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Cuban Christians join with their brethren from the U.S. for an evening devotional at the meeting place of the 10 de Octubre Iglesia de Cristo in Havana, Cuba. The congregation was one of the first Churches of Christ planted on the island by missionaries Ernesto Estévez and José Ricardo Jimenez, Floridians of Cuban descent, in 1938.
International
Photo by John Reese

Final Pan Am Lectureship reaches Cuba


HAVANA, Cuba — Reuel Lemmons had a heart for evangelizing Latin America. 

But he was concerned that Churches of Christ in the U.S., by and large, paid little attention to the spiritual needs south of the border. 

Harold Norton | Where we've been

Harold Norton | Where we’ve been

In the years after World War II, missionaries eagerly preached the Gospel in Europe, Africa and Asia, but few traveled to Central and South America. Many U.S. Christians were unaware of the spiritual needs and opportunities there. 

So Lemmons, a renowned minister and editor of the Firm Foundation, proposed a lectureship that would bring church leaders together in a different Latin American city each year. Launched in 1963, the Pan American Lectureship did exactly that for a half-century. 

Recently, 96 believers participated in the 53rd and final lectureship. The mission-minded men and women visited a city that would have been nearly impossible for them to visit in 1965 — Havana, Cuba. 

Traveling by cruise ship, the participants disembarked in the communist nation’s capital and shared a devotional with one of the 200 Iglesias de Cristo (Churches of Christ) on the island. Many of the travelers considered the evening with their Cuban brethren as the highlight of the historic week.

Lemmons served as coordinator of the event for some 20 years. Dan Coker, a former missionary to Guatemala City, attended the first lectureship and most of the ones that followed. The lectureship’s underlying dream, Coker said, was that the travelers would return to their congregations and urge them to send missionaries to the harvest fields of Latin America.

That dream came true. 

The Castle of Tres Reyes (Three Kings) de Morro, far right, stands watch over the city of Havana, Cuba. Built in the late 16th century, the Spanish fort takes its name from the wise men who visited baby Jesus. The castle is a well-known symbol of Havana and one of the most visited places by both tourists and locals.

The Castle of Tres Reyes (Three Kings) de Morro, far right, stands watch over the city of Havana, Cuba. Built in the late 16th century, the Spanish fort takes its name from the wise men who visited baby Jesus. The castle is a well-known symbol of Havana and one of the most visited places by both tourists and locals.

Churches of Christ in every Latin American nation except for Bolivia and Haiti have hosted the Pan American Lectureship. (Churches on the predominantly English-speaking islands of the Caribbean host their own lectureship.) Growing congregations now thrive in Guatemala, Honduras and across the region, and U.S. churches sponsor regular mission trips and support a variety of works in Latin America.

We don’t know how much of that growth comes from the influence of the Pan American Lectureship. But those of us who came to Guatemala and Brazil and other places in the 1950s and 1960s know that the picture in Latin America today is totally and completely different from what it was.

Lemmons gave oversight of the program to Jim Frazier, Coker and me in 1983. Frazier served as chairman of the events’ directors. Others have joined the committee — including Don DeLukie, Paul Shero, David Duncan, Kelley Grant, Bruce McLarty and Jeff Jenkins.

Throughout the lectureship’s history, organizers dreamed of visiting Cuba. The committee decided to make one more try and was blessed to receive permission to gather with Cuban Christians. Having finally achieved this goal, the directors concluded that Lemmons’ dream had been fulfilled. His mission was accomplished. It was time to let the curtain fall on one of the major mission activities of the past half-century.

Frazier put it this way: “Although there are still great needs, opportunities and challenges in Latin America, North American Christians in great numbers have traveled there and seen the situation for themselves.  

“May the Lord Jesus help us put that knowledge to work for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.” 

HOWARD NORTON is a longtime minister and educator who served as a missionary to Brazil and as editor of The Christian Chronicle. He is an elder of the College Church of Christ in Searcy, Ark.

Filed under: Cuba International News Pan Am Lectureship Top Stories

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