“Our primary objective was and is, bringing the body of Christ together, whether it’s 2 or 200 or 2,000.” – Paul Northrup
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” – Ephesians 4:11-12a NIV
Vera Northrup waited in the hospital. Alone. Because it was evening, every doctor was at home and in hiding. But babies wait for no one. And so it was that a blind Cuban mid-wife was all the hospital could offer to safely usher Vera’s newborn child into the world.
It was 1958 in mid-revolution, as far as anyone could tell. The Castro brothers were holed up in the mountains outside of Sancti Spiritus. Rebellion has its cost and death waits for no one. Doctors were often kidnapped from the hospital at night to treat wounded rebels, and so doctors avoided hospitals at night. Rebels had little use for a blind mid-wife.
At that moment Paul Northrup was well aware of the impending birth of his third child. He was preaching on a radio broadcast, part of his mission to the beloved Cubans he’d served. The work of sharing the Good News of Christ waits for no one, though paradoxically the message itself seems to have a perfect timing all its own.
“Our primary objective was and is, bringing the body of Christ together, whether it’s 2 or 200 or 2,000”, said Paul Northrup in an interview in 1997. “July of ’51, I went to Cuba with a fellow classmate, I stayed in the city of Trinidad for a year.” Two years later, newly married to Vera, Paul returned to begin mission work. That formative time would become the foundation of Gospel Relief Missions.
The dangers they faced daily during the revolution in Cuba taught them that God would never forsake them. Early in their ministry, Gospel Relief Missions was formed to train national leaders and encourage the whole body of Christ.
“Near the end of the revolution, Sancti Spiritus was where [Fulgencio] Batista’s military staged a showdown with Castro. When the airplanes came in strafing with 50 caliber guns, we all climbed under the bed,” said Paul. The strafing only slowed down Paul and Vera’s efforts to establish churches and bring believers together. When rebels would nervously question the Northrups at gunpoint, “We would give them Bibles,” said Paul.
Eventually Castro’s revolution succeeded. About that time, Paul’s health required a trip to the states with the full intent to return. The Northrups trusted God to continue the work they’d begun together. God, as it turns out, is a more than capable ministry partner! Interestingly, when they left for the states, they straightened the living room, made the beds and cleaned the kitchen. An ordinary trip away, except, they never returned to their home. They instead followed God’s calling to their next chapter, a new work in Mexico. In time, Paul would come back as frequently as possible to visit with and encourage the Cuban believers.
These days, North American ministries must abide by specific requirements to go to Cuba. It’s not easy, unless like GRM, you’ve got the wisdom and relationships to do it right. Paul and Vera Northrup’s vision has played out over and over. Whether 2 or 200 or 2,000, even today, Gospel Relief Missions brings believers from different cultures together.
Go to Cuba and you’ll find a body of believers, vibrant and alive. The courage to show up in spite of a revolution, birth a child with only the help of a blind mid-wife, plant churches and build Christian unity are just some of the many reasons the Cuban church is thriving. GRM was there at the beginning, and is there still as a friend to all who believe in Christ.
– The first in a series of chronologies written by Lou Douros, a friend of GRM.