New Jersey musician evangelist TONY LOEFFLER is well known to UK audiences for his numerous appearances at the Cross Rhythms festival. But he now has a new vision - to take the Gospel to the troubled nation of Cuba. He spoke to Trevor Kirk.

Missionary to Cuba

Singer, guitarist, evangelist Tony Loeffler is by any stretch of the imagination a veteran but when he speaks of Cuba a youthful gleam comes into his eye.  "I would never have dreamed a few years ago that I'd be doing what I'm doing today. I've been a prison evangelist, in prison ministry, full-time since 1971, but in 1999 I was in a prison in Florida, and one of the guards was going over to Cuba to start a ministry there - not a prison ministry, he was Cuban, he had a heart to reach his people, so he said, 'Would you like to come to Cuba?'  I said, 'Sure, do you think I could get into the prisons?'  He said, 'Yes, I think so.' So I said, 'OK, I'll come.'  Well, little did he know that it's not that easy to get into the prisons in Cuba.  At present, I'm in the process of working with some key people, developing a training programme for 700 pastors, to teach them how to minister in the prisons, because the country really wants to do something to release the pressure in the prison system, otherwise it's going to explode.  It's going to be a long time before an American sets foot in a Cuban prison, but the Lord's given me a witness, and that time will come."

"I've been working in Cuba since 1999, I work with 37 churches there, there are 500 more waiting for assistance, and the suffering is totally off the scale, there are no words to describe the sort of human suffering that's going on.  The average income is only eight US dollars and 50 cents a month, the pastors, who get most of the help in the country, they're suffering and starving.  I'm working with these 37 churches, but I've said that I'll not look at the other 500 until we've helped the first 37.  These are churches that have been deserted in the last four years; people go into the country, they begin to work with the churches, but they find it too hard, and they leave, and these churches have suffered rejection for a long time.  I know God hasn't sent me there to do that,  he's sent me there to bring healing and mercy, and it's taken me a couple of years to build up a trust level because of the conditions, and now we have great favour in the country.  I've been in the Governmental palace, speaking with some very high-level people, sharing my testimony with them as to why I'm in their country, and they listen with great interest.

"In another town (I can't mention these places by name, for obvious reasons), when I spoke with the Governor, I said, 'Let me tell you why I'm here', and I shared all the details.  I also shared details of my faith, how I came from a broken family, I was a drug addict, and this was why I'd come to help suffering people, because I'd suffered much, and they understand this. At the end of all this I said to him, 'Would you mind if I prayed for you?', because it's very hard to be a city governor, and he said, 'Sure.'  So afterwards, as we leave, all the interpreters are jumping up and down (we have to have interpreters, because it's all in Spanish; I'm learning Spanish, but it's a slow process), and saying that it's a miracle. I said, 'What are you talking about?'  They said, 'There hasn't been an American in this office for over 40 years, and you prayed with this man, he's a Communist!'  And it's the same in the Governmental palace, all the pastors are saying, 'Who is this guy, how's he getting into the Government palace?' and it's just the Lord, giving me favour."

"I've recorded two music albums in Cuba.  I've had many things confiscated by the Cuban authorities, including 600 of my "Cuba Para Cristo" CDs!  Here's me, trying to bring in some music to encourage the Church!  So I prayed and said, "Lord, you've got to help me get some music circulating here, worship music to encourage the Church, and unite the Church, because they haven't even had pencil and paper for 40 years, because even though the church is exploding in Cuba, there's not much to work with, there's nothing to rally around, they don't have anything.  So I prayed about it, and through a series of miracles, God allowed me to produce two Christian music albums in a Communist radio station.   It was amazing to be in a country that is so backward, it took me three days to find one writeable CD, and to get something done that might take you a week in a normal country, would probably take you a year in Cuba, it's that complicated.  But I was able to record one group, involving 20 people, no cell phones, no telephones, no means of public transport, within a radius of about 60 or 70 miles, and had that project recorded, finished, complete and mastered within six days, that's nothing short of miraculous! I'd been working on my project 'Cuba Para Cristo' for a year and a half!  And the other project I did involved 40 people, within a radius of 75 miles, which was even more complicated and got that one done within eight days!  So God has given us favour there, the music is circulating there; we give the CDs out for free, because there's no economy, nobody can buy anything, so we give away CD players and cassette players, and we're just trying to encourage and bless the Church.  The albums are going to be released in the USA soon, and the idea is to reach the American churches and the Latin churches with the music, and encourage them to partner with the 37 Cuban churches, and then when we move on from there, we'll take on the other 500!"

"The Lord's given me a 10-15 year vision with Cuba, and he's also given me some incredible things.  There have been people we've prayed over, their blind eyes have been opened; there was a man who was mute, he'd never spoken before in his life, we prayed over him, laid hands on him and he started to talk.  One of the church leaders had a boy in his church who had a really bad eye, and he was getting really frustrated, because he couldn't get help for him.  So in desperation he laid hands on him, and prayed for the Lord to help him.  Next day in the church, he felt a tug on his shirt, and there was the boy, completely healed.  I was in Cuba in May, in the town of La Lisa, which is infested with witchcraft.  The church there has been just praising the Lord, thanking him for their freedom in Christ, how he's liberated them, and they want their town changed, they want it different, and they've been just trusting the Lord.  Now whilst we were there, in one two-week period, 17 of the people involved in the witchcraft killed each other.  That's a horrible thing, I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but the Lord's having the enemy destroy themselves, and six of the witchcraft people have come to the Lord Jesus.   So there's all sorts of exciting things going on, God's been affirming things, but it's very hard work, right now it's really rough."

"We have a strong internet prayer team.  We have many people on the team, but we're always looking for more.  We never under-estimate the value and the power of prayer, we need prayer in everything that we do.  We're in dangerous places, treading on some pretty thin ice, so we need people praying for us constantly.  To join the prayer team, all you need to do is send an email to pray4SREA@yahoo.com - that'll put you in the prayer loop, and you'll get regular prayer letters from me, and the other members of the team, along with news of prayer requests.  We also need to get churches involved; if your church isn't doing anything right now, we need people to go to their pastors and say 'Can we do something?' And if people want to visit Cuba, we'll take them in to see the need for themselves.  We need churches to partner, we need churches to get a vision, because the process works both ways.  Even though the Church in Cuba doesn't have any resources, it does have spiritual giftings, and the people there can pray for us, and then both can get value from the relationship.  Of course, we need finances, we need to build houses for some of the pastors, they live in garbage cans mostly, we want to put up simple houses so they can live like decent human beings.  One of those would cost about $2,000.  We've given bicycles to some pastors for transport, but in some parts of the country bicycles are no good, it's too rural, so the pastors need donkeys, and $200 pays for a donkey. 

"The biggest project that's going now would cost $55,000, for the largest church in Havana, the Church of God, which is the group of churches we work with.  The Government has offered them a building in exchange for their present church building, which is in pretty good shape, but it's packed, they can't fit any more people in, they have as many people standing out on the street as they have inside the church.  So the Government said, 'OK, we'll swap this building for that building'. The Government's building has been totally neglected, the roof is caved in, but it is huge - it would make a magnificent church, but it'd take about $55,000 to do the work.  But buildings are just the beginning, they need PA systems, they need instruments.  People have given me  musical instruments while I've been here in England, I've been given a keyboard, I've got speakers, I'm taking a guitar back with me; and eventually there'll be opportunities for all sorts of things, because we're setting up the infrastructure to send containers into Cuba.  And we need all sorts of people, doctors, dentists, painters, carpenters, builders, pastors to train other pastors, anyone with a skill, whatever it is, we can use them." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.