Prolific Cuban church planter: 300 churches planted and 1,000 leaders trained
Otoniel Martinez grew up in a Christian family. His father was a pastor in a time when government pressure made it difficult to follow Jesus. Otoniel was a gifted student and could have attended one of the top schools in Cuba.
But in order to attend a top university he had to deny his christian faith, which we would not do. He decided he would bypass upper-level education to follow Christ no matter what, according to a report by United World Mission (UWM).
His resolve was tested many times as he faced opposition from the authorities. He successfully planted one church, which proceeded to reproduce 26 other churches.
From there, the Holy Spirit planted a God-sized vision in Otoniel’s heart: to see churches planted in every corner of Cuba and to send workers into the rest of the world. For assistance, Otoniel
reached out to UWM, because they led his family to Christ many years ago.
A church planting trainer from UWM was introduced to Otoniel. Together, they developed a
training for Cuba known as the “Sembradores” (Sowers) Network.
They assembled 50 people from 20 denominations in Bayamo, the heart of communism in Cuba. After just one training session they were kicked out of the church they were using because the pastor feared that he would receive retribution from the local authorities.
“We began to meet outside in a remote area of a campground,” noted Joseph Milioni in the
Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ). “We didn’t use any chairs so that we could scatter if local officials came near.” Rocks scattered around the camp became their chairs.
“Even with all the setbacks, it was never a question of stopping the training. Otoniel showed dependence on God when things went well and when obstacles developed. This went on to be
one of our best trainings. Many of our current network leaders came out of this training.”
As churches were planted a new need arose. In a country where the average person makes
$15 a month, how could churches support church planters and achieve Otoniel’s long-term vision?
“By partnering with several different North American partners we began to help develop micro-enterprises on the island. We have seen everything from bicycle taxis to ice cream stands.
All the funds go towards church planting and the churches that support it,” according to UWM.
Milioni marvels at the fruit. “Together, we developed a church-planting network that has seen
close to one thousand church planters trained in less than five years. One of the greatest lessons he (Otoniel) taught me is dependency—not the dangers of developing dependency on outside resources, but rather of being truly dependent on God.”
Otoniel’s reliance on God sets him apart. “Despite having more talent, passion, and vision than
many could hope to have, he met every step with a heart pleading to God for guidance,” Milioni notes. “Every step of the way, despite success, Otoniel has never relied on his own abilities.”
“He is recognized by many national leaders and has tremendous respect both in and out of Cuba,
but inevitably during each visit, I still see him gathering his family together, looking to God to meet needs and give guidance.”
Inevitably, a God-sized vision is met with adversity. “When everything seemed to be going well, Otoniel’s father passed away and his wife, Idalmi, was diagnosed with cancer.
However, because Otoniel has established a habit of leaning on God, he is seeking God to comfort him and be with him as he has always been,” Milioni notes.
Otoniel’s vision has grown to develop Cuban missionaries to go to the unreached.
From the beginning, the responsibility of the church to be involved in missions was taught. A missions professor from Costa Rica was brought in to teach the Cuban pastors how local churches could be involved in missions. After a few days the hearts of the pastors were burdened to send church planters around the world, according to UWM.
Despite the fact that these churches had very little income, the pastors raised $60 for missions
on their first night (4 months wages). A committee was formed to create a Cuban missions organization and training center for missions.
The Sembradores network has resulted in more then 300 new churches being planted.
Many second-generation churches have been counted. More then 20 micro-enterprises have been established.
“We have seen God do amazing things and believe there is still more to come.”
To learn more about United World Mission and their work in Cuba, go here .
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