A group of about 400 Baptists met April 7 at Iglesia Bautista Getsemaní in Miami to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrests of several pastors, missionaries and laity in the western part of Cuba by the Castro government.
“We do not come to make old scars bleed,” said Samuel Alemán, a pastor from Georgia and son of one of the pastors arrested, “but rather to celebrate as [God] was in control of what happened.”
Of the 44 pastors who were arrested in 1965, 12 are still alive. Most live in the United States, with the exception of one who resides in Cuba.
The pastors were arrested on charges that included conspiracy against the security of the nation, illegal currency exchange, collaboration with the CIA, assisting people to leave the country illegally and proselytizing.
In a service that was marked by hymns and songs celebrating God’s faithfulness in the midst of difficulties, the children of those pastors shared their memories of the night of April 7, 1965, when officials of the Castro regime broke into their homes and took their fathers.
David Rodriguez shared how his father, Francisco Rodriguez, gave instructions to him and his mother while officers took his father out of the house. Others, like Alberto Ocaña, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Hialeah, Fla., did not wake up during their fathers’ arrest. But the next morning they faced the harsh reality that their fathers were gone.
Nearly half of the Baptist churches in the western part of Cuba were left without pastors for a couple of years, yet the churches survived.
“Most of the wives and deacons took over,” said Noel Lozano, pastor of Turning Point Miami and the son of an arrested pastor. “Some had to work in two and three churches to keep them open.”
In 1965 there were 89 Baptist churches in western Cuba with a total of 6,754 members. Although some believers did not continue attending church for fear of being arrested, the church grew and today there are 445 congregations with about 26,000 members in total. In addition, there are now nearly 2,000 house churches and 508 missions.
“Brothers, we crossed the Jordan River. … We cannot forget how wonderful our God is,” said Pastor Alemán, after reading a passage from the book of Joshua.
Although that piece of Cuban Baptist history is bitter, Alemán and other pastors who spoke Tuesday night called for forgiveness.
“If there is any bitterness left, now is the time to forgive,” he urged. “Do not let it overshadow the joy of Lord.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keila Diaz writes for the Florida Baptist Witness.)