As the ashes of Fidel Castro are now laid to rest in Santiago, Cuba, I am at liberty to tell the story that’s waited years to be told.
In 1999, for the first time since he took power in 1959, Fidel Castro agreed to open up the island of Cuba for the Gospel, under much control and surveillance, and for only one month. By this he would show the world that there was ‘freedom’ in Cuba – an evangelical celebration that would span the island from the east, where Castro’s revolution began, to Revolutionary Square, Havana, where he began his rule.
Word was sent to me to open the celebration with the sounding of the shofar. I agreed.
THE MAGI PROPHECY
One week before leaving, a man from Cuba came to us. He was a pastor who had been imprisoned on the island for his faith. He gave us a strange word. He said we would walk the island of Cuba as the magi, bearing gifts, and we would enter the king’s palace.
I prayed as to what word I should bring to the people of Cuba. What came to me was the message of Jubilee. The Jubilee concerns those who have lost their land, their family’s possession, their freedom. That was Cuba. So I came to Cuba proclaiming the God’s Jubilee, His power to set free those in bondage and to bring restoration.
But I came also with something for Fidel Castro. I purposed that if God would open the door, I would give Castro a Bible, a letter, and a shofar, the Trumpet of Jubilee, the vessel used in biblical times to proclaim freedom throughout the land.
When we landed in Cuba we had to pass through an inspection with Cuban police going over everything in our luggage. The one thing that held us up was the Jubilee shofar. They didn’t know what it was and approached it as if it was a dangerous weapon. I decided to take the shofar, and show them how it worked. I sounded it. They looked stunned, but then let us go.
In the following weeks, I spoke in churches and gatherings throughout the island to give hope and encouragement to the believers of Cuba. In place after place, Cubans came up to me and those with me to tell us that they saw visions of us coming specifically as the magi.
It was then that I realized the full significance of the word given to us before we left. As the magi had come to an unlikely place to witness the newborn life of God, so had we now come to Cuba to witness God’s newborn presence there, a revival was about to break forth. Our gift to the believers of Cuba was to strengthen and encouragement them in the Lord.
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At the same time, as in the account of the magi, there was opposition to that new life. There was a throne and an aging king on that throne who was fearful that the presence of Jesus in his land would be a threat to his regime. To the people of God, the magi’s visitation was a sign of hope and blessing. But to the king it was a sign of alarm, something to be closely watched, and ultimately a portent of the end of his reign.
The month long celebration of the Gospel opened up at the island’s eastern end as I sounded the shofar in the first public evangelical gathering in the public squares of Cuba since the revolution. The communist officials watching all around me inquired why I was blowing the “Jewish horn.” Someone else was watching – Fidel Castro.
The events were being televised throughout the island. The word soon came back to us that Castro wanted to know “Who is this man with the beard causing such a ruckus? And “What is this Jewish man doing in the churches?”
It turned out we were retracing the footsteps of Castro’s revolution – but with a very different message and of a very different revolution. I was proclaiming the Gospel and the power of God for Jubilee, for freedom and restoration.
As I spoke of these things, my translator, a man named Felix, would hesitate at times to repeat them, knowing that in virtually every place, there were secret police and informers planted in the gathering, ready to report any word considered suspicious. And just as potentially dangerous, all over the island, on church buildings, houses, walls, and taxi cabs there were now posters plastered proclaiming the words ‘El Jubileo Vienne!” “the Jubilee is Coming” or “Freedom and Release is Coming,’ above a photograph of me sounding the shofar.
THE BOY NAMED ‘FAITH’
On the way to Havana, I picked up a book about Fidel Castro and religion. Most people don’t’ realize that his name, ‘Fidel,’ means ‘faith.’ But as a young boy, Fidel had begun to lose faith. He told the story of how each year, at Christmas time, he would write a letter – to the magi. And every year he would get a cardboard trumpet. When he realized the magi didn’t exist, he began to lose his faith. So it all started with a boy named ‘Faith,’ who first began to lose his faith over the magi. From this would ultimately come atheism, a revolution, prison camps, firing squads, and years of suffering for an entire nation – even the banning of the celebration of Christmas. And now here we were, coming to Havana, as magi and I happened to be led to bring Fidel Castro the gift of a trumpet – of Jubilee.
