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Standing Room Only in Cuba

New York ministry team finds receptivity to teaching from pastors on the island.

A pastoral team from the New York Assemblies of God District conducting a global leadership seminar in Holguin, Cuba, marveled at the hunger for learning from the 1,100 Cuban pastors and their spouses attending the four-day event last month. 

Overflowing the Good Shepard AG church's sanctuary, Cuban pastors stood outside all day listening through open windows or standing in the aisles and hallways. Many had prayed and fasted for months for a fresh move of the Holy Spirit. They flooded the sanctuary with passionate worship and praise between teaching sessions.

"We were welcomed with open arms and love, not as brothers from a different country, but as part of the family of God," says New York District Superintendent Duane P. Durst. "It was a humbling experience."

Cuba has been experiencing a vibrant revival and a record number of new AG church plants since the 1980s. Just 30 years ago, the Assemblies of God had about 90 churches on the island nation. Today, there are an estimated 9,000 churches and preaching points, and the church is thriving.

Invited officially last year by the secretary for the North Eastern District of the Cuban Assemblies of God, the seven-member New York team included Durst; Pastor Steve Milazzo of Bethlehem Assembly of God in Valley Stream; Gregg T. Johnson, pastor of The Mission Church in Holmes; and two translators from both churches.

New York AG churches contributed more than $15,000 for the seminar covering food, literature, notepads, translation of Johnson's book The Character of Leadership into Spanish, and some travel expenses. Durst, Milazzo, and Johnson were deeply moved by the receptivity of their teaching on topics such as the work of the Holy Spirit, financial integrity, sexual purity, ethics, servant leadership, building character, and family relationships,

"We were inspired by the Cuban pastors' passion for the Lord and their desire to be great leaders," Milazzo says.

In addition to conducting the seminar, the New York team visited a number of churches and the AG Bible College in Puerto Padre on the north coast of Cuba. They witnessed the rebuilding of churches brick by brick that had been destroyed by recent hurricanes, and the proliferation of house churches launched.

Couples open their simple homes to 30-40 believers. They move furniture outdoors allowing for makeshift benches in their living rooms. Sunday School is held in bedrooms. Food cooked in the kitchen is always provided after services. Showing hospitality is a Cuban tradition. Traveling Christians normally stay as guests in homes or in churches.

When pastors' homes cannot handle growing congregations, pavilions are built on their property.

"I was very impressed by the perseverance and work ethic of these pastors and their families, and their willingness to be inconvenienced with joy," Johnson says.

The visit to the AG Bible School is etched deeply on the memories of team members. Exiting their van during midmorning, they heard the loud tearful pleas of students who had been petitioning God since 5:30 a.m.

"God is doing something incredible in Cuba," Durst says. 'We have a great opportunity for our churches in the U.S. to partner with our Cuban brothers and sisters."


Peter K. Johnson

Peter K. Johnson is a freelance writer living in Saranac Lake, New York. More than 500 of his articles and short stories have appeared in Christian and mainstream magazines and newspapers, including the Pentecostal Evangel,Charisma, the Saturday Evening Post, Guideposts, and Decision. He also serves as a consultant and contributing editor to a scientific journal.