Signs and Wonders in Cuba’s Methodism

Bishop Ken Carter

Bishop Ken Carter

By Ken Carter –

We are accustomed to reading about signs and wonders in the Book of Acts. In North America, at least, our experience of church is marked by a noticeable absence of signs and wonders. There is an exception: Cuba.

To witness Methodism in Cuba is to see the risen body of Jesus Christ. Last May, I preached in Havana in a service that marked the 130th anniversary of Methodism, the 125th anniversary of the missionaries from Florida who traveled to Cuba, and the 275th anniversary of Aldersgate. That evening there were 5,000 people present for worship. Earlier that day, the church had fed 7,000 people. Every nation in Latin America and the Caribbean was represented.

The music ranged from high energy salsa to choral. There was dancing in the chancel and in the congregation. Women and men, young and old were in leadership. The large sanctuary was filled, the service was simulcast to another gathering outside, and there were young people seated in the windows.

It was a celebration of the goodness of God, worship offered to God by a people who had known suppression, persecution, and fragmentation. The statistics can only be described as signs and wonders: the Methodist Church has grown by 15 percent a year for each of the past 15 years. The Methodist Women number 25,000, and grow by 2,500 a year. The call to set apart ministry is remarkable: a man or woman forms a house church, which later reaches the size of a worshipping congregation. At this moment the pastor begins seminary, and upon graduation he or she is ordained. There are resources that clearly describe the path of discipleship and the meaning of church membership.

The Methodist Church in Cuba is clearly in a season of revival. I have come to know leaders in the Florida Conference who were faithful during the worst of times in Cuba; the church almost died, some pastors were imprisoned and others were exiled and separated from their families. And yet from the ashes of death there is a resurrection.

The Methodist Church of Marianao in Cuba. Photo courtesy of the Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.

The Methodist Church of Marianao in Cuba. Photo courtesy of the Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.

I asked my colleague and friend, Bishop Ricardo Pereira of the Methodist Church of Cuba, to account for the vitality of Christianity in his country, and especially in the Methodist movement. He reflected and gave this answer: “First, the revival came through prayer and fasting. And second, the church was willing to adapt the liturgy to the needs of the people.”

Many Methodists are quick to give credit and glory to God for the power that has come upon the Cuban Church; they recall annual conferences where prayer meetings would last through the night. The adaptation of the liturgy has reflected a movement to call forth the gifts of the people and to tell the story of God’s freedom and deliverance in their language. On a Sunday morning we worshipped in the Central Methodist Church in Havana, set in a desperately poor urban environment. The pastor had introduced African culture and rhythms into the service. An amazing 16 year old young woman led the music, and a 10 year old boy played the drums. There was biblical interpretation, intercession, dancing and celebration. A number of guests made commitments to follow Jesus Christ and they were immediately connected with mentors who would disciple them.

Signs and wonders. There is a powerful spirituality among Cuban Methodists, but the church has been intentional in interpreting this movement: it is the spirit of Jesus who is Lord and Servant. Bishop Pereira shared an experience of two young men who prayed all night for a spiritual experience. In the end, they received the gift of glossalia (speaking in tongues). They came to the Bishop and asked him, “Now that we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, what position can you give us?” He reflected for a moment, again, and pointed them to a mop, leaning against the wall. He said, “Now that you have had this powerful spiritual experience, you can mop the floor of the sanctuary!”

The history of United Methodism in Florida cannot be told apart from the story of Methodism in Cuba. At present a number of churches have sister relationships across the two countries (this covenant relationship is entitled “Methodists United in Prayer”), and the Florida Conference has been blessed by district superintendents, mission staff personnel, pastors and lay leaders who are of Cuban descent. While a tragic political history has separated the two countries, a movement of the Holy Spirit unites us.

We can only pray for the continuation of signs and wonders in the Cuban Church, and ask God for the gift of the risen Body of Christ in our own midst!

Ken Carter is resident bishop of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. He writes this article with deep appreciation for Cuban Methodists who reside in Cuba and in Florida.

 

Comments

  1. Fr Jonathan Smith says

    I am a graduate of ATS and a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. My bishop needs a legal way to visit a new priest in Cuba. Is there any way the Methodist s could help?

    Fr Jonathan Smith .

    A

  2. Fr Jonathan Smith says

    Typo on email address

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  1. […] Signs and Wonders in Cuba's Methodism – Good News Magazine Last May, I preached in Havana in a service that marked the 130th anniversary of Methodism, the 125th anniversary of the missionaries from Florida who traveled to Cuba, and the 275th anniversary of Aldersgate. across the two countries (this covenant relationship is entitled “Methodists United in Prayer”), and the Florida Conference has been blessed by district superintendents, mission staff personnel, pastors and lay leaders who are of Cuban descent. While a  […]

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