On the Cuban Mission Field
Philip and Joe Juban bring the promise of Christ to those in an irreligious nation
by Trapper S. Kinchen
photos provided by Philip and Joe Juban
The world is a vast place, and the spaces between cultures can seem incredibly wide. Yet, across the gap, stretches a hope strong enough to unite every race, tongue, and nation – the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ. That unification is made possible by the faith of those who humbly answer God’s calling and share the Gospel.
Dr. Tom Harrison is the executive pastor at Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, and the Lord has given him a passion for mission work. Recently, he led a trip to Cuba— one of many he sponsors throughout the year—and was accompanied by two Baton Rouge brothers, Philip and Joe Juban. Their objective was to provide financial and material aid to the Havana Baptist Theological Seminary, located in the heart of Cuba’s capital city. Harrison said, “Our goal was to take resources to help raise the educational level at the seminary, so they can get the Gospel out.”
The Havana Baptist Theological Seminary is the oldest Evangelical institution in Cuba. Dr. Moses Nathanael McCall, an American missionary from the Southern Baptist Convention, founded it in 1906. The school’s main building was built in the 1950s, and was designed to accommodate 40 seminarians. Now, there are around 300 students enrolled at the Havana campus, and resources are stretched to maximum capacity.
The Cuban Communist Party is formally atheistic and discourages all forms of organized religion. So, in the decades since the revolution, the once staunchly Catholic island is now mostly irreligious.
Despite financial limitations, the school’s mission has remained steady for over a century: to provide people with a strong Biblical education and the spiritual foundation to effectively spread the Gospel. In total, Marrero is responsible for more than 500 students and 70 professors. Funded in part by donations from American Christians, the seminary is constantly
The seminary’s president, Barbaro Abel Marrero, said, “We cannot have all the students on campus at the same time. We have to teach a group Monday-Tuesday and another group Wednesday-Friday. Also, we can only provide lodging for students who live outside Havana and its surrounding areas.”
growing. It has even expanded beyond Havana, and operates eight campus extensions in the western provinces of Cuba.
Havana is one of the oldest cities in the Americas, founded in 1515 under the crown of Queen Joanna of Castile. It served for nearly 400 years as the unofficial administrative seat of Spain’s American Empire. Once famous for its intricate Iberian architecture and colorful cityscape, most of the capital’s impressive buildings have badly deteriorated since the communist revolution of the 1950s.
The political upheaval that accompanied the revolution took a deep and lasting toll on Cuba’s Christian population. Fidel Castro seized leadership in 1959, after overthrowing the island’s democratically elected government. According to Harrison, “When Castro came to power, he put every religious leader in prison for seven years.”
After the 60s, the Cuban government prohibited American mission work on the island—in effect, establishing a religious embargo that lasted deep into the 20th century. As a result, many Cuban churches wound up shutting their doors. Marrero said, “Since the 60s, we have struggled in many ways, but the Lord has always provided miraculously.”
For the 68 percent of Cubans unfamiliar with Christ, the Havana Baptist Theological Seminary exists as a critical spiritual lifeline. However, it is still difficult to minister in Cuba. According to Harrison, sharing the Gospel outside the four walls of a church is outlawed. He said, “You are not allowed to evangelize in the streets. It’s illegal.”
The Cuban Communist Party is formally atheistic and discourages all forms of organized religion. So, in the decades since the revolution, the once staunchly Catholic island is now mostly irreligious. In fact, according to a 2015 article in The Washington Post, 44 percent of Cubans identify as unreligious, 27 percent as Catholic, 13 percent as Santeria or Order of Osha (a religious combination of Catholicism and pagan ritualism), 2 percent as protestant, 2 percent as something else, and 9 percent gave no answer.
Sadly, Cuba is also economically underdeveloped. According to the World Bank, the average Cuban can expect to earn less than $8,000 per year. That’s $21,000 less than the average American brings home. As a result, most Cubans struggle to maintain suitable housing and depend on the Communist Party for even basic essentials. According to Harrison, “They live on allotments. They have egg, bread, potato, and meat lines where people wait to have food distributed to them by the government.”
