Delegation from the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference Visits Cuba

During our week in Cuba we visited ten Fellowship churches. The ministries we saw included an arts and spirituality center, work in prisons, a music school that is just getting underway, a cooperative farm, patio gardening, and outreach to the gay and lesbian community in Havana.

July 20-28, 2012
“Silver and gold we have not, but what we have we give you in the name of Jesus Christ.”  Acts 3:6 (adapted)
 
These words from scripture sum up our trip to visit our partners in the Fellowship of Baptist Churches of Cuba, July 20-28, 2012.  Seven of us traveled there from the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference:  Judy and Bruce Fryer from Trinity UCC in Collegeville, Rebecca Abbott from Heidelberg Church in Schwenksville, David Reppert from Emanuel UCC in Bridesberg (Philadelphia), Sylvia and Darryl Cruz from St. John’s UCC in Reading, and Rev. Geneva Butz from Tabernacle United Church in Philadelphia.  Everywhere we went we were warmly welcomed.  Doors and hearts opened to receive us in a spirit of sharing.   
 
Three Cuban churches that separated from the Baptist Church in Cuba founded the Fellowship of Baptist Churches of Cuba in 1989.  Now 42 strong and growing, the Fellowship currently has eight more churches preparing for membership.  The churches are very diverse—some are Pentecostal in nature, some follow liberation theology of Latin America, some are rooted in historic mainstream theology, and others are house churches.  In spite of their diversity, the churches are united in their mission and ministry—each seeking to serve the community in which they are located.    
 
During our week in Cuba we visited ten Fellowship churches.  The ministries we saw included an arts and spirituality center, work in prisons, a music school that is just getting underway, a cooperative farm, patio gardening, and outreach to the gay and lesbian community in Havana.   Several churches have water purification systems—and people from their neighborhoods come with plastic jugs to fill up—free of charge!  Many people are helped through this “living water” project.  
 
Everywhere leadership development--for both laity and clergy—is a priority.  At the ecumenical seminary in Matanzas, which we visited, there are only 22 full-time students living on campus.  However the seminary reaches more than 500 students (clergy and lay) who study in intensive courses lasting one full week on campus and in extension courses in regional areas.
 
Our visit to Cuba was impressive.  We marveled at all that these growing churches are accomplishing.  They are planting new mission churches and engaging new believers as they share their passion for Christ in the cities, towns, and rural areas of Cuba.
 
At the end of our visit, Rev. Manuel Delgado, Executive Secretary of the Fellowship churches, stressed four main foci which the churches are currently emphasizing in their ministry:

  • Diversity among the churches, while celebrating their unity;
  • Service in the community in which each church is located;
  • Theological and biblical formation of pastors and lay leaders;
  • The desire to partner with other churches outside of Cuba.

At the end of our visit, as we were evaluating our week’s stay, Rev. Delgado said, “We want to be open to the world so that other churches can give and receive from the Cuban churches.  Most people think that we have nothing to offer, but we have the desire to serve, to pray together, and to cooperate.  It is a sacrifice for churches to come and for us to welcome them, however the unity encourages us.”
 
The attached flier describes the Fellowship Churches:  their quest for unity, their local church independence, their freedom of individual conscience, their insistence on church-state separation, their emphasis on the full utilization of the gifts of women in the life of the church, their belief in the priesthood of all believers, their ecumenical desire to collaborate with other churches outside the Fellowship, and their emphasis on solid theological and biblical training for preaching, teaching, and worship.   Their values are in true partnership with the United Church of Christ.
 
Photo highlights:
 

Our group in front of the plaza of the revolution in Havana at the start of our trip.
 

Martin Luther King Center at the Marianao Church in Havana.  This Center hosts educational and training events for churches as well as for the broader society.
 

“Living Water” purification system at the Marianao Church supplies clean drinking water for neighbors.
 

Pastors for Peace were in Cuba while we were there.  The group of more than 100 North Americans delivered 50 tons of supplies to Cuba this year.  They traveled in brigade from Canada, through the US, to Mexico, where all the equipment was shipped by boat to Cuba.
 

San Jose Church where Rev. Manuel Delgado, Executive Secretary of the Fellowship of Churches, is pastor.  Afterward we enjoyed a relaxed meal with congregants.  A professional guitar player entertained us.


The Guanajay Church has a human development program in partnership with Bread for the World.  Church members raise vegetables in patio gardens and sell them at a reduced cost to their neighborhood through street vendors.


The pastor of Mt. Horeb Church in Bauta and his family.  Here the main emphasis is on evangelism.   The pastor is a barber and when people pay him for a haircut, he gives them a tract.  This church also shows outdoor movies to the community.


A woman reads poetry at the Shema Church in Havana, a house church where gay and lesbian members find a home.  We listened to original songs and poetry created by church members.


Mural above the chancel at the First Baptist Church of Matanzas, the oldest of the Fellowship churches, hosts the Kairos Center for liturgy, arts, and social services.   They work with the most vulnerable groups in their community:  Alzheimer patients, elderly people, people with disabilities.  Creative people and artists from around the country present programs for church, youth and young adults.  We purchased handmade items here.    Because First Baptist is the oldest church, they shared a bit of their history, especially what happened during the early years of the revolution when most people left the church.  There were just a few women left who kept the church open for worship, even when there were no pastors and no sermons to guide them.  In 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a severe economic crisis in Cuba.  There was no food, no clothes, no gas for transportation, etc.  It was then that people began to return to the church.  They had the desire for something more to sustain them during this difficult time of crisis.  In turn, the church began to creatively engage people in a new way of being church—more participatory and creative.


The Ecumenical Seminary in Matanzas has 22 full-time students, and reaches over 500 lay and clergy through extension courses in the regions and on-site intensive training.


Rev. Antonio Santana and his family in Matanzas where Tony in involved in an ecumenical ministry to prisoners and their families.  Slowly the church, through the prison ministry, is building trust with the government.


Judy Fryer always had orgami birds for the children we met.


The Arechavaleta Church in Matanzas and their pastor, Rev. Remberto, whom they call the “Road Runner” because he travelled throughout Cuba building up the church in the early years.   Now in declining health, he was recently blinded and had a leg amputated. 


The pastor of “Christo Vive” Church in Sabanillas, a rural area outside Matanzas, with Rev. Darryl Cruz from St. John’s UCC in Reading who gave the evening sermon.  The church was packed with people on a midweek night to greet and worship with us.   They greeted us warmly.


Pinar del Rio, four hours west of Havana, where Pastor Jose Luis and members of the Adonai Church grow rice, vegetables, fruit, and sugar cane on a farm outside of the town.  They also have thirty dairy cows that they milk twice a day. The government owns the farm and buys a percentage of the milk and vegetables at a discounted price for nearby hospitals and schools.


Pastor Jose Luis and his family who are very involved in the ministry of the Adonai Church.  The pastor’s wife coordinates a food ministry for the elderly, utilizing produce from the farm.  This church is preparing to start a Music School for their town.  They have an excellent women’s quartet that we heard sing during worship.  
 

The entire group at the ecumenical Seminary in Matanzas, plus one of the professors and Rev. Delgado.