CUBA: Standing Room Only for “House of Light” Church Dedication
World church president visits island, division holds meetings
By Rajmund Dabrowski, director of communication, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, writing from Buey Arriba, Cuba
When church officials and guests joined a 500-strong crowd for the opening of a new house of worship in Buey Arriba, it was Raul Alvarez who received the loudest applause.
PACKED OUT: A crowd of more than 500 at the Buey Arriba House of Light filled every available seat and even a few windowsills during the sanctuary’s dedication November 4. The house of worship is one of many in Cuba that serve as both pastors’ residences and sanctuaries.A recently retired pastor, Alvarez was given a hero’s welcome for his contribution to a Seventh-day Adventist congregation, which on Sunday, November 4, officially dedicated a new sanctuary.
Once a political advisor to the leaders of the Cuban revolution, in the early 1960s Alvarez embraced Adventism and answered a different calling. Until recently, he served as president of the church in the region.
Joining hundreds of others for a standing-room-only ribbon-cutting ceremony, Alvarez couldn’t hide his emotions. Years of trying to build a sanctuary with limited resources culminated on that Sunday evening with joyful tears and embraces.
Referred to as the “Buey Arriba House of Light,” the church—a pastor’s home in which the living room can seat a 200-member congregation—celebrated in style.
Heavy rains on the day of the celebration delayed the arrival of leaders from U.S.-based Maranatha Volunteers International (MVI)—an organization responsible for building the sanctuary—along with officials of the Adventist Church. When they arrived at 6:00 p.m., they were already two hours late for the ceremony. But a crowd of more than 500 people packed into the sanctuary built to seat just 250.
Laura Noble of MVI remembers visiting the Buey Arriba house of worship a few years ago. In her many travels, this was one of the few places that really scared her, she recalled. The roof was made of very heavy red tile held up with a framework of sticks nailed at the apex with a single nail at each joint. Worse yet, she remembers, every stick was absolutely riddled with termite holes.
The need for a new house of worship became acute as the congregation grew to 200, according to Adalberto Gonzalez, church pastor. Instead of approving the plans for a church building, however, the Cuban government extended permission to build a “House of Light.”
CUBA DISCUSSIONS: During a four-day visit to Cuba, Adventist Church world president Jan Paulsen discussed the church’s position in the country with Daniel Fontaine, president of the Adventist Church on the island nation, which this November hosted regional church meetings for the first time in 62 years.A Maranatha House of Light acts as both a home to the pastor and his family and as a house of worship. “But it looks suspiciously like a church!” Noble said. Following the dedication ceremony, 10 new candidates were baptized.
Daniel Fontaine, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Cuba, expressed gratitude for the House of Light in Buey Arriba. “It is very meaningful for us. We at least can have one place, one light, where people can go in search of the peace and hope that only Jesus Christ can give.
“And for our country to let us have a place like that,” he said, “we are very thankful.”
Across the island, in Havana, the Adventist Church in Cuba welcomed Jan Paulsen, president of the Adventist world church. On Friday, November 2, Paulsen joined 80 delegates of the church’s Inter-American (IAD) region attending an annual meeting of its executive committee. Caridad Diego, the head of the country’s Religious Affairs Office, welcomed Paulsen at the Havana airport.
Speaking at a Sabbath worship service in Havana’s Vibora Adventist Church, Paulsen told church members, “I feel the strength of your commitment and spirituality. There is so much fire in your soul.”
Israel Leito, president of the church in Inter-America, said, “This visit to Cuba is very significant, especially for the church and the government in Cuba.”
Although Cuba is one of the 15 major territories in the region, it has not hosted the IAD Executive Committee meetings in 62 years, according to church sources. For two years, in the mid-1940s, the Inter-American Division was headquartered in Cuba. With more than 3 million members in 36 countries, Inter-America represents the largest region in the Adventist world church.