Try telling Alberto González that life in Cuba hasn’t changed despite all the geopolitical developments, and you’re likely to face a vigorous rebuttal.
“The environment in Cuba is totally different,” says the pastor and broadcaster who represents TWR (also known as Trans World Radio) in the communist-run nation he calls home. Certainly, he is quick to add, improvements in human rights and the economy are greatly needed, but you can’t ignore the facts that travel is freer and people can buy houses and start small private businesses.
“These are really changes,” says González, whose popular radio program Messages of Faith and Hope is broadcast into Cuba as well as to other Latin American countries from TWR’s transmitter on Bonaire. “When I hear people say there are no changes in Cuba – well, you are not living there! I used to have to apply to the government three months in advance for any travel to the U.S., and the government could say, ‘No.’ Now I just need a ticket and to get to the airport. This is a change!”
Cubans feel freer to express themselves, he says. They have more access to the internet, and smartphones are visible around town. No longer is it unknown for people on television to be heard saying “Thank God” or indicating that they are believers. And during U.S. President Barack Obama’s March 2016 visit to the country, a well-known Cuban blogger staked out a position contrary to the government’s.
Even more significant, in González’s view, is the new openness to the gospel that he sees among the people. Twenty years ago rejection of the gospel was the norm, and people spurned evangelism.
“But at this moment, Cuban people are experiencing a hunger for God,” he says. “You can preach to everybody wherever and whenever. … They may not be deciding to become a Christian at that moment, but people are really listening to the gospel.”
Receiving more than 2,000 responses a year to his program, González says listeners frequently say that they stumbled across the TWR signal while searching for music or something else to entertain them. That strikes a chord with González, who discovered TWR’s gospel programming 50 years ago while being held in a re-education camp in the wake of the Cuban revolution.
“I really don’t know who I would be today if I hadn’t been listening to Trans World Radio that night,” he says. “I was in a real crisis in that moment. To me it was like a miracle. … I was feeling isolated, I was feeling far from God. I was feeling forgotten by God. It changed my life.”
The life-changing impact of that unforeseen radio encounter is the main reason González so passionately advocates for the ongoing project to boost TWR’s 100,000-watt transmitter to 450,000 watts. With about $1.3 million still to be raised for the Power Up project (twr.org/powerup), the resulting boost would enable all of Cuba to receive clear, consistent gospel broadcasts from the Caribbean island of Bonaire.
The timing is critical, González says.
“More than a political change in Cuba, we need Jesus,” he says. “People in Cuba are expecting a lot of changes, new opportunities for life, and they are really open to receiving new things into their lives. So this is the moment to have Jesus for them."