A Cuban Awakening
This story begins with the vision of Otoniel Martinez. Otoniel grew up in a Christian family. His father was a pastor in a time when it was a detriment to believe in Christ. Otoniel was at the top of his class, and at an early age he was given the opportunity to go to the top school in Cuba. That would have opened the doors to a career in whatever he hoped to do. There was just one problem. In order to go, he had to deny the faith of his family. He decided then that he would follow Christ no matter what.
This would be tested many times as he faced opposition from authorities and others. He successfully planted a church that went on to reproduce 26 other churches. Yet this did not satisfy him as he felt God had given him the vision to see churches planted in every corner of Cuba, sending out workers into the rest of the world. He knew that this would only be accomplished with help, so with the new openness in the 90’s, he reached out to the organization that had led his family to Christ many years ago. He contacted UWM. After creating a successful partnership that resulted in the renewal of a training center and a partnership on the island, Otoniel’s church planting vision remained incomplete.
That’s when I was introduced to Otoniel. At that point I had been involved in training church planters for several years in other parts of Latin America. I wondered how that would translate to Cuba. For three days I sat with Otoniel and just listened to his story. I asked many questions: What approach did you take in evangelism? What did small groups look like? How did you train your leaders? As he talked, I pulled together trainings that I had done in Uruguay, Colombia and other places. In the end we had a training based on his model of church planting and the network “Sembradores” was born.
After an initial test training in Las Tunas, we decided to expand our reach into Bayamo. We had over 50 people there from 20 different denominations. We continued the sessions at a campground where we sat on rocks ready to break up the meeting if anyone came to question. God moved in the heart of those present, and they left, not only with the desire to begin churches, but with simple first steps.
That meeting sparked interest all across the island and invitations began coming in. As churches began to be planted a new need arose. In a country where the average person makes $15 a month, how could churches support church planters and engage in Otoniel’s long-term vision of missions? By partnering with several different North American partners we began to help develop micro-enterprises on the island. We have seen everything from bicycle taxis to ice cream stands. All the funds go towards church planting and the churches that support it.
One aspect of Otoniel’s original vision still remained, to see a Cuban missions movement. From the beginning the responsibility of the church to be involved in missions was taught. We brought in Mark, a missions professor from Costa Rica to teach these pastors how local congregations could be involved in missions. After a few days the hearts of the pastors were burdened to send church planters around the world. Despite the fact that these churches had very little income, one of them grabbed a chair and said that if they were going to be serious about missions they had to start giving now. He threw some money down and they raised $60 that night (4 months wages).
Sembradores has gone on to train over 1,000 church planters which has resulted in more then 300 new churches being planted directly from the training. Many second-generation churches have been counted. More then 20 micro-enterprises have been established and a committee has been formed to create a Cuban based missions organization and training center for missions. We have seen God do amazing things and believe there is still more to come!
By: Worker in the Middle East