Adventists in Cuba
Use Baseball for Outreach
Popular sport draws notice as players pray before games.
By Mark A. Kellner, news editor
What would you do to attract young people to church, particularly in a nation where overt witnessing is difficult?
How about a game of baseball?
That’s the recent experience of Seventh-day Adventists in Cuba, where baseball has long been a popular sport. Starting, and growing, a league of baseball teams is bringing newcomers to the church, local leaders say.
Baseball is a highly regarded sport in Cuba: the country has its own amateur league, and a Cuban national team was a finalist in the 2006 World Baseball Classic competition, losing to Japan in a game played in San Diego, California.
“The program began in 2009 as a way to help young Adventists enjoy sports without harming their Christian witness,” said Dayami Rodriguez, communication director, Cuban Union. She spoke in November 2012 at a communication summit held in Miami, Florida, by the Inter-American Division, which includes Cuba.
Shirts and caps may not always match, and there are other challenges to be met, but Cuban Adventists have found that baseball is an ideal outreach tool. In fact, the peaceful nature of the games even attracted a local government official, who offered words of welcome.
Games are conducted with respect for all sides; team members pray before games. The fighting and rough language sometimes associated with other leagues is absent from the Adventist practices and competitions, Rodriguez said.
The peaceful atmosphere attracted non-Adventists who wanted to participate. Church leaders agreed, but with conditions: players must demonstrate good behavior, their speech and attitudes would be in line with Ad-ventist standards, and all players would attend daily, morning Bible studies and evening seminars.
According to Rodriguez, it worked! Onlookers—ranging from local umpires, professional baseball players, and members of the public who happened upon the games—were all absorbed to see men in the heat of the game praying for each other before a game, holding hands, embracing and congratulating each other after the game.
BATTER UP: Aldo Perez, president of the Cuba Union Conference swings at a pitch during the Seventh-day Adventist Church baseball game. In Cuba sports are used as an evangelistic tool.Some spectators approached the teams, asking to learn more. The youngsters identified themselves as Seventh-day Adventists, and invited those interested to the evening meetings. In the first year 28 people gave their hearts to the Lord as a result of the effort; in August 2012, 100 people made a Christian commitment as the games and outreach took place in Palmarito, Holguin, in the eastern part of Cuba.
Rodriguez said, “Each night the little town was paralyzed by what was happening in the humble Adventist church atop the valley. Everyone was running to hear the preacher, carrying their own chairs to find a little place in the midst of so many people who crowded the windows and doors of the sanctuary. At the end of the week of an evangelism series, ‘Jesus the Conqueror of All Time,’ the church rejoiced to receive within it many who decided to cast their lot with Christ forever.”
Local authorities—at first reluctant to permit a religious group to use their facilities—finally relented, and volunteers cleared the designated area for play. In fact, the local Communist Party first secretary attended the opening, giving a welcome. The president of the Adventist Church in Cuba and other pastors joined him.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been active in Cuba since 1905. In 2012, nearly 33,000 baptized members worshipped weekly in 302 congregations.