Thousands of Seventh-day Adventists from all parts of Cuba witnessed a baptism of 300 new members on May 13. The baptism at the Almar swimming pool near Havana, the largest such facility in Cuba, was yet another evidence of the Church’s increasing presence in the society.
“What we saw today is the essence of our presence here. There is no other reason for the Church to be, except to win souls for Christ,” said Israel Leito, president of the Inter-American Division which oversees the Church in Central America.
The same day, Seventh-day Adventists in Pinar del Rio, the largest city in the western part of Cuba, celebrated the dedication of a newly built church. “There are 700 seats here, but more than a thousand people come to the services. And there is the potential to see even further church growth here,” said Don Noble, president of Maranatha Volunteers International, an organization responsible for building the facility. In 1998, Maranatha built a seminary complex and fully refurbished the Vibora Church in Havana, the largest Protestant church on the island.
“The freedom of worship by singing, praying and meeting publicly is fulfilling a huge need throughout the nation. People want to go to church here. It meets their hopes and needs,” Noble says. “All churches we have built or refurbished here are full. In at least one church, the pastor has to preach from within the baptistry in order to accommodate the large number of people attending.”
Daniel Fontaine, president of the Adventist Church in Cuba, says that church membership has more than doubled in the country since 1994. “We are grateful for the help we received from our brothers and sisters from outside of Cuba. Much of this is a direct result of the work of Maranatha,” he comments.
“Your Church is a part of the Cuban society. It has an important role to play in sharing values,” said Caridad Diego, director of the Religious Affairs Office of the Cuban government. She greeted a 40-member Maranatha group which visited Cuba on May 12-14 to participate in the baptism service and the Pinar del Rio Church dedication.
“What we are witnessing in the Cuban Seventh-day Adventist Church is a practical picture of the potential we have to impact the society. As we live out what we believe, we can effect change in those who come in contact with us,” commented Leo Ranzolin, general vice president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, who addressed congregations in Cuba over the weekend. “The values we teach can make a difference to society in Cuba.”
According to Noble, Maranatha has established a long-term commitment to assist the Church in Cuba by providing funding and expertise to build or refurbish 160 church centers. “The hard work of the Maranatha volunteers is coupled with the generous support from laity in North America. The excitement that service brings, and the excitement one sees on the faces of thousands of people we meet here, cannot be replaced by anything. We are glad to be a part of this new day for Cuba,” Noble said.
The Seventh-dayAdventist Church in Cuba now numbers some 30,000 members.