The special guest speaker was from Cuba – Bishop Pereira. Been the Bishop for over 15 years and during that time the Methodist Church went from the verge of extinction because of Castro and Communist harassment to a church that is now thriving with hundreds of new churches growing rapidly throughout Cuba. What a miracle. But, how did it happen?
Bishop Pereira starts by telling of a woman he met shortly after becoming a Bishop. She introduced herself as a Communist Official and immediately started poking her finger in his chest while promising that within five years, his churches would all be gone. Several years later, he noticed her in the front row of one of his churches at a worship service. She stood up and gave her testimony about how God changed her life through the Methodist church.
In 1975 there were very few Methodist churches or Methodist in Cuba, possibly less than 500 people. In 2000 there were 136 churches and just over 10,000 Methodists. Today there are 361 churches and more than 30,000 Methodists.
Many people come to him now and ask to become a pastor. His answer is always the same: “Go and start a church and then we can talk about you being a pastor.” Here is the best part he says, “They do it. They start a church and then they come back and ask what to do next?”
There are only a few church buildings allowed in Communist Cuba, so churches are formed in homes, in fields or wherever Methodists can meet. The Bishop smiled as he said this and added, “But make no mistake. They are churches. They have Sunday school, they study the Bible, they worship with intensity and lives are being changed by Jesus Christ every day.”
A video of their last Annual Conference showed an interruption by someone who needed healing. They stopped the proceedings and immediately had a mass healing service.
Bishop Pereira’s point was that in the United States we are way too attached to our buildings and we often miss opportunities to be the church that are offered by the movement of the Holy Spirit. Every church in America should have several people who want to be pastors who could be starting churches within churches. They do not need buildings. They need encouragement and guidance through the power of the Holy Spirit.
If we are being the church within our community, people should be coming to our pastors and leaders and asking how they can do more to serve our Lord, Jesus Christ and we should respond by saying, “Invite people to your home. Form a Bible study or a prayer group.”
At the end of the service, Bishop Pereira said: “God can and will do miracles within our churches but we must do our part.”
I left church that day inspired by the words and the stories of Bishop Pereira but more importantly I realized our need as the church to more fully rely on God.
My devotional reading, the next day included this passage from the Gospel of Mark.
Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
“Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.”
Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:27-29)
Shortly after healing a blind man, Jesus asks the disciples an important question. In many ways, Jesus is also asking us the same question.
“Who do people say that I am?”
We know the answer to this question, after all, we are the church. We have been taught and still teach all the right things to say and do as followers of Jesus Christ.
But then asks: “But who do you say I am?”
I believe Bishop Pereira would challenge us with this question to leap from belief to faith to action.
If we truly believe then we will have faith that Jesus will guide our churches into the future. We will then boldly act on those beliefs as guided by the Holy Spirit.
“You are the Messiah!”
May you help us confidently and boldly proclaim your name from our church buildings, from our homes, from our schools, from our workplaces, from shopping malls to food pantries. “You are the Messiah!”
“You are the Messiah!”
Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
— Shannon Blair Poque