“Spiritual Revival in Cuba”
By Andrew C. Thompson
Sí, que lindo!
That is Pastor Guillermo Leon Mighty’s favorite phrase. He uses it anytime there is reason to rejoice at what God is doing: at the beginning of a worship service, after a beautiful song in praise of God, or when the Holy Spirit falls upon worshipers in prayer.
For him, all of it is a reason to proclaim the beauty of what God is doing. (The phrase means, “Yes, how lovely!”)
Pastor Guillermo is the district superintendent of the Havana District in Cuba. He’s also the senior pastor of the Havana Central Methodist Church. Together with his wife Pastora Adria, they lead a large and growing congregation in one of the poorer parts of the city of Havana.
Seven members of my congregation and I were fortunate enough to travel to Cuba in January for mission work in Pastor Guillermo’s district. We were part of a trip organized by Dr. David Watson of United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH.
The Methodist Church of Cuba is undergoing a powerful spiritual revival that dates back more than two decades. As Pastor Guillermo told me, there was a time when people began to look towards God for strength in ways they never had before. Soon revival was breaking out all over the country.
The Methodist Church of Cuba’s statistics tell the story in one way: roughly 46,500 members and perhaps twice that many actively involved in ministries. 410 local churches and 927 mission locations. Growth is happening everywhere, from the number of believers having their lives transformed by the Holy Spirit, to the number of pastors called into ministry, to the number of congregations being planted.
But to really understand the Cuban revival, you have to see it. I was invited to preach at a church in a community called Santiago de la Vega, near Havana. When our group arrived at the church, it was packed. Both the floor and the balcony were full of people. A crowd stood outside the church, looking in through the doors and windows. Walking into the church felt like walking onto holy ground. The Holy Spirit’s presence was palpable. When worship began, the people sang, danced, and prayed. It was remarkable.
It is certainly true that worship in a Cuban Methodist Church is a full-bodied experience. There is singing, dancing, playing, and preaching. The shortest worship service I attended was about an hour and a half. The longest was almost four hours. Yet despite that length and intensity, I never found myself looking at my watch and wondering when it would be over. The power of the Holy Spirit in the midst of worship is such that you find yourself simply wanting to be close to God—I tended to think of worship as revolving around and around in successive stages, where each stage grew in intensity and rose up closer and closer to the heart of God. Most worship experiences would end with the laying on of hands and intense prayer, with people asking for healing and blessings.
The Cuban people are incredibly receptive to the presence of the Holy Spirit. That has made them also receptive to the spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit brings. I spent some time on one Saturday of our trip teaching on Wesleyan theology to a mixed group that included pastors, seminary students, and teenagers. When we discussed sanctification and the role that spiritual gifts play in our maturation as believers, everyone there was enthusiastic about the way the Spirit was moving in their lives and developing their gifts. In that sense, the Methodists in Cuba excel in a way that I think we often struggle in America—they are willing to claim the spiritual authority that Jesus has given them for ministry.
Pastor Guillermo says Sí, que lindo! with gusto because he sees the beauty in the way that God is at work all around him: Men and women are being called to faith in Jesus Christ, the poor are being cared for, and disciples are being made.
I would take every member of my congregation to Cuba if that were possible. The Holy Spirit is at work there, and the way that the people are responding to the Spirit’s presence has much to teach us. Who knows? Perhaps revival will break out in our own country next.