The moment has arrived in Cuba

When I was three years old, my father was arrested because he was a pastor. He was released three years later, and that was the first time I remember seeing my father.

Economics and religion made growing up in Cuba hard. We were very poor, and because of my family’s Christianity, my teachers and fellow students hit me and laughed at me. As a young teen, I made three decisions. First, I’m going to be a tough man. People will respect me. Second, I’m going to be a smart man. I want to study in the university and bring my family out of poverty. Third and most importantly, I’m not going to be a pastor. I’m not going to subject my family to the life I’ve had. The purpose of my life was to achieve these three things.

I was successful on the first two. I received a scholarship to study neuroscience, and I became a Judo national champion. People not only respected me — they feared me. I had only one last goal: not to be a pastor.

But that wasn’t God’s agenda. One of the hardest moments in my life was when I felt God calling me to ministry. But, despite the inner struggle, I finished university, attended seminary, met and married my wife and became a pastor. After pastoring two churches, I studied theology for four years in Colombia and returned to Cuba to lead the seminary for thirteen years as academic dean.

But I was deeply concerned about something. The churches I had pastored were part of a denomination marked by legalism. There were a number of students in the seminary who were a part of this denomination. I was looking for something new. And many of the seminary students and other pastors I knew were as well.

I connected with a man named Allen Thompson, who has become a mentor to me, and he introduced me to Tim Keller’s books. As I studied Tim and other authors, I began to understand a whole new concept of grace and the gospel. As a legalistic denomination, we focused heavily on morality, and holiness was something to be achieved. But when I experienced the impact of the gospel, it changed me. I saw I didn’t need grace only for that moment of salvation, but I needed it to be able to live life daily.

As I shared this with others, they too began to understand grace differently. And as my own life was transformed by the gospel, my perspective on how the gospel could impact Cuba began to change. By the power of God, the gospel changes what it touches. It changes the individual, it transforms the community and it renews the church.

That’s the difference between churches that ascribe to a cultural Christianity versus churches that are based in the gospel. Cultural Christianity does not truly change people. So now my focus is church planting. So we’re doing something new. We’re engaging with different types of people because God loves them, and the Holy Spirit has the power to change everyone.

One of our churches has a ministry called Grain of Sand where they feed eighty elderly, homeless men and women daily. There are also fifty teens and young adults in the program, and workshops bring the elderly and youth together. A grandfather actually met his grandchild for the first time through one of these workshops. Many of these teens have been on the streets, and this exposure to grandparent figures is serving to reconnect these teens to the concept of the family unit.

That same church led an initiative to paint houses in the neighborhood. A leader of a local gang asked the project lead, “Why are you doing this?” The project coordinator responded, “We want to be able to show you that there is something better, and that we love you.” The gang leader responded by gathering some friends and painting the church that same day. This young man has since given his life to Christ, and his whole life is changed.

Grain of Sand has been operating for five years, and it is now a government-sanctioned project. As the government measured their programs’ impact rates, they found that crime had decreased by 30 percent in this neighborhood. They asked, “What have we done to achieve this success?” They were told that it was because of the work of this church. This is the power of the church understanding and addressing some of the social issues happening in their community.

In 2011, we started a training center to train leaders to plant churches that preach the gospel. We’ve targeted ten cities and are currently working in six of those cities. We want to see these cities transformed by the gospel. We work with the poor, the artists, professionals and those who work in government. God is allowing us to work with key leaders.

As we approach evangelism, we focus on getting to know people — building a relationship with them. It’s a relationship bathed in grace. And as we train leaders to engage with people in this way, we are seeing many people come to Christ and want to attend church, so small house churches are being formed every few days. God is at work in incredible ways.

Through Robert Guerrero’s relationship with leaders in the Caribbean, CTC is now officially working with us in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. We’ve formed a church-planting network called Caribe Church Planting Network, which is bringing together the existing work in the Dominican Republic, Cuba and CTC North America. In Cuba and the Dominican Republic there’s a surge of church planting happening right now, and there’s a great need to build a foundation around the gospel.

CTC Miami (in partnership with CTC North America) hosted their first Intensive training in Miami. We sent fourteen leaders from the Dominican Republic and five from Cuba. We have years of experience in managing the training content, but we attended to get more of the technical details, so we can host our own Intensive in Havana, Camagüey and Holguín in 2020. We already have fifty leaders who want to attend. There is great momentum, and it’s vital that we respond. If we don’t train leaders, we’re holding up the process. We’ve been praying for something like this for a long time. It’s serious, and we’re ready. The moment has arrived.

Pachy is the president of the Los Pinos Nuevos Association of Churches in Cuba and the general coordinator of the Caribe Church Planting Network. He also pastors Los Pinos Nuevos Church in Old Havana. Pachy and his wife, Marilim, live in Havana, Cuba. They have three adult children.

This article was originally published in the City-to-City Fall Snapshot.

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