Cuba Trip Report
Twenty-eight women “hitting the road” together is not the simplest thing to pull off, but it certainly provided some wonderfully rich opportunities to build friendships and share faith with fellow Presbyterians from 14 different congregations from California, Washington, Minnesota, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia.
On October 27, our “Faithful Women” mission-vision team arrived in Havana to begin a week of exploring an enigmatic country while getting to know the work and witness of our partners there, the Independent Presbyterian Reformed Church of Cuba (IPRC) and the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas. Along the way we celebrated Reformation Sunday with the thriving congregation of the Luyano Church in Havana and were welcomed by its pastor (and the current Moderator of the IPRC), the Rev. Daniel Izquierdo. We had dinner on the airy patio of the Varadero Church - just a few blocks from the ocean - while its pastor, the Rev. Joel Dopico, updated us on his just-completed visit to the east part of the island. Rev. Dopico, in his role as the President of the Cuban Council of Churches, was part of a delegation of church leaders sent to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy and found over 76,000 homes destroyed.
We settled in, comfortably, for four days at the seminary and were joined by 25 Cuban woman from Presbyterian, Episcopal, Quaker, and Methodist congregations who participated with us in presentations and small-group discussion focused on how we stay spiritually focused and energized for the life of faith to which we have been called. Two small books which were available in both English and Spanish (Time Bandits by Stuart Briscoe and A Little Flask of Oil by Jill Briscoe) provided common ground for our conversations with a Presbyterian Cuban pastor, the Rev. Izet Sama, setting up one, and Nancy Worth, one of our U.S. women, the other. The Rev. Dora Arce Valentine and I moderated the two-day gathering.
During our time at the seminary we learned much from its Rector (and the host of our visit) Dr. Reinerio Arce, about the historic and strategic role which the seminary plays in equipping pastors and lay leaders for the church in Cuba today. Founded in 1946 by Presbyterians, Methodists, and Episcopalians, the seminary now serves most of the Protestant denominations on the island by offering not only the traditional residential programs on the campus but non-residential and extension programs at various sites in Havana Province to the west and Holguin Province to the far east.
Responding to the changing needs of the churches, recent programs of degree and diploma study are designed for Sunday School teachers, pastoral care for those reaching into local prisons, and specialized training for those serving congregations with deaf and blind members. During a question and answer session with some of the students, we gained insight into the perceived challenges and opportunities these soon-to-be-pastors anticipated such as how to do evangelism within a largely atheist context.
As Presbyterians, we were eager to learn more about the IPRC and grateful that Rev. Francisco Morrero, the General Secretary/Stated Clerk, was with us at the seminary because he also serves as the Dean! Spread through three presbyteries, there are 51 congregations - 33 of those are fully organized with sessions and another 18 are missions, on their way to organization. With a shortage of pastors (20 serving all 51), most seminarians are also sent out on weekends to serve.
One of the highlights of our time in Cuba was a visit to the town of Jagüey Grande, a 2 ½ hour drive from Matanzas, past fields and citrus orchards. Rev. Morrero is also serving as interim pastor here and accompanied us to meet with a group of women who awaited our arrival and greeted us with joy-filled hugs. Although there had been a small Presbyterian presence in this town of about 25,000 since the 1940s, it wasn’t until 2001 that an actual congregation was organized. When God brought rapid growth, the house in which they had been meeting was “swapped” for the current piece of property which had only a ruined, roofless building on it. As worship was being held under a make-shift thatch canopy, The Outreach Foundation lifted up the need to some of our U.S. partner congregations and now a beautiful new sanctuary gives witness to the church’s presence in the town! The congregation continues to grow and has active youth and women’s groups.
To God be the glory!
Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development