I’d like to introduce you to some of our partners – brothers and sisters in Christ – who I had the pleasure of meeting in Cuba.
Meet Mercedes of the Presbyterian Church of the Resurrection. Eighty some years old and still going strong. She’s always been strong. After the Cuban Revolution many pastors fled – or were forced – from the country. At her church in the city now called Juan Gualberto Gomez, she was the only one left. A leader from the seminary came through and asked her, “Do you want to close the church?” She answered, “Close the church! Of course not. I’m here. We’ll build the church!” And she has. Today there is a small but thriving congregation there providing spiritual nurture and meeting physical needs of poor people in the town. Mercedes makes clear in word and deed: Christians serve a God of resurrection and of life.
Meet Raúl Suárez, founder of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Havana. The center was formed originally for exchange between Afro-Cubans and African-Americans. Now its mission is much broader. Using the Paolo Freire adult education model, the Center trains neighbors to participate in creating their own future. Raul meets you with great energy and fierce belief in the utopia of the kingdom of God and God’s justice. He fears no human. One of the few who’s been able, since early post-revolutionary days, to talk to both church and government, this story is told of him: As a member of Parliament, Raúl participated in the Cuban debate on the death penalty. As a Christian, he opposed it. He was the only one against. The voices on the other side were raised against him and mounting, getting personal until one hand was raised – that of Fidel who says, “Stop. He is our pastor. We must listen to him.” In the end, the death penalty remained legal; however, there were no executions in the country for the next ten years. We were told, “Raúl Suárez is the best of what it means to be Christian and a Cuban.”
Meet our partners at the Kairos Center. Kairos is the driving ecumenical force in Matanzas. During what is known as “the special period” – an economically desperate time after the fall of the Soviet Union – many people went to churches for hope and betterment in their lives. The church where the Kairos Center is located grew from 30 people to pews full by 1994. They started social projects to keep people busy and fulfilled, beginning with craft workshops related to Christian and Cuban symbols. Now Kairos programs include: liturgy courses of national scope, music classes and lessons, a drama group, child liturgical art because so much worship is adult centric. They have a Spirituality workshop called God’s Potters and a workshop for women in needlecraft. They have projects involving children 6-12 years old as well as ecumenical meetings and inter religious dialogue for different age groups including senior citizens. Senior citizens have been especially renewed through the work of the Kairos Center which now takes its show on the road offering music and art in nursing homes.
I didn’t know what to expect in Cuba. What I experienced is a vibrant, hopeful church witnessing to God’s justice and mercy for young and old in a context of great economical challenge. There is much we can learn from our partners. I am grateful to be sharing God’s ministry with them.