Cuban Churches Face Dilemma

LOS ANGELES (Compass) -- Four evangelical churches in a Havana suburb are faced with a dilemma. They can join three officially sanctioned denominations in a state-approved project to construct a single worship building for churches now meeting illegally in apartments -- or risk the government closing them altogether.

Churches in the Alamar community have grown dramatically in recent years, but the government won't grant permission for individual churches to construct their own buildings. Last year, however, the Cuban Council of Churches came up with an idea to construct a single building for use by all the community's churches.

Representatives from each church met over several months to discuss the plan. But talks snagged on pressing issues such as who would use the building on Sunday mornings, who would live in the building's parsonage and how would conflicts in scheduling be handled when two or more churches wanted use of a part of the building at the same time.

But for non-Council denominations in Alamar -- Assemblies of God, First Pentecostal Church of Cuba, Evangelical League and the Western Baptists -- the opportunity soured when a meeting called for 2 p.m. for Alamar's seven churches actually took place at nine that morning between only three churches with a small presence in Alamar: the Free Baptists, Fraternity of Baptist Churches, and the Presbyterian Reformed Church. The three churches are members of the Cuban Council of Churches.

For Alamar churches not allied with the Council, to refuse to participate would provide an excuse for the government to crush them. While they feel they have no choice but to take part in the project, the four denominations still haven't decided whether to join. Even though ostensibly to take part in the building program would mean receiving long sought-after legal status -- and freedom to continue worshiping in Alamar -- they aren't satisfied with the arrangement and don't trust the government to keep its end of the bargain.

But Alamar's evangelicals know that their churches could be closed in a heartbeat.

Around the first of this year, Cuban authorities closed all churches in historic Old Havana. There weren't many -- perhaps seven or eight, and the churches had memberships of about 20 each.

In contrast, some Alamar churches have hundreds of members. At least one of the closed Old Havana churches moved nearby and reopened. Authorities gave no explanation for the church closures, but sources speculate it may be because the government is restoring this historic part of the city and is evicting Cuban occupants to offer choice properties to wealthy internationals who can and will pay top dollar for rent.

The uncertainty in Alamar comes amid growing openness to the gospel. Cubans are searching for something to fill a spiritual void. A recent street evangelism campaign resulted in around 2,000 decisions for Christ. Some Christians in Alamar are hoping to distribute a New Testament to every family. Cell groups for women and children are growing. New churches are still being started, despite the uncertainty of whether they'll soon be shut down.

Copyright © 2001 Compass Direct News Service.