A Million Bibles Isn’t Enough

A Million Bibles Isn’t Enough

Cubans find lasting hope through encounters with God’s Word in their atheistic Communist nation.


Gabriel (not his real name) is in constant motion. Besides leading a church in Cuba and sharing the gospel at every opportunity, he is a prolific church planter and Bible distributor. He also trains Christian leaders throughout the island nation of about 11 million people to reach their communities for Christ, something strongly opposed by the Communist government that has controlled Cuba since the 1950s.

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Christians in Cuba eagerly receive God’s Word, which is difficult to obtain in the Communist nation.

The objective of their ministry, Gabriel said, is to take God’s Word to people and have them be confronted by it. Rather than merely teaching God’s commandments, they focus on Jesus’ teaching of obedience to the commandments. “When we have a biblical text,” he said, “one of the questions we ask is, ‘What are you going to do to obey?’ We ask, ‘What are you going to stop doing, and what are you going to start doing?’ It is incredible to see how people change.”


In his 20 years of gospel ministry in Cuba, where most people are atheists and many engage in superstitious and spiritist practices, Gabriel has seen lives transformed day after day, year after year, through encounters with the Word of God.

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While most Cubans are atheists or follow superstitious and spiritist practices, many lives are being transformed through encounters with God’s Word.

Calling on Jesus

As a boy growing up in the countryside far from a hospital or even a local doctor, Gabriel understood hopelessness. Afflicted from age 5 with severe asthma, he lay in the tiny, dirt-floor house he shared with his mother and grandparents, struggling to breathe. “Everyone in the neighborhood thought that I was going to die,” he said.


“One night, when I was dying of asthma, my mom raised up her hands to heaven and said, ‘Jesus Christ, help us!’” Gabriel recalled. “The presence of God came to our room … and I started to feel relief.” This occurred night after night, and six months later they began attending services at a church they found a few miles away.


Gabriel now considers it natural that he grew up passionate for God after experiencing his power. “Imagine a God who heals you every night,” he said, “a God who comes to your life, comes to your house, starts to transform everything.” His whole family came to faith in Christ through this miracle. They were baptized, and their home soon became the first church in the community.


While serving as a leader of his youth group at age 16, Gabriel had another encounter with God. He heard a sermon about David being a man after God’s own heart and was moved to dedicate his life to being a church planter.


Upon completing some ministry training a year later, Gabriel entered his first mission field, a town where there were 14 occult temples for the small population of 200 households. “Everyone there was an alcoholic,” Gabriel said. “There was adultery everywhere, sex everywhere. It was a hard town.”


The town’s spiritual darkness was enough to drive Gabriel to despair. So amid his feelings of dejection, he went home for a reprieve. While there, he read a magazine article that changed his heart. The article, about another missionary in a difficult field, inspired him with a single thought: God did not require his success, but his faithfulness.


Gabriel returned to the field and began to see changes. “God is the one working,” he said. “God is the one who transforms. My job is to go wherever he is guiding me every day.” As he continued his ministry work, Gabriel noticed that people were coming to him to hear the message of salvation. Soon, the growing number of believers prompted him to get land for a church.

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Gabriel estimates that his network of volunteers has distributed several hundred thousand Bibles.

The Missing Piece

As the church was becoming established in that first town, Gabriel continued to go where God led him, taking the gospel to other communities. He estimates that between the years 2009 and 2013, he and the other Christian workers witnessed a thousand confessions of faith. But then, as quickly as it had begun, the growth came to a stop.


Gabriel became frustrated, noticing that lasting transformations were not occurring in the lives of the new believers. When he shared his frustration with a friend, the friend immediately recognized the problem. “You have evangelism,” he said, “but you do not have discipleship.”


The friend recommended that Gabriel get training to help fill in the missing component. “He gave us the first training for making disciples in Cuba,” Gabriel said. “The discipleship we often do says, ‘Come to the church and here we will disciple you.’ But this approach changes discipleship to be like Jesus says: ‘Go.’”


