Fidel Castro is the world’s longest-running dictator, in power since the 1959 Cuban revolution. According to Forbes Magazine, he is also one of the world’s richest dictators, personally worth about 550 million dollars. Yet the eleven million people living in his communist country are barely surviving on an average income of less than $15 per month. Those who are wealthy enough to own a car (having relatives in the U.S. who send them money) most likely drive an American car from the 1950s, kept running by pure ingenuity and without access to spare parts. Average Cubans scrape by any way they can. A family ration book allows one tube of toothpaste every three months and one bar of soap every two months, along with 5 pounds of rice, 2 pounds of beans and six eggs per person. The black market flourishes and practically everyone is forced to find unorthodox and illegal ways of surviving. And this is happening just 90 miles from Florida!
For thirty years Cuba’s economy was propped up by the Soviet Union by five-billion-dollar annual subsidies. But when communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, a crises began in Cuba. Today the largest state-run industry is tourism, and each year a couple of million tourists (mostly from Europe) come to enjoy fabulous beaches and hotels that are off-limits for all Cubans except those who work on the grounds. Those who do work in the tourist industry consider themselves lucky, because hotel bellboys make more money through their tips than government-paid doctors do through their salaries.
Along with tourism, prostitution is also a growth industry. Castro welcomes sex tourism, publicly claiming that Cuba has the cleanest and most educated prostitutes in the world. A Johns Hopkins University study indicates that Cuba has replaced Southeast Asia as a destination for pedophiles and sex tourists. Even more tragic, abortions are provided free by the Cuban government to its citizens, and six out of ten babies are aborted.
In Cuba there is no freedom of the press and very limited freedom of expression. Political opposition parties are banned. Neighborhood government spies are everywhere, an estimated 15,000 in Havana alone. Two million Cubans have fled their island, many risking their lives in the process on crude rafts, and tens of thousands of others have paid with their lives trying to reform their nation.
And in Cuba cows are seemingly sacred. Before the 1959 revolution there were as many cattle in Cuba as people. That began to change after the nationalization of all private cattle ranches. Now only the state is allowed to slaughter cattle and sell the meat. A citizen who kills a cow, even if he raises it himself, can get a 10-year prison sentence. Anyone who transports or sells a poached animal can get locked up for 8 years.
About the only good thing that has come out of all this misery is that Cubans are turning to Jesus in large numbers. Although it is virtually impossible to gain a permit to build a new church building, Cuban church planters aren’t letting that stop them, and new congregations are meeting in homes. The Assemblies of God and Baptists in particular are aggressively pursuing this strategy.
In just a few days Becky and I will be traveling to Havana to conduct a 3-day conference for about 100 pastors from different denominations. (Thanks to all who made Becky’s trip possible.) Although I’ve ministered in over 45 countries, this is the first time in my ministry that I’ve ever purchased air tickets to a country for specific dates after which the planned conference completely fell through. However, two days later I received an invitation from an unknown Cuban pastor via e-mail who had no idea I would be in his country in three weeks and through whom we were able to schedule a replacement conference. It has been quite providential. That Cuban pastor has been reading the Spanish translation of The Disciple-Making Minister on our website and wrote (in broken English): “I have been all the night reading your book The Disciple-Making Minister and I think that is great and wonderful. We the Cubans pastors need us this teaching.”
I’ll be taking the Spanish manuscript of The Disciple-Making Minister with me to Cuba with the goal of having it printed and distributed to pastors all over the island. That will require another financial miracle, but that is how we’ve made it so far. Perhaps some who are reading this will feel led to help make that miracle possible. While in Cuba, Becky will also be providing eyeglasses for pastors who need them.
I’m so happy to report that all 15 of our tsunami orphans in India that we shared about in last month’s newsletter have found $15-per-month sponsors. The Indian pastor who oversees their orphanage is also rejoicing for the money we sent to help him purchase necessities for taking care of the children as well as pay the debts he incurred for taking care of them since January. Because of you, our dear friends, we’ve been able to give a total of $14,500 towards tsunami relief in Sri Lanka and India. Indigenous Christian ministries are seizing the opportunity to spread the gospel in tsunami-stricken areas even as the Sri Lankan government considers an anti-conversion law. Regardless of their decision, it won’t stop the gospel.
As of the end of April, 115 orphans have found monthly sponsorship through Orphan’s Tear. You can see the faces of those who are still waiting at OrphansTear.org. We will soon be adding another 25 tsunami orphans from coastal India and another 25 orphans from Sierra Leone, West Africa, the poorest country in the world. We also praise God for three very compassionate people who are now serving as Orphan’s Tear representatives in Iowa, Florida and New Mexico. (Thank you Laurie, Dan and Heather.)
We also praised God in April for the printing and arrival of the first 3,000 English copies of The Disciple-Making Minister (3 tons worth!), now starting to be sent out to hungry English-reading pastors and Christian leaders all over the world. Twelve other language versions of that book—Bulgarian, Chin (Burma), Chinese, French, Malayalam (southern India) Mizo (Burma), Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Urdu and Vietnamese—are all currently in different stages of translation. We also shipped 500 Swahili copies of The Great Gospel Deception in April from Tanzania to Democratic Republic of Congo to be distributed to pastors there.
Micro-Loan Project Update
About one-and-a-half years ago, we began a pilot micro-loan project through a church and trusted pastor in Lagos, Nigeria. Ten of our partners provided money to loan ten people $100 each to start small cottage businesses, and we asked them to repay their loans over the next year so that the money could be lent to others. It has been working.
When I was in Lagos in February, I met several of the loan recipients, and one apologized for not being able to repay his loan. His young wife had died late last year from a goiter, and he had spent the money trying to keep her alive. She was literally choked to death by her goiter, but her disease could have been easily prevented with just a little iodized salt in her diet, something every one of us takes for granted. Such is life for the poor in Africa. Just a reminder of how blessed we are and a reminder of how much responsibility we have set before us.
May We Count Our Blessings
I close with a photo sent to me by one of the ministries we assisted in Sri Lanka who are serving tsunami survivors. These parents had just discovered their son’s body lying on the shore. I’m sure this photo will grip your heart like it does mine. This is not the worst photo I could show you. Eternity is so close. Thanks for joining us as we attempt to fulfill all that God has given us to do. There is much that remains.