Will Americans Dampen the Zeal of Cuba’s Churches?

Image: Eddos Estudio
Image: Eddos Estudio

Right at the point where Havana’s ocean promenade meets the historic forts that guard its harbor, a crowd of young Cubans has gathered on a Thursday night. They are next to a dozen floats parked in preparation for Cuba’s summer carnival. But when one float starts blaring salsa music, the group does not welcome the rhythm; one member turns and holds his palm out in disapproval.

As a lighthouse shines overhead, the young crowd finishes singing a slow chorus about wanting their lives to be “like perfume at your feet.” They then launch into a boisterous call-and-response:

Yo soy Cristiano
Para que tú lo sepas
No me falta nada
Mi vida está completa

“So you know it, I am a Christian. I don’t lack anything. My life is complete.”

A tourist from the United States approaches the crowd.

“Hablas inglés? Are they talking about Jesus?” he asks. He spent the past week in central Cuba on a missions trip. “I knew there were Christians here, but I didn’t expect to see them like this.”

Next, a pastor has the crowd turn and face Habana Vieja, the heart of the capital’s tourism quarter, across the street. They raise their cell phones in the air in flashlight mode and shout, “Yo soy luz en medio de la oscuridad.” “I am light in the midst of darkness.”

Christianity Today traveled to Cuba the same week Secretary of State John Kerry reopened the US Embassy on Havana’s Malecón promenade. CT attended an exclusive meeting of theological educators discussing how to capitalize on La Apertura—the new diplomatic and economic opening between Cuba and the United States.

Christians on both sides of the 90 miles of Caribbean water that separates Cuba from Florida were surprised by the opening. This year, Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced the end of cold war enmity and the easing of travel and communication. (A full reversal of the US trade embargo requires a congressional vote.) Many residents hope—and tourists fear—that the island will no longer be “frozen in time.” Reflecting on the island’s economic difficulties, one pastor told CT, “The absurd is our reality.”

To be sure, many legacies of the Cuban Revolution will linger. But even before the US flag was raised in Havana for the first time in 54 years, the Stars and Stripes could be spotted on men’s T-shirts and women’s Capri pants around the capital. Christians openly watch a satirical sketch of the US–Cuba negotiations set to hit pop songs by Shakira and Enrique Iglesias. Seminary leaders, surprised at how openly critical a leading Cuban sociologist is of the island’s antiquated education system, ask her, “How did you get your thesis approved?”

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Jeremy Weber in Havana