This is a guest post from Rabbi Jonathan Cahn:
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 in the city of Goa with the sounding of the shofar. I agreed.
The Magi Prophecy
One week before leaving, a man from Cuba appeared at our service. He was a pastor who had been imprisoned on the island for his faith.
We were told we would go to Cuba as the magi, bearing gifts, and enter the palace of the king. 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 to the island’s communist leader a Bible, a letter, and a shofar, the Trumpet of Jubilee, the vessel used in biblical times to proclaim freedom throughout the land.
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 realised 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 them was to strengthen and encourage them in the Lord.
At the same time, as in the account of the magi, there was opposition to that new life. There was a throne and an ageing king on the 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.
At the island’s eastern end, near the port city of Barracoa, I opened up the evangelical celebration, the first fully public evangelical gathering in the public squares of Cuba since the beginning of the revolution (before such things were effectively banned. I opened it by the sounding of the shofar. 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. It was reported back to us that Castro was inquiring, “Who is this man with the beard causing such a ruckus?” and “What is this Jewish man doing in the churches?”
In many ways 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, hesitate at times to repeat them, knowing that in virtually every place, there were secret police and informers planted in the gathering. And just as potentially dangerous, all over the island, on church buildings, houses, walls, and taxi cabs there were 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’ realise 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 realised 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 who happened to be led to bring the gift of a trumpet—of Jubilee.
‘And Every Man Shall Return’
The last stop before Havana was the province of Camiguey. For my translator, Felix, it was the last night of ministry. The next day he had to return to America. 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 where we would minister, 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 Felix. He was wandering around the farm in a daze. I asked him what 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 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 translating—the Jubilee, the restoration—”And every man shall return to his property.” And so his journey ended with the fulfilment 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 inheritance. He didn’t realise it until that moment—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 as national symbol of Cuba and 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. 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. It was the star—as the star of the magi, it would mark the end and destination of our journey. It actually marked two destinations: the square in which monument of Revolutionary Square, the day before the gathering
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 ageing king and a dying kingdom on the other. And it was then that we realised that we had seen that star every night as we looked out the window of our hotel room in Havana, ablaze with light in the darkness, marking the final destination of our journey.
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 lead me to present the gifts to Cuba’s ruler.
The Prophetic Sign and Countdown
I received an invitation to enter the Presidential Palace. I was greeted there by one of Castro’s assistants, who told 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 sent 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 that power was greater than the bondage’s 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 undoes. It had all begun as the Batista government collapsed and Castro and his guerrillas swept into the city of Havana at the start of 1959.
But the trumpet was also linked to a mathematical timing to the ending of bondage. The Jubilee ordains a 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 49 years. Then you shall sound the trumpet….”
What happens if one takes the biblical countdown of Jubilee and applies it to Castro’s reign, starting with the year 1959, the moment when 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 49 years.” Where does it take you? It takes you 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 Jubilee—the release.
What about days? Castro’s reign began specifically on New Year’s Day, January 1, 1959. “Seven times seven” years from that day brings us to January 1, 2008, the end of the 49th year and the beginning of the 50th. If one then counts a Jubilee of days, “seven times seven” days into that year of release, it all culminates on February 19, 2008. Was there anything significant about that day? February 19, 2008 was the exact day that after nearly a half century, the rule of Fidel Castro came to its end. On February 19, the day of release, he released his reins of power. So from its beginning on New Year’s Day, January 1, 1959 to its end on February 19, 2008, Castro’s reign would comprise exactly “seven times seven” years and exactly “seven times seven” days—a Jubilee of years and a Jubilee of days.
When I asked the Lord for what word I was to give to Cuba, when I proclaimed the Jubilee throughout the island, when I gave to Castro the Trumpet of Jubilee, and when the posters were plastered throughout the communist nation proclaiming “El Jubileo Viene!” “The Jubilee is Coming!” it all contained a mystery and a precise prophetic countdown to the end. Castro’s reign would be timed to that countdown to end on the eve of the 50th day of the 50th year, and not a day longer – the mathematics of Jubilee. And as the countdown ordained by God leads to a release after 49 years, so at the end of that countdown, after 49 years, there would come a release, the most enduring iron grip of any ruler over any nation in the modern world came to its end.
The Other King
I have wondered since then, when Fidel Castro looked at the Jubilee Trumpet I gave him, did he ever realise its significance. I pray 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 ageing 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 under that same star which, as the star of Bethlehem marked for the magi, 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 in our visit to the island has not stopped, but continues.
The King lives … and the Revolution goes on.