Cuban Baptists underscored the Bible’s role in their work and recalled a Baptist leader of the Cuban Revolution during the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Coordination of Baptist Workers and Students in Cuba (COEBAC).
Some Cubans leave the island nation for opportunities abroad, while others stay but avoid involvement in public matters. Those participating in the anniversary celebrations urged a different approach.
Eduardo Gonzalez, COEBAC general secretary, argued that Christians are members of “a kingdom that is here and now,” and Christians must live out their faith in the place and times in which they live.
“We’ve been called by God to live out this moment,” he said. “This is not a conference to just go home happy. It’s a conference to go home on our knees … and ask our Lord, ‘Oh, Lord, what do you want me to do?'”
“COEBAC was born in very difficult times when the church maybe lost sight of how to be salt and light,” Gonzalez added. “The fullness of [the church’s] calling is to be prophetic in the place where it’s been called.”
Other Cuban Baptists at the gathering in Ciego de Ãvila echoed his remarks.
Raquel SuÃ¡rez, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Ebenezer (Ebenezer Baptist Church) in Havana, said, “I’m living here and not somewhere else.”
RaÃºl SuÃ¡rez, a longtime Baptist leader in Cuba and member of the National Assembly of People’s Power (Cuba’s national parliament), argued, “The Bible inspires us, motivates us for work in society.”
“In the area where you are living and doing – I like the word in John, ‘signs’ – we must be signs of transformation,” he added.
Another Cuban Baptist argued that “to recover Baptist principles is to read the Bible and to contextualize the Bible.”
During the two-day meeting, patriotic pride added to the passion to minister in Cuba.
A musical celebration during the first evening started with a processional of the Cuban flag and the singing of the Cuban National Anthem. The musical celebration featured local musicians playing Cuban music.
JosÃ© Aurelio Paz, an early COEBAC leader who led the musical celebration, explained that one of COEBAC’s contributions was to help churches with “recovering our culture” by bringing traditional Cuban instruments and sounds into worship services instead of merely using traditional European hymns.
A Cuban Baptist leader explained to EthicsDaily.com that the music in churches was not “always compatible with our culture,” but that Cuba has a “rich culture with music and it really sticks with you.”
Paz sang a lighthearted piece he composed that featured him beating rhythm sticks together while asking why he could not use those for worship.
A professional troubadour accompanied him as he jokingly sang about people thinking the guitar is a sign of the devil’s presence.
Historical references also filled the meeting, which speakers noted started on a Cuban holiday.
Oct. 10 marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Ten Years’ War – the first of three independence wars as Cubans sought to overthrow Spanish colonial rule.
Uxmal Livio Diaz Rodriguez, the first general secretary of COEBAC, spoke about Cuban Baptist history. Diaz also mentioned many of the institutions Baptists started, focusing especially on the work of COEBAC.
“Baptists have in many ways left traces on our culture and our country,” he added.
Diaz and other speakers talked about Cuban Baptist figures who impacted their country, including Alberto Jose Diaz, a Cuban independence fighter during the Ten Years’ War who was later converted in the U.S. before returning to Cuba and starting the first Cuban Baptist church.
Another key Cuban Baptist mentioned by Diaz and other speakers was Frank PaÃs, one of the leaders of the “26th of July Movement” along with Fidel Castro.
The leader of the urban underground part of the revolutionary movement (while Castro fought in the mountains), PaÃs rivaled Castro in popularity.
Discovered by police officers in Santiago de Cuba, he was executed in 1957 at the age of 22.
His execution sparked a massive strike and protest that helped the revolutionary movement, and that date is still recognized today as “Day of the Martyrs of the Revolution.”
After Caridad Diego of the Office of Religious Affairs of the Communist Party’s Central Committee spoke to the group and invited questions or comments from the gathered Baptists, the topic quickly turned to the faith of PaÃs.
The second person to address Diego wondered why governmental officials seemed afraid to mention that PaÃs was a Christian.
Noting that most Cubans know of PaÃs but not that he was the son of a Baptist preacher and active in his Baptist church, the questioner added that her church teaches kids about the Baptist faith of PaÃs during summer Bible studies.
She pressed Diego to also acknowledge this side of PaÃs.
Upon the mention of PaÃs, the question time following Diego’s speech turned into a spontaneous tribute session in honor of PaÃs as several more Cuban Baptists rose to talk about the revolutionary hero. A couple of the Baptists who spoke had known PaÃs.
After several Cuban Baptists offered their praise for PaÃs, Diego said she agreed more should be done to highlight his life and faith.
She called for a “full history, not a broken history” and admitted that “many revolutionaries had embraced faith.”
After the remarks about PaÃs, music leaders for the COEBAC meeting led the group in an unplanned singing of what they called the favorite hymn of PaÃs.
With memories of PaÃs still hanging in the air, the group proudly sang words that captured the spirit of their mission to live out their Christian calling in their context.
Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,
Do not wait to shed your light afar;
To the many duties ever near you now be true,
Brighten the corner where you are.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.