HAVANA — As the world reflects on the legacy of late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, a former Southern Baptist missionary imprisoned by the Castro regime in the 1960s is remembering what Castro could not do: kill the church.
Castro died Nov. 25 at the age of 90.
David Fite, 82, was arrested in Havana in 1965 on what he calls fabricated charges of “trafficking in foreign currency” and “ideological diversionism.” Then Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) missionary and the father of three young boys, including a one-month-old, Fite was incarcerated for three and a half years before being released in November of 1968.
Fite’s wife Margaret, whose father and fellow HMB missionary Herbert Caudill was jailed along with Fite, told Baptist Press the missionaries’ arrest seemed to stem from their Christian faith and not their American citizenship, since 53 Cuban believers were taken into custody on the same night.
“What [the Cuban regime] wanted to do was to kill the Baptist churches,” Margaret Fite said. “… There was no international problem at all. It was just an attack on religion.”
But as David Fite noted, “It didn’t work.”
All the believers imprisoned with Fite were ministers, and many had been pastoring churches. Still, the Sunday following the arrests, “not one single church failed to have its worship service,” Margaret Fite said. “And in every church someone got up in that pulpit.”
The gospel, David Fite said, “is not limited by political organizations. It moves ahead with a message that is beyond any oppression.”
Even with Castro’s death, Margaret Fite said she doesn’t “know how much will change” in Cuba in terms of personal liberty and economic flourishing.
“I just know that I lived in Cuba” before the communist revolution, she said, “and it was a joy to live there. And then I lived through the process of [Castro’s] taking over and things got worse and worse and worse.
“The interesting thing,” Margaret Fite said, “is that as things grew worse, people needed the gospel more than ever. They needed a God to worship, and that was their mainstay. That’s why the church has grown so much.”
The missions magazine Mission Frontiers reported in 2011 as many as 4,500 evangelical churches in Cuba in addition to 10,000 “house groups” from a total of 54 denominations.
“For 20 years,” according to Mission Frontiers, “Protestant churches in Communist Cuba have been multiplying at an unprecedented rate.”