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20 Pastors and spouses killed in Cuba plane crash

A firefighter works in the wreckage of a Boeing 737 plane that crashed in the agricultural area of Boyeros, around 20 km (12 miles) south of Havana, shortly after taking off from Havana’s main airport in Cuba, May 18, 2018. Alexandre Meneghini, Reuters

Christians in Cuba are mourning 20 evangelical pastors killed in a plane crash on their way home from a retreat. It’s the deadliest aviation accident in Cuba in nearly three decades, local media reports.

Flags flew at half-mast in Cuba on Saturday marking the start of two days of national mourning while authorities worked to recover evidence from the site of the crash.

The ten married couples, co-pastors from Holguín in East Cuba, had spent three days at a Nazarene seminary in the island’s capital. They sang and prayed together on the bus back to Jose Marti International Airport to catch their return flight, Cuba Church of the Nazarene President Leonel López told Nazarene Communications Network (NCN) News.

But they never made it back home. The 20 were among more than 100 people killed Friday when their Boeing 737 airplane crashed shortly after takeoff from Havana around noon on Friday. Just three survivors remain.

“In this moment of anguish and pain, we ask for your prayers and help to be able to get through this situation together,” Mr López was quoted as saying.

The number of bodies recovered by authorities matches the tally of those on board, and that many of them were affected by the trauma of the crash, the flames and the heat, and the identification process could take at least 30 days.

Among the casualties were the district president, secretary, and treasurer for Nazarene Missions International, NCN News confirmed. The Nazarene victims leave behind eight children between the ages of 8 and 17, and several of the couples also had adult children.

“This has been a difficult time for the Church of the Nazarene, but in these times of difficulties and adversities we know that God is still in control,” Carlos Saenz, regional director for the Church of the Nazarene Mesoamerica, which dates back more than 70 years in Cuba, told Christianity Today.

The cause of the crash is still unknown, although the plane was nearly 40 years old and reportedly in poor condition. It had been rented from a Mexican owner and flown by the Mexican airline Global Air.

“We pray to the Lord to fortify the hearts of the families of our fallen brothers and sisters and as well the entire Church of the Nazarene, not only in Cuba but in every place that it’s found,” said the Aliazana Evangelical Latina (AEL) in a statement. Among the country’s growing evangelical population, more than 9,000 Cubans belong to about 100 Nazarene congregations on the island.

“Our Council of Churches joins the greater Cuban community in grieving today the profound loss of human life and asks for prayer for the three survivors that are in critical condition and have been hospitalized,” said the Consejo de Iglesias in a statement.

While church and state have come in conflict in Cuba, Christianity there has been undergoing an improbable and impressive revival, as CT has reported. At the time of Fidel Castro’s death in 2016, the Protestant population had grown to more than 5 percent.

Additional Reporting by Christianity Today.

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