“Nobody in Cuba is rich, but this church was poor. I mean poor, poor. And that was the church that ended up stealing our hearts," says Rita Barrett, or "Profe" as she is called by her Spanish language students at Portland Adventist Academy (PAA) in Portland, Ore. She took six students to Cuba during Spring Break to partner with the Andrews University School of Divinity’s ongoing mission, Care for Cuba.
Barrett and her students were responsible for leading children’s ministry for evangelistic meetings supporting five churches. But an unplanned visit to a nearby church caught their attention.
The Chicharrones Church was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. In seven years not much has changed. “It didn’t have a great roof,” explains Morgan James, a PAA senior. “It had open walls, and it was kind of falling apart.”
“It was basically a makeshift building,” says Barrett. “But their community is so poor they haven’t been able to rebuild.”
Buildings are not the only challenges Cuban churches face.
Care for Cuba reports that 100 pastors and 300 Bible workers have little resources. Most Cuban ministers don’t have access to computers, books or children’s ministries resources. Very few have cars. If they don’t have a bike it can take hours to reach the people they serve. Bicycles cost $150, and the average Cuban earns just $30 per month.
Bibles are also hard to come by. One Bible is often shared between families and can become so worn it can’t be read.
“With all that, it’s easy to see why it could take so long to rebuild a church,” says Barrett.
Rebuilding Chicharrones would cost $30,000. So far, they’ve raised $10,000.
Though the Chicharrones Church may be poor, its members are rich in spirit. “This tiny little church of about 100 people was able to bring 100 more people to their evangelistic meetings,” says Barrett. “It was standing room only. People were outside peeking through slats so they could see all the baptisms. And it was all so joyful.”
In countries like Cuba, it’s never certain how long religious speech will remain free. Care for Cuba is committed empowering church workers in Cuba to do all they can, while they can. For now, the Cuban church remains one of the fastest growing in the Adventist world church. Barrett and her students are blessed to be a part of this remarkable history.