By Pat Hatfield
BEACON STAFF WRITER
In November 1991, Fidel Castro's Communist Party in Cuba repealed a ban
on religious belief. By the late 1990s, a religious revival was rocking
The biggest explosion was in evangelical and Pentecostal churches, part
of a movement still sweeping Central and South America.
Pastor Mike Modica of First Assembly-DeLand saw the religious revolution
firsthand during a September mission trip to Cuba.
Modica saw Assemblies of God churches growing at a phenomenal rate. He
saw churches of other denominations, such as Methodist, growing similarly.
Most are home churches, now, meeting in living rooms or open-air
Modica is still flushed with enthusiasm about the trip, a fact-finding
and planning mission, in preparation for building new churches for these
people. Modica was able to see an Assemblies of God headquarters and
seminary already under construction in Havana. It will also house an
"So many of the small house churches are getting permits to build
churches. The only things they need are money and construction crews,"
the pastor reported.
Missionaries will supply the needed money and labor. A mission team will
return to Cuba in February.
Already in place are 40,000 Bibles. Modica and his team took some study
Bibles with them, and more came in two shipments.
Modica always had a feeling he would visit Cuba, since he and his wife,
Renee, visited churches in Ybor City in 1986.
"It only took 21 years," Modica said, pointing out it often takes time
and patience for a vision to be fulfilled.
All religious activity was suppressed under the Communist regime, but
the Communist stranglehold has relaxed in recent years. The
state-engendered anti-American fervor has died down, too.
"We were treated very honorably by the authorities," Modica said. People
he met in the street were friendly.
The trip was not about politics, but about the Gospel, he emphasized.
The Assemblies of God headquarters arranged the trip through the State
Department, and Modica's team was able to fly directly from Miami to Havana.
Modica said going to Cuba was like going back to 1959. It was as if the
country had been frozen in time since Castro's takeover.
Most vehicles are old. Modica saw 1957 fishtail Chevys everywhere, along
with Soviet vehicles made in the 1960s and '70s.
A congregation of 400 people may include four people who have vehicles.
Cuban people are poor. Most people make $12 or $13 a month in the
stagnant economy, Modica said.
Several memories will remain with Modica.
His driver made one of the biggest impressions on the pastor.
She was "a precious woman in her 60s," Modica said, who had an old
Soviet vehicle. "She was a mechanic who had come to know Christ, and
wanted to serve Christ, using her car."
That car broke down three times as the driver took Modica and others
from town to town in Cuba. She would tinker with the spark plugs and get
the car going again.
She bought some new spark plugs, but the store gave her the wrong size.
The driver took the old plugs out of the car, wiped them on her best
Sunday dress, prayed over them, and put them back in the car.
Modica said, "The car started. It rode perfectly. You couldn't tell her
God didn't answer her prayers."
Another lasting impression relates to the scarcity of goods and services
in Cuba, and the overall poverty.
Most Cubans aren't allowed to go into the same food stores and
restaurants frequented by U.S. and other foreign visitors. Most of the
people he met at Cuban home churches had never been in those special
"We were allowed to invite them, however. Whatever town we were in, we
would take them to the local restaurant," Modica said.
One restaurant he took locals to was an American-style buffet.
"They had never seen that," Modica said.
When the Cuban friends were told they could go back for seconds, they
thought Modica was teasing them. Their eyes grew as large as the buffet
plates, he said, when they looked at all of the food.
Modica said the most lasting impression, though, was seeing people who
had gone from having their government offered up as their god to having
"that emptiness — no temporal or spiritual hope — replaced with the
knowledge of the Lord, personally. To see that transformation takes your