83,000 Bibles Sent to Cuba to Keep Up With 'Incredible' Growth of Christianity

(Photo: Reuters/Enrique de la Osa)Worshippers carry a statue of Jesus Christ during a Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession on Good Friday in Havana, April 6, 2012. Bells rang from Roman Catholic churches throughout Havana on Friday to remember the death of Jesus Christ as Cubans celebrated a holiday on Good Friday for the first time in more than half a century. The day off, granted at the request of Pope Benedict on his recent visit to the communist island, translated into quieter streets than usual, but only sparse attendance at a Mass in the city's main cathedral presided over by Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

A shipment of 83,723 Spanish-language Bibles are headed for Cuba and will be distributed to a number of Southern Baptist churches in both Western and Eastern parts of the island nation, SBC's International Mission Board announced this week.

IMB, which is an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced that the shipment of three 40-foot containers filled with Bibles left from the ports of South Florida and is being distributed this week to various churches throughout Cuba. The announcement added that the Bibles will arrive in the capital of Havana on March 25.

The shipment is the third since 1999 that Southern Baptists have sent to Cuba and have sent nearly 500,000 Bibles in total, IMB strategy leader for Cuba, Kurt Urbanek, said in a media statement.

Urbanek added that this shipment is the first that will be shipped directly from the United States, saying that clearance was provided in late 2014.

"The extensive process of seeking permission from the Cuban government to ship Bibles required a great deal of negotiation with government officials and the Cuban Bible Society," Urbanek explained in the release. "We are grateful the Cuban government opened the doors for the Bibles."

Since the Cuban government amended its Constitution in 1992, declaring it a secular state, instead of an atheist state, religious activities have been given room to grow and flourish.

"The growth is so incredible, that's why Bibles are so important," Urbanek said.

Seventy-five percent of the Bibles will be distributed to two ministries. The Havana-based Western Cuba Baptist Convention will get 32,000 Bibles, while the Santiago-based Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention, which reported nearly 30,000 professions of faith in 2014 and has opened over 1,300 house churches in the last few years, will also get 32,000 Bibles.

"With the Eastern Convention reporting 29,063 professions of faith in 2014, the missionary noted that the Bibles potentially will cover the new Christians and only a few more," the release stated.

IMB attributes the resources used for the distribution as a coordinated effort between LifeWay Christian Resources, Florida Baptist Convention, Church by the Glades in Coral Springs, Florida and other groups and individuals. LifeWay donated 60,000 Bibles. IMB provided the project with $100,000.

The distribution also includes study Bibles, large-text Bibles for the visually impaired, and Bible commentaries.

The Florida Baptists, who provided $2,000 toward leather-bound Bibles, have enjoyed an 18-year partnership with Cuba Baptists and have taken part in other Cuban Bible distribution efforts, the releases stated.