Kershaw association hoping to partner its churches with churches in Cuba
There are only 90 miles separating Cuba from Key West, Florida. Cuba is closer to Key West than Key West is to Miami. It’s that proximity to the United States that long ago tweaked the mission heart of Ron Underwood, director of missions at the Kershaw Baptist Association in Camden.
“I grew up in a culture where Cubans were enemies of the United States, politically and militarily,” Ron says. “But, as a retired Air Force chaplain, I know a number of Cubans who love the Lord, and their stories have always grabbed my heart; the Holy Spirit stirred an interest in me. This is the closest international nation to the United States – other than Canada or Mexico.”
Working closely with International Mission Board (IMB) missionary Roy Cooper, the Kershaw Association sent a team of pastors to Cuba in October 2015. The purpose of that trip was to connect with a similar association of Cuban churches. Kershaw pastors met with more than 30 Cuban pastors over five days, learning about their ministries.
“The International Mission Board is working there right now,” Ron says. “IMB is working with the Eastern and Western Cuban Baptist conventions to organize them and provide denominational and associational structure. There are two IMB couples there now.
“Churches have been in Cuba for hundreds of years,” Ron says. “When the revolution occurred in 1959 many of the churches closed, but some were allowed to remain open. Since that time most of the newer churches have been house churches.”
Pastor Steve Lee of Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, Camden, and Chuck Everett, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Lugoff, were also on that October trip to Cuba.
Steve says, “Cuba has two formal church structures, and most are more of a home fellowship. They are smaller and very energetic. It’s my understanding that when the Berlin Wall came down in 1996, Cuba lost a lot of income with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Cuban government began to open up and part of that relaxation was with regard to the church. People from the United States were able to come and serve.”
Ron acknowledges that some of that openness is economics. Missionaries are bringing American dollars to a country that is suffering economically.
“There are two seminaries there, and they are turning out some great, younger pastors who have a zeal and love for people,” Steve says. “We have been blessed every time to meet with them.
In May, Steve will return with a group he hopes will bloom to 5-6 volunteers. The goal will be continued meetings with Cuban pastors, learning about their churches all toward a goal of church-to-church partnerships with Kershaw Baptist churches.
“We want to get to know the pastors a little better, put together packets on individual churches, and then we hope the 49 churches in our association will each adopt a church for prayer support and possible financial support.
“As an association, we are putting together a strategy that we hope will allow us to send Bibles, prayer guides, and additional vision teams,” Steve says.
Unlike some international mission projects to economically poor areas, Ron says Kershaw volunteers aren’t needed for building projects.
“They have educated people there,” he says. “They can build their own buildings. We want to help by leading revivals, and providing evangelism training for pastors. The pastors are well-educated theologically, but they need help with practical ministry like marriage enrichment to help turn back domestic abuse.
“There is a great revival going on in Cuba, and the door is currently open,” Ron says. “We don’t know when the Communist government might feel the compulsion to shut the door, but right now it is open. Through the work of the association and the church-to-church partnerships, we want to help Cuban churches start as many house churches as possible. This is a unique opportunity that not every association has with IMB.”