Cuban pastors 'not very optimistic' on expanding ties with American churches even with restored U.S.-Cuba relations

Cuban President Raul Castro (left, foreground) greets U.S. President Barack Obama (right) and first lady Michelle Obama (second from right) as they arrive for a state dinner at the Palacio de la Revolucion in Havana on March 21, 2016.Reuters

As the relations between the United States and Cuba have been restored under the Obama administration, American churches are looking at more opportunities to spread God's Word in the Caribbean island nation.

U.S. President Barack Obama landed in Cuba on Sunday to begin a three-day official visit, the first U.S. president to do so in 88 years.

The U.S. has eased travel restrictions to Cuba that facilitated Christian mission trips. However, the Cuban government still requires visas for every visit and restricts American missionaries to work only with one Cuban denomination per visit, CBN reported.

Cuban churches were earlier reported to have expressed cautious optimism about expanding ties with their American counterparts.

However, Brian Stewart, founder of Action Cuba who has completed his 50th trip to Cuba, told CBN that most of the optimism is actually on the American side.

"The pastors [in Cuba] that I spoke with a few weeks ago are not very optimistic," he said.

Stewart said the pastors told him that Cuba has a centralised economy, which means all cash donations sent from overseas will go to the Communist Party first.

"They are a little pessimistic that there will be a trickle-down effect on their daily lives," he said.

They are thinking that the opening could be short-lived if a Republican wins the White House as some of the Republicans' comments point that these new policies could be rolled back.

Stewart said what they're looking for is for the Communist Party to ease restrictions on American missionaries to do religious work in Cuba.

"We are heavily monitored. We have to get a visa. There are a lot of restrictions," he said.

He said Cuban churches now "are heavily dependent on help from America and other countries."

"They would really love to have church-to-church partnerships where people could come down and help them start agricultural projects and other micro businesses that would allow them to meet their own expenses to do community outreach," he said.