Leaders of the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board have visited Cuba for the first time in 17 years.

Gerald Palmer, director of the missions section, and Oscar Romo, director of the language missions department, reported to the board here on their nine-day visit in October.

According to Romo, visiting Cuban Baptists today is "almost like stepping back 20 years ago into the Southern Baptist Convention." Unlike many SBC congregations in the United States, he said, most Cuban Baptist churches have maintained traditional programs.

Romo speculated that one reason for this is that the Cuban churches were so locked in that there was nothing that came in from the outside to influence changes."

There are some 13,500 Baptists in Cuba today in two conventions. The Baptist Convention of Western Cuba was once an SBC mission, while the Baptist Convention of Eastern Cuba was formerly affiliated with the American Baptist Churches. The Western Convention has about 7,000 members, while the Eastern unit has some 6,500. The SBC home mission staffers spent all their time with the Western Convention.

Romo and Palmer reported that all the 50 or so pastors and church leaders in the Western Convention who had been imprisoned by the Castro regime have been released. Many have joined their families in the United States.

"What happened in Cuba may have been the best thing that could have happened in terms of strengthening the indigenous church," Romo said. He indicated that the Home Mission Board is "hoping to establish such a relationship that we will not only be able to pray for our brothers, but to help as they desire."

Under present plans, the SBC Home Mission Board will attempt to reestablish and strengthen relationships with the Western Convention in Cuba. If mission work is reestablished, it will eventually be transferred to the SBC's Foreign Mission Board.