Many Baptists think of vocational evangelist as preachers and worship leaders who are platform personalities for special meetings at local churches in the U.S. However there are evangelists who travel outside North America to minister. One evangelist who spends half of his ministry outside the U.S. is Michael Gott. Gott is no stranger to Oklahoma Southern Baptist churches. Since the early '70s he has shared in hundreds of churches predominately in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
Many of these churches have heard Gott share about his ministry to Eastern Europe prior to the collapse of communism. He knew political change was in the wind for Europe because of the power of the gospel and the principles of liberty founded on the truths of Scripture.
Now Gott's international ministry is focussed on the island nation of Cuba. How did he go from Europe to Cuba? Gott answers by saying, "About ten years ago, I was preaching in Eastern Europe. The Cuban government exports people for education. They sent somebody from Havana to Warsaw and he heard me preach in Poland, of all places. He came up to me and said, 'You need to come to Cuba.'
"There was a dramatic moment when I was spending time meditating and praying about God's will for my life. I had an impression: You will be in Cuba before next December. Within days, a church in Texas brought a Cuban pastor over for medical help because the Cubans couldn't provide it. I got a phone call, and he said, 'I've got an invitation for you.' And, so, I took that invitation."
Gott tells that Baptist churches in Cuba have labored under tremendous political trial. The Cuban government has resisted any kind of growth in the Baptist churches. No church buildings have been enlarged. Permission must be granted to put new bathroom fixtures in the toilet.
"What Baptists have started are house churches." Gott tells that in one church there are as many as ninety house churches. Gott says, "The mother church says to these people, 'We don't even want you to come to the mother church because we don't want it to be evident to the Castro government, or to the Communist government, how effective we are at reaching people.'"
Gott began preaching in the house churches and eventually was invited to speak to the annual Cuban Baptist Convention, which was held less than 500 yards from the national capitol building. Gott reported that in the congregation was the assistant minister of religious affairs, a very powerful person who has offices not far from Castro's office. The government official came up after the service and embraced Gott. The man said to Gott, "Thank you very much for being loving toward the Cuban people."
When asked what kinds of ministry Gott does in Cuba, he says, "We're trying to take in medicine free of charge to Cuban people and we're distributing it through the regional hospitals. But also through the Baptist churches and Baptist doctors, so when the churches open their doors, medicine is available. This kind of ministry is very important in Cuba because of the high unemployment and poverty."
Gott describes the poverty, "The Cubans make twenty cents for an eight-hour day, and the average Coke costs eighty cents. If you work real hard for four days you can afford to buy a Coke.
"Secondly, the Cubans, for the last thirty years, have been forced to learn Russian. They hate it. They realize English is the language of money. It's the language of their future. So, we get university professors, mayors of cities, hospital coordinators, and university teachers to come and learn conversational English. We build a bridge of trust into their life and quietly share the gospel.
"While I was there the last time, our evangelistic association was told that the reason the Baptist seminary cannot grow is there's no student housing," Gott reported. "So we initiated a project to build a wing on the Baptist seminary for student housing with forty very spartan-type rooms."
When asked if Southern Baptists have any others at work in Cuba, Gott shared, "We're much more prepared, and, probably, we learned a great deal from what happened in Eastern Europe. We have no Southern Baptist missionaries there at this time. We have an International Mission Board liaison that goes in and out from time to time, like I do.
Gott says, "There are more open doors to do evangelism in the world, and more people are accessible to the sharing of the gospel than at any time in our lifetime. The tragedy is that there are more open doors than there are people to go. And, even in Eastern Europe today, there are opportunities.
"It's a wonderful thing," continued Gott, "that Jerry Rankin and some of the very visionary leadership recognize that we need to do everything we can now to evangelize the world, to go through these open doors. We realize that mobilizing people to do partnership, mobilizing direct missions, is not now any longer in conflict with our principles of world evangelism, that Southern Baptist missionaries could never win the world. They lay a wonderful foundation and provide a framework for reaching millions of people, but we're going to have to have a lot more people involved in world evangelism than we've got right now."
Gott added, "The most effective evangelism that is being done in the world today is done in the poorest countries, so that it would never pay for itself.
"When I read Michael Green's, Evangelism in the Early Church, where he says that there were evangelists in the early church, but these evangelists went where Christianity was the weakest, not the strongest. It dawned upon me that a lot of people involved in evangelism today determine they have arrived when they get invited to go to one of our larger churches. I saw that Paul's statement 'I die daily' must be superimposed over the work of the vocational evangelist.
"You must go into the most needy and the most under-evangelized places of the world. We must get back to selflessness in world evangelism. Churches need to be challenged that we spend a great deal of money on ourselves. And, even though we're giving a great deal to world evangelism in comparison to other evangelical groups, the fact is that we've only skimmed the surface as to sending personnel and the money that could be given to evangelize the people of the world."
John Yeats is editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger.