Assembly Testimony in Cuba
By ASHLEY MILNE Surrey, British Columbia, Canada
The following is a brief history of the start of the work of the Lord in Cuba together with the current status of the assembly testimony in this country.
Last October and November, I once again had the opportunity to visit some of the assemblies in Western Cuba. It had been four-and-a-half years since the home call of my dear wife Jean, while on a visit there in March 2015. Accompanied by my grandson Austin, we attended a conference in Pinar del Rio, where about 150 believers from five assemblies had gathered. It was wonderful to witness how the Lord has maintained the assembly testimony in Cuba since all the missionaries left following the Revolution in Cuba, during the period from 1959 to 1961.
The first missionary couple from the assemblies to arrive in Cuba were Thomas and Jean Smith, who had initially been commended to the work in Malaga, Spain, in 1920. Due to the Spanish Civil War, they were forced to leave Spain in 1936. Then, they went on to serve the Lord in the Congo but were forced to leave there in 1938. On their way to Canada, they had passed through Cuba, and the Lord gave them an exercise to return to Cuba later that year. They settled in Havana, where they began the dedicated work of tract distribution in the port and other areas of the city. A family who worked at the seaport offered the use of their home for meetings, and thus the work began. After serving the Lord faithfully for many years and seeing the Lord work in salvation, they were able to get established, but, once again, they were forced to move and this time to settle in Canada.
In 1940, George and Betty Walker, who had been corresponding with brother Smith were commended from assemblies in the Chicago area of the USA. They were exercised about going on to Chile, but, while visiting with the Smiths, decided to settle in Cuba. They started their work in a small town called La Salud, about twenty-five miles south of Havana. Betty, who was a nurse, helped a local doctor in his practice as well as with his English studies. Brother Walker also used tracts extensively, as well as a radio programme called ‘Gospel Bells’, receiving help from brother Smith with that radio work. Eventually, an assembly was established in La Salud, which carries on faithfully to this day. After leaving Cuba, the Walkers moved to Miami and started work among the many Cubans who had settled there.
In 1941, Arnold and Kathleen Adams were commended from Toronto, Canada, and started a work in Guira de Melena, a town about fifteen miles from La Salud. A small assembly started there, they had a hall, but, unfortunately, it is no longer functioning. Soon after, they moved to Pinar del Rio, a city about 100 miles west of Havana, and, after some years, they moved to the east end of the country to help in the mountains where the Castro revolution started. This was in response to a Cuban brother, Ovilio Diaz, who had gone there in answer to an inquiry and returned with a report of the need. It was a four-hour mule ride to get there, but Arnold and Kathleen happily went and built a home there. Shortly after that, a large assembly was established. Later, they moved to the foothills and formed an assembly in the city of Bayamo. The assembly still meet there in a home but have had a small conference in recent years. The Adams returned to Canada and continued in the Lord’s work until their home call.
In 1938, Robert and Effie Leighton were commended to the work of the Lord in the Bahamas from an assembly in Scotland. They laboured there until 1942 when they moved on to Cuba for several years. They laboured in Havana and then moved on to San Antonio de Los Baños. The work in that town was very difficult, and although they saw a few souls saved, an assembly formed and the work carried on faithfully for many years, sadly it has now closed. Latterly, a faithful brother carried the work but it terminated when he went home to glory. After leaving Cuba, the Leightons moved to Puerto Rico, working with the assemblies in that country.
The next set of missionaries commended from Toronto were David and Agnes Adams, and they joined Arnold and Kathleen in Pinar del Rio. Later that year, Patricia Ritchie also joined the work. The men focused on outreach with several young men who had been saved. The ladies started children’s work in a couple of homes in the city.
While visiting the country in the 1940s, a brother from Houston, Texas, Henry Dedman, saw the need for assembly buildings and provided funds for building excellent halls in Vedado, Vibora, and Pinar del Rio. Those Gospel Halls have been in use ever since and, although needing repairs at times, are well taken care of today. In the 1950s, Brother Dedman also sent a utility van equipped with two beds, which was used by various missionaries who travelled the country from end to end, giving out literature and New Testaments. He also funded a printing press which was located on the property of Arnold and Kathleen Adams. David learned about printing, and, eventually, a printing work was commenced there with work performed by a Cuban brother, Pedro Flores. He is still a member of the assembly in Pinar del Rio at age 90.
In 1951, when brother Doherty arrived, he assumed responsibility for the printing operation, which made considerable demands on his time, particularly in answering correspondence. By the mid-50s, close to 200,000 tracts were being printed and mailed out to Latin America every month. Following the revolution, when David and Agnes returned to Canada, David established a print shop to carry on the work which he had begun in Cuba. He also devoted much of his time ministering among the assemblies in both Canada and the USA.
Another couple, Vernon and Ilda Markle, were commended from Toronto in 1948 and worked in the Vibora area of Havana, while the Smiths worked in another area of Havana called Vedado. These two assemblies are still going on well today.
In 1953 the Markles moved to Holguin in the eastern part of the country where a small assembly was established, but sadly it did not survive the opposition of the local authorities. They returned to Canada for a time and then went to serve the Lord in El Salvador. After some years there, they returned to Canada for reasons of health and continued to be active as long as they were able.
As mentioned earlier, in 1951 Edward Doherty was commended to the work from Northern Ireland, and, after a short stay with the Walkers in La Salud, moved to work in Pinar del Rio. 1953 saw the first wedding in the Gospel Hall in that city when Edward and Patricia were married. The Dohertys went to Canada after the Revolution and continued in the Lord’s work there.
Edward and Henrietta Wickert were commended from the USA in 1952 and worked with the Vibora assembly. They had already been in Cuba for a few years working with another mission organization but were impressed with the way of gathering and had returned to the USA seeking fellowship with a local assembly. Subsequently, they were commended from that assembly back to Cuba. After the Revolution, they also returned to the USA and continued in the Lord’s work until their home call.
In 1953, Kathleen Hamilton was commended from the USA, working with Emmaus courses among the young people in La Salud and neighbouring villages. She devoted much of her time to five young men, four of which have gone on faithfully till now. She returned to the USA, where sadly, she was killed in an automobile accident shortly after.
Douglas and Kathleen Reid were commended from Vancouver, Canada in 1956, working with the other missionaries in the Pinar del Rio area. After their departure, they returned to Canada for a time and then went to serve the Lord in Costa Rica. Douglas was called home recently, and Kathleen still resides there at present. She and Agnes Adams are the only missionaries still living who were commended by the assemblies in Canada.
For the most part, the assemblies mentioned earlier in this article continue in a healthy state to this day, with some being very zealous in outreach and holding to the truth of scripture. A delightful new generation of young people are active in these assemblies.
Since 1960, following the revolution, the believers in Cuba felt alone, isolated, and even somewhat abandoned, as there were difficulties in travelling to Cuba and restrictions within the country. However, in recent years they have had visits from brethren in North America as well as the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Venezuela, Columbia, and Argentina, which they appreciate very much and are encouraged by them.
The author acknowledges the help of brother Ivan Alexeis Madera Hernandez (Pinar del Rio, Cuba) and brother Steve Adams (Toronto, Canada) in the compilation of this article and trusts that it might encourage the Lord’s people to pray for fellow believers in Cuba.