As United Methodists all over Virginia prepare to gather for Annual Conference, I am reminded of another Methodist from Cuba – Bishop Pereira. During his time as Bishop the Methodist Church went from being on the verge of extinction to an explosion producing hundreds of new churches throughout Cuba. How did this miracle leading to thousands of transformed lives happen?

Bishop Pereira tells of a woman he met years ago. Introducing herself as a Communist Official, she immediately started poking a finger in his chest and promised that within five years, his churches would disappear. Several years later, Bishop Pereira noticed that same communist official in the front row of one of his churches during a worship service. This same woman who threatened to close every church in Cuba gave her testimony about how God changed her life through the Methodist church.

In 1975 there were only a few Methodist churches in all of Cuba and less than 500 Methodists. In 2000 there were 136 churches and just over 10,000 Methodists. In 2012 there were 361 churches and more than 30,000 Methodists. This is a miracle!

Bishop Pereira described how people come to him wanting to become a pastor. His answer to them is always the same: “Go and start a church and then we will talk about you becoming a pastor.” Bishop Pereira smiled and said: “Here is the best part. They do it. They start a church and ask what to do next?”

Is the Communist regime allowing that many church buildings? No! There are only a few old church buildings left and there are many restrictions preventing building new churches. Bishop Pereira said, “Our churches are formed in homes, in fields or wherever Methodists can meet.” Then he smiled 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 a recent nationwide meeting we call Annual Conference was interrupted by someone who needed healing. So what did they do? They stopped the meeting and held a mass healing service.

Bishop Pereira pointed out that churches in America are too attached to buildings. We miss opportunities to be the church serving the community. He said: “Every church in America should have people who want to be pastors who could be starting churches within churches. They do not need buildings. They need encouragement through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

“If we are being the church within our community, people will do more to serve our Lord, Jesus Christ. We can invite people to our homes: Form a Bible study or a prayer group.” Bishop Pereira added: “God can and will do miracles within our churches but we must do our part.”

I was inspired by Bishop Pereira but more importantly, I realized our need as the church to rely less on our buildings and programs and more on God’s Holy Spirit.

In 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)

Jesus is asking us the same question: “Who do people say that I am?” We know the answer. We have been taught and still teach all the right things to say and do as followers of Jesus Christ.

But then Jesus asks: “But who do you say I am?”

Bishop Pereira would challenge us to move 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!”

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