‘AND EVERY MAN SHALL RETURN’
The last stop before Havana was the province of Camiguey. It was my translator’s last night of ministry. He had to return to America the next day. I had no idea when I first asked him to join me that he had been born in Cuba, and that his family lost everything in the revolution, their possessions and their ancestral land. They fled to America where he grew up. There he came to the Lord. His dream and prayer was that one day he would return to Cuba and to his family’s land and his lost inheritance, and there build a church in which he would preach the Gospel. It was ironic that as I was preaching the Jubilee to Cuba, the restoration of every man to his ancestral land, the one translating that message had himself lost his ancestral land in the Cuban revolution.
That night, they took us to the place they had chosen for us to minister in, a farm in the middle of nowhere, so much in the middle of nowhere that they had to transport the people to us by cattle car. Before ministering, I looked for my translator. He was wandering around the farm in a daze. I asked him what had happened. He had just discovered that the land to which we had been brought to minister – was his ancestral land. It was his family’s farm, the inheritance he had lost in the revolution, the place he had for years prayed he would one day return to.
So here on his last night, God had brought him home. It was what I had been preaching all along throughout the land, and what he had been all along translating – the Jubilee, the restoration – “And every man shall return to his property.” And so his journey ended with the fulfillment of that Scripture, and that prayer. And as for the church he had dreamed of building there, it had already been built, and was waiting for him to enter it. That night he preached inside the church of his ancestral land. He didn’t realize it until that moment but he had been a sign to Cuba, all along, with every footstep, of restoration.
THE CASTLE AND THE STAR
We arrived in the capital city of Havana. Every day there, I would gaze out my hotel room to see a centuries-old Spanish castle by the sea.
I was strongly led that we had to go to the castle and see what was inside. So we did. We walked through its ancient chambers. As we turned a corner, we suddenly beheld a massive painting that stunned us. The painting depicted the magi. It turned out that the castle we were in was one of the central national symbols of Cuba. And it was called “The Castle of the Three Kings.” And in the painting, standing next to the magi was a boy holding in his hand an object that looked like a shofar – the very thing I was now bringing to Havana.
The magi followed a star. That was the one thing missing from our journey. We joked, wondering if we would somehow see a star in Havana. We decided to go to Revolutionary Square, to pray on the site on which the evangelical gathering would take place the following day. We entered the Jose Marti Memorial, the towering monument that marks the square. The government official inside began to reveal that the tower had been built so that from the sky it would form a star.
The tower was built as a star – and as the star of the magi, it would mark the final destination of our journey – actually the final two destinations: the square in which God’s people would gather together the following day, and the Presidential Palace from which Fidel Castro ruled the island. And as in the nativity account, the star would be linked to the presence of Jesus on one hand – and an aging king and a dying kingdom on the other. And it was then that we realized that we had been gazing at the star every night as we looked out the window of our hotel room in Havana, ablaze with light in the darkness, marking our final destination.
The following day we stood in the midst of the multitudes gathered for the first evangelical celebration in Revolutionary Square. Fidel Castro also stood there witnessing the gathering that filled the plaza that had once been filled with Cubans welcoming his revolution to Havana. Now it was filled for a different purpose. It was there that arrangements began that would open the doors for the fulfillment of our mission.
THE PROPHETIC SIGN AND COUNTDOWN
I received an invitation to enter the Presidential Palace. I walked past the guards and was greeted by one of Castro’s assistants, who informed me that the “Comandante” was very much aware of me and was watching my journey through Cuba. I was brought inside and presented the gifts, the Bible, a note with a message I had written him, and the shofar, the Trumpet of Jubilee. Castro would later send word thanking me for the gifts. He also wanted to know how I could be Jewish and believe in Jesus. The Central Communist Committee also sent word inquiring into the shofar.