The discipleship training led to a movement that has since crossed denominational barriers and equipped thousands of Christian leaders in Cuba. The 70 leaders who received training that first year went on to start more than 500 Bible discovery groups in the homes of interested nonbelievers in 2014. Since then, the number of groups has ballooned to 15,000, each group established after a Bible was placed into the hands of someone desperate for the hope that is so scarce in Cuba. About 2,500 house churches have grown out of these Bible discovery groups.

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Since 2014, Christian leaders have started 15,000 discipleship training groups in Cuba after a Bible was placed in the hands of people desperate for hope.

The Best Investment

As evidence of the country’s hunger for truth, Gabriel shared a photograph from a recent Bible distribution in Cuba’s capital, Havana. In the photo, about a dozen people are reaching for a Bible; a sense of urgency and excitement is etched on their faces and seen in the physical tension of their outstretched hands. “It is incredible to see the hunger for God that is in this country,” he said.


Gabriel usually gets a few thousand Bibles at a time for distribution, and he estimates that his network has distributed a few hundred thousand Bibles so far. “Even so, there is need of more,” he said. “People are [excited] to get Bibles. At this point, the only thing I need is more Bibles. If you ask me how many Bibles I need, I say 1 million, [but] not even 1 million Bibles is enough.”


He said he and other Christian workers have followed up with about 80% of the people who have received Bibles, and around half have joined a Bible discovery group. He is confident that even those who do not join the groups experience spiritual transformation by reading God’s Word on their own.


Gabriel said he believes he was born for the work of distributing Bibles around the island nation, and he has a big dream for his ministry work. “I would like to put a Bible in each home in Cuba,” he said. “That is my goal. That is my heart.”


But Bibles are not easy to come by in Cuba. While some churches are able to purchase Bibles through the government-authorized Council of Churches, the Bibles are expensive, earmarked for registered churches and still not available in large numbers. One of those Bibles can cost an average worker more than a third of his or her monthly income.


In some churches, Bibles are so rare that members share one or two Bibles, parceling them out in books and chapters so individuals can hand-copy passages for study. In other cases, an old family Bible might be rebound and repaired repeatedly so the church can continue to use it. “When you have … hunger problems, people with small budgets, the majority would not have access to a Bible because they cannot buy it,” Gabriel explained. “That is why I am grateful to all the donors of Bibles in the world. Everyone who gives a Bible, I assure you they are arriving to the right place. The Bible is arriving to a home where there is darkness, and you are changing lives. You are transforming a marriage, you are freeing kids [from] growing up without a dad, you are helping an alcoholic or a witch to change. The best investment that we can do in this moment is to invest in Bibles.”

No Burned Bridges

The bold efforts of Gabriel’s network to distribute Bibles and disciple new believers have not gone unnoticed. He said operatives of the religious affairs bureau often attend worship services to make sure the message is not political or critical of the government’s Marxist ideology. And the constant surveillance, he said, can take a psychological toll on those in Christian ministry.


Gabriel said he has received threats and warnings throughout his ministry career and has also endured the skepticism and opposition of many Cubans with atheistic worldviews. But he perseveres because he is confident that no one is beyond hope of salvation.


He recalled one prison official who chased him away and threatened him when he came to the prison seeking permission to conduct worship services there. Later, he said that the official’s heart softened, and the prison invited chaplains to come and preach. Members of the official’s family began turning to Christ, and Gabriel’s relationship with the man has continued to grow.


“You can’t ever burn a bridge,” Gabriel said. “Do not reject anyone, because the one who is not with you today may be with you tomorrow. Never, never repay anyone evil for evil. There are people who have been my enemy and have turned to the Lord.”


Rather than wasting his energy fretting over the opposition, Gabriel feels an urgency to keep going out and giving people the Word of God.