Southeastern aiding Cuban convention's momentum
WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) -- The Cuban church planting movement has been on the move for nearly 30 years as house churches have grown in number and people have come to Christ by the thousands.
Southeastern's involvement comes at a "very unique period in Cuba's history," said Miguel Echevarria, director of Hispanic Leadership Development at Southeastern, an arm of the seminary's Global Theological Initiatives (GTI).
Southeastern is training 40 professors, convention leaders and lay missionaries (church planters) toward earning master of theological studies (MTS) degrees. In this 48-hour program, students have the opportunity to write and publish a thesis with the goal of having their work available at Southeastern's campus library.
"We're training trainers. That's the whole idea," said John Ewart, associate vice president of GTI and ministry centers at SEBTS.
SEBTS President Danny Akin, Ewart and Echevarria traveled to Cuba last November. Akin and Ewart welcomed new students to the MTS program and Echevarria taught a course on the Gospels. They also spent time at First and Fourth Baptist Churches in Santiago. In-person training is scheduled a couple times a year while the remainder of the teaching is online. Most of the students currently are teaching at the Cuban seminary, its two extension centers and 34 lay missionary training centers, where many lay missionaries are trained for two years.
Pastors' wives also can receive special training through the Janet Hunt Pastors' Wives Course. Janet Hunt, wife of pastor Johnny Hunt of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., provides a scholarship fund for Cuban women to be trained and equipped for their continued ministry. Charlotte Akin, Wendy Urbanek, Susie Hawkins and Kathy Litton also are among those involved in the training.
Church planting blossoms
Even though Cuba was introduced to Christianity in the late 1800s, it was not until the 1990s that the church planting movement occurred.
Kurt Urbanek, author of "Cuba's Great Awakening: Church Planting Movement in Cuba," wrote that Cuban church leaders during the '90s did not initially realize a church planting movement was taking place, only that Bible study attendance had increased. In 1990, the Eastern Baptist Convention had no house churches but had 132 established churches with a total of 7,254 members. In 2016 those numbers had grown to 622 local churches and 4,830 house churches, and in 2017 the total number of churches, missions and house churches had grown to more than 6,208 (648 churches, 777 missions and 4,783 house churches).
In 2017 alone, the growth among believers was explosive as Eastern Cuban Baptists recorded 43,072 professions of faith. The total number of professions of faith since 1990 was 519,911 within the Eastern convention largely as a result of special evangelistic events. These conversions did not include the further increased number of people coming to faith through house churches, local churches and missions.
"I am impressed with their theology. It's a reproduction that I want to see happen," Ewart noted. "If I could take some of the theology that these guys have and put it in some of the other partnerships we have around the world, it would be a strengthening effect."
Ultimately, the goal of the SEBTS partnership in Cuba is to train up reproducible leaders who can continue to advance the movement of the Gospel in recent decades.
"We hope to have an influence in the classroom [so that] they would then take what they are being taught and then teach it to others," Echevarria said.