Giving the Trumpet of Jubilee to Fidel Castro was a biblical reminder of the power of God for freedom, and a prophetic sign that His power was greater than the bondages of man. The Cuban revolution had caused millions of Cubans to lose their land, their homes, their ancestral possessions, their inheritances, and their freedom – the very thing the Jubilee touches and undoes. It had all begun as the Batista government collapsed and Castro and his guerillas swept into the city of Havana at opening of 1959.
But the Jubilee Trumpet was linked to a mathematical formula to the ending of bondage The Jubilee contains a very specific countdown: “You shall count off seven sevens of years – seven times seven years – so that the seven sevens of years amounts to a period of forty nine years. Then you shall sound the trumpet….” (Leviticus 25)
What happens if one takes the biblical countdown of Jubilee and applies it to Castro’s reign, starting with the year 1959, the moment Cuba lost its freedom? Count “seven sevens of years, seven times seven years – so that the seven sevens of years amounts to a period of forty nine years.” And to what does that bring us? It brings us to the year 2008. Did anything significant happen in 2008? 2008 was the year that ended the rule of Fidel Castro. His entire reign, from 1959 to 2008, comprised the seven sevens of years, the 49 years of the countdown, ordained by God of the Jubilee – to the release of bondage.
What if one gets even more specific – to days and dates? What if we begin the countdown from the specific day Castro came to power and count a Jubilee of years and a Jubilee of days, seven sevens of years and of days. Castro’s reign began specifically on New Year’s Day, January 1, 1959 in the wake of Batista’s fleeing the island. If one starts the countdown from that day, January 1, 1959, and counts a Jubilee of years and a Jubilee of days, seven times seven years and seven times seven days, the countdown culminates on February 19, 2008. Was there anything significant about that day? After nearly a half century, the rule of Fidel Castro came to its end on February 19, 2008, the exact day. On the day of release, Castro was released from power, and Cuba was released from his reign.
When I asked the Lord for what word I was to give to Cuba, when I proclaimed the Jubilee throughout the communist nation, when I gave to Castro the Trumpet of Jubilee, and when the posters were plastered throughout the island proclaiming “El Jubileo Viene!” “The Jubilee is Coming!” behind it all was a mystery and a precise prophetic countdown to the end. The Jubilee was indeed coming, and it would come for Castro’s rule at its biblically appointed time. His reign would be timed to the end of the 49th year and to the 49th day, and not a day longer – the mathematics of the release from bondage ordained three thousand years earlier. That day would bring the most enduring iron grip of power held by any man over any nation in modern history to a definitive end.
THE OTHER KING
I have sometimes wondered since then, when Fidel Castro looked at the Jubilee Trumpet I gave him, did he ever realized its significance. I pray that before he left this life he turned back to the One from the boy named “Faith” once turned away, and found forgiveness for his sins.
In the Biblical account, the aging king Herod dies, but the new born life of Bethlehem, the life of Messiah, goes on – to overcome kingdoms and change the world.
As I watched the thousands of Cubans paying their last respects to their aged leader, as they lined up to enter the Jose Marti Memorial, I wondered if they realized that they were heading to a star. Fidel Castro’s funeral took place at that same star monument which marked the destination of our journey and which, as the star of Bethlehem had marked for the magi, had marked for us both the ending of a dying kingdom, and the birth of God’s presence, the light of hope, a light shining in the darkness.
Castro has passed away, as did King Herod, and as do all the kings and rulers of this world, and as do all those who, as Castro once did, tried to stamp out the Gospel. But the revival that began under Castro’s rule has not been stamped out. For kings and kingdoms, rulers and tyrants, all pass away, but the name of Messiah remains.
Castro has died – but Jesus lives. And as the dictator’s ashes were laid to rest in the city of Santiago, the presence of Jesus was and is as alive throughout the island as much as it ever was. It is even at this moment transforming the lives of Cubans in a way that Castro’s revolution, with all its guns and powers of state, never could. The Jubilee that began on our visit to the island has not stopped, but continues.
The King lives … and the Revolution goes on.
– Jonathan Cahn