant and alive in Cuba. They’re very evangelistic, they’re constantly reaching out, they’re planting more churches. It’s just amazing how the Church is growing so fast. And they’re determined to serve God no matter what happens. If persecution gets really intense, they’re still going to serve God and they’re going to find a way, whether it’s meeting on the beach or meeting in a jungle.”
As we stand up for our brothers and sisters through prayer, we learn to love them more. And, when we support their physical and spiritual needs, we’re sending them a clear message:
“We’re standing with you in your persecution because we love you. You’re part of our family because you’re part of God’s family.”