by Marilyn Borst
Unseasonably hot and humid last week, about 70 of us were uncomfortably packed into the only large (and un-air-conditioned!) classroom at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas – half of us had come from U.S. Presbyterian churches or organizations (like The Outreach Foundation) who had partnerships in Cuba and half were pastors or elders of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba with whom we partner.
It was the opening “thought starter” for the afternoon’s presentation on “The Changing Context in Cuba.” Rev. Izett Sama, pastor of a small town church in Los Palos, about 70 miles south of Havana, and the current Moderator of the Havana Presbytery (one of three in Cuba), posed the question. She knew it would elicit immediate response not just from the Cubans, but from the Americans who had made many journeys to the island (it was my 12th trip since 2000): “Using just one word, how would you describe Cuba?” My hand shot up in the air: “JOYFUL!”
My mind had quickly coalesced my experiences over the years with Cuba in its totality: a mixture of hospitality, music, dance, exuberance, playfulness, resilience, resourcefulness – and, in the case of the Church, faithfulness. And it really was the Church which I was envisioning when “joyful” came to my mind.
Rejoice in the Lord, always, again I say “Rejoice!” What Paul wrote to the Philippians is modeled for me by the Church in Cuba. Their resources are few, and, for much of the recent past, their position in society has been hard pressed. Many of their pastors have immigrated to the U.S. leaving too few leaders to do too many things. EVERYTHING takes almost Herculean effort on the island: from finding basic necessities to making your way from one city to another. Yes, there are political and economic changes ahead, but they will be incremental and it is still unclear as to whom these will actually benefit, at least in the short-term.
In the meantime, the work and witness of the Church continues, as it has under the worst of times. Despite the enormous challenges, the Church remains joyful. It is what inspires me, convicts me, encourages me – and draws me back to Cuba, again and again. Most importantly, it honors Christ who is the source of that joy. It may or may not have been St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.” The Church in Cuba has “shouted” the Good News in its joyful presence. Its neighbors have listened. And so have I.
Associate Director for Partnership Development
Want to meet the Church in Cuba? Join us in February 2017! Click HERE for more information.