During his visit, Joe Juban took close notice of the poor living conditions in Havana. He said, “I’d stand up on the roof of our hotel and look out. There was a building across the street, and you could see where people were living on the rooftop. They had a tent set up, and there was cooking paraphernalia. That’s how those people lived.”
Marrero and his team, like the rest of Cuba, are forced to make the best out of a tough political situation. They provide for their students as well as they can, relying on donations from missionaries like Harrison. Even though circumstances might seem bleak, the students and staff at the Havana Baptist Theological Seminary are filled with the joy of the Lord. Joe Juban said, “They are incredibly resourceful and full of energy. They love the Lord, smile all the time, and they all have such a joy to be there.”
Philip Juban was astounded by the passion the native Cubans have for sharing the love of Jesus with their countrymen. He said, “They are so anxious to get out there and start spreading the Gospel. It’s exciting that the school is training indigenous people to go out and spread the Word.”
According to the CIA’s field listing on international literacy, 99.8% of Cubans can read and write. Therefore, even basic access to a Spanish Bible can promote a wider understanding of the Word and potentially lead people to Christ. But, like everything else on the island, Bibles are expensive and in short supply.
The American dollar goes a long way in Cuba. The amount of good that can be done through simple donations is remarkable. Joe Juban said, “$350 a year will educate somebody at the seminary. So, if you give $350 a month, you’ve just educated twelve students for the year. That’s just one quick example.”
For Philip Juban, educating people back home about the importance of international mission work is a priority. He believes if more people knew how to contribute, places like the Havana Baptist Theological Seminary could really prosper. He said, “We don’t realize how much our dollar can do down there. It’s left up to us to educate people at home about how they can help.”
The Juban brothers’ experiences on the Cuban mission field had a powerful effect on their individual perspectives. Both men returned
home with a renewed since of humility and appreciation. Philip said, “As Americans, if we don’t have a good meal, we’re unhappy. For Cubans, they expect nothing, but they’ve got a smile on their face. All because they’ve got the Lord.”
Harrison thinks everyone could benefit from participating in mission work, and he’s hopeful more people will get involved in places like Cuba. His organization, Tom Harrison Pastoral Ministries, fuels missions in China and Mexico, as well as the seminary in Havana. Wherever the need is greatest, that’s where they provide aid. Harrison said, “God has given us the opportunity to get into strategic places where there’s a desperate need for ministry.”
Sadly, Cuba is also economically underdeveloped. According to the World Bank, the average Cuban can expect to earn less than $8,000 per year. Most Cubans struggle to maintain suitable housing and depend on the Communist Party for even basic essentials. They live on allotments. They have egg, bread, potato, and meat lines where people wait to have food distributed to them by the government.
If you feel led to join Harrison on a mission trip or contribute financially to his ministry, contact him at (318) 469-4181 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also mail a donation to Tom Harrison Pastoral Ministries at P.O. Box 5104, Shreveport, LA 71135. There are no administrative costs, and all donations are put to direct use through mission work.
So often, the mission field is something from which we feel completely detached. It exists somewhere else, across an ocean, out of sight. But the Lord has called each of us to do our part in sharing His love with the world. We are responsible for taking a look deep within ourselves, listening to God’s calling, and acting accordingly. If you’ll do that, there’s no telling how great an impact you can have on the Kingdom of God.
Trapper was born on the lip of Lake Pontchartrain. He was raised there, reading in the salt-flecked breeze on a splintered wharf that jutted into South Pass. Never bored, he divides his time between trying to raise organic chickens in the Livingston Parish piney woods, traveling to different time zones, and exercising his mind by steadily learning as much as he can. He graduated from LSU in 2013 and Wayne State University in 2015. He is a busy fiction writer and contemplative naturalist. He has a great time living life.