HAVANA, Cuba – A partnership formed eight years ago between Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Western Cuba Baptist Theological Seminary in Havana continues to produce fruit, as pastors and church planters receive theological training and the gospel spreads throughout the Caribbean island country. More than 78 students received diplomas, July 5-6, at two graduation ceremonies presided over by Southwestern Seminary president Paige Patterson and missions professor Daniel Sanchez.
“The interesting thing is that this is more graduates than they had students when we first started helping them, and this does not count all the (graduates) from the extension centers,” said Sanchez.
“They were rejoicing over not only the quantity but the quality of students that they have who are graduating, all of them active in churches throughout the convention.”
The Cuban seminary, which was on the brink of extinction a decade ago, has flourished under its partnership with Southwestern.
“Our commitment has been to help them any way we can,” Sanchez said, adding that when the partnership began, “they asked us to go to Havana and teach courses so their professors could get master’s degrees.”
“We did that, and now their professors are doing an outstanding job teaching, so we’ve not had to go back and teach those courses to their students because they are the ones doing the teaching.
“With Dr. and Mrs. Patterson going to Cuba, it shows commitment at the very top level of our seminary. This doesn't go unnoticed with them. They realize that we are serious about helping them, and that’s one of the things that has been so encouraging for them.”
Southwestern Seminary president Paige Patterson preaches at Calvario Baptist Church in Havana, Cuba.
Patterson expressed joy over the explosion of churches that have been planted on the island and the number of pastors being trained.
“The Cuban Baptists are amazing,” Patterson said. “They have succeeded in generating a genuine church planting movement, which has produced thousands of churches and baptized tens of thousands of converts. After traveling in 120-plus countries, I know of nothing quite like it.”
Patterson, who shares the gospel at sportsmen’s banquets across the United States, also had the opportunity to speak at a game banquet hosted by the Cuban seminary during their visit. The event drew more than 50 people, as pastors from the area brought lost people with them to hear Patterson speak. Twenty-six men made professions of faith, all of whom will be discipled by these pastors. One of the new converts, a man who had never set foot in an evangelical church before, is the head of a local hunting club and asked Patterson to stay in contact so they could discuss ways to reach sportsmen in Cuba with the gospel.
Hermes Soto, president of the seminary in Havana, was astonished to discover that there are more hunters in Cuba than he ever imagined. The son of a hunter himself, Soto said that this banquet has opened up an entirely new area of ministry that he will personally engage in from now on.
In addition to the professions of faith at the game banquet, Patterson and Sanchez witnessed more than 25 come to faith in Christ through their preaching at two local Baptist churches and through personal evangelism.
Sanchez said he looks forward to the ongoing partnership between the two seminaries.
“Southwestern has played a crucial role in helping them to continue their ministry. And as a matter of fact, they are expanding their ministry,” Sanchez said.
“They are very grateful that Southwestern Seminary has stood by them all these years. They said they didn’t know what they would have done without this partnership during very difficult times.”
Thirteen professors from the Cuban seminary will fly to Fort Worth in August to participate in Southwestern’s Latin America Summit, an event designed to connect and equip theological seminaries throughout the Americas.
“They are very excited about the idea that we can help them form a consortium of Latin American seminaries that can be a channel through which they can share information, resources, professors, courses and mutual recognition of their degree programs,” Sanchez said. More than 60 representatives from Baptist seminaries in Latin America and Spain will be participating in this historic meeting.
After the summit, the participants from Cuba as well as those from Guatemala will remain on campus for another week to take classes taught by Southwestern Seminary professors on subjects such as youth ministry, evangelism, missions, theology and Christian education.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)