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Leaders of a Cuban Baptist group quickly issued a statement praising the news that U.S. and Cuban leaders had announced a historic shift in relations between the two nations.

The unexpected news came suddenly on Dec. 17 after more than 50 years of strained relations.

During a previously scheduled Christmas liturgical service the day after the unexpected shift in relations, the Coordinación Obrero-Estudiantil Bautista de Cuba (Coordination of Baptist Workers & Students in Cuba) issued a declaration in response.

The group, usually called COEBAC, seeks to help Cuban Baptists engage in their context and society.

The Christmas gathering on Dec. 18 was held at Iglesia Bautista Enmanuel (Emmanuel Baptist Church) in Ciego de Ãvila (located in the middle of the island nation).

The church’s pastor, Eduardo Gonzalez, serves as secretary general of COEBAC. obtained a copy of the COEBAC statement, in which Cuban Baptists noted they “received with great joy the announcements” made by Cuban President Raúl Castro and President Barack Obama the previous day.

Viewing themselves as “committed to the construction of ‘a new heaven and a new earth,'” they praised the shift in international relations.

The changes announced on Dec. 17 included a prisoner swap that freed the last three remaining members of the “Cuban Five” (Cubans imprisoned in the U.S. for espionage), Alan Gross (an American imprisoned in Cuba), and an unnamed U.S. intelligence agent imprisoned in Cuba.

The COEBAC statement specially noted the release of the three Cubans and Gross.

“We appreciate the actions taken by the government of the United States, of our Cuban government, and the groups and individuals around the world that had as a result the release from prison of Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Alan Gross, as well as other benefits brought about to people affected by political causes,” the statement explained.

In addition to the prisoner swap, Obama announced on Dec. 17 the plans to re-establish formal diplomatic relations between the two nations and some loosening of U.S. travel restrictions.

The COEBAC statement placed their support for the shift in international relations as part of the Christian calling to transform the world.

“We reaffirm our commitment to continue to make love, peace and justice that God in Christ came to establish in the world,” the statement noted.

COEBAC added that humans must act to help bring the virtues of love, peace and justice into the world.

“They will only be possible, as these events have demonstrated, through the efforts of human beings, created in the image and likeness of God,” the statement explained. “They can also become a reality in the relations between our two peoples and governments who have already begun to walk down a different path.”

“We are proud to be a part of this people who heroically fight and survive difficult situations,” the statement added. “We see the answers to the prayers of many human beings, but also the reaffirmation of God that his kingdom may be real among us, if we are able to fight for it.”

Since the statement came out just days before Christmas, it makes reference to the holy season of Advent. It ended by quoting “the song of the angels” in Luke 2 on the first Christmas.

“Do not be afraid because here I have brought tidings of great joy which shall be to all people,” the quoted passage declared. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will toward humans.”

COEBAC celebrated its 40th anniversary in October at a gathering also designed to help restart the organization after years of being dormant. More than 80 Cuban Baptists attended the celebration on Oct. 10 and 11.

A 12-person delegation from the U.S. attended the meeting, including individuals from Churchnet (also known as the Baptist General Convention of Missouri) and two churches (one in Missouri and one in Louisiana) that each has a two-decade partnership with a Cuban Baptist church. covered the anniversary meeting, reporting on U.S. and Cuban Baptists building bridges, on comments by Cuban Baptists about church-state separation, and on remarks by Cuban Baptists about their unique heritage. also created a photo news story from the gathering.

Other international Baptists praising the Cuban-U.S. relation’s shift include the Baptist World Alliance.

Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for and the communication and engagement leader for Churchnet. You can follow him on Twitter @BrianKaylor.

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