Out of Style?
by Juan Sarmiento
Traveling to Cuba seems to be “in style” these days. With the easing of historically imposed restrictions by our government and the ensuing re-establishment of airline operations, the island is drawing increasing numbers of visitors from the U.S. Being there gave me a sense of the fast pace with which change is taking place: More and more of the architecture of the capital is now illuminated in ways that highlight its impressive contours, appealing restaurants are proliferating, newly installed digital screens announce the cultural offerings and the emblematic cabs from the 50’s and 60’s are now joined by a considerable number of recent models.
Recent changes in international relations have also had significant impact on the lives of Christians in Cuba.
- Seriously affected by state restrictions and the mass migration of members and leaders, churches – including Presbyterians – seemed to be destined to close down. Since the 90’s, they have experienced a surprising surge in membership.
- Cuba is the only country in the world that has received three papal visits in the last 15 years.
- Previously limited by the government, due to the economic impact of the withdrawal of Soviet led industries, the contribution of Christians in service to the most vulnerable in society is now widely welcome and celebrated.
- The enrollment of The Outreach Foundation partner institution Seminario Evangélico de Teología in Matanzas has grown from four students to around 400 students in the last decades.
The main focus of my visit was to interact with a group of seminary students from both the U.S. and Cuba about the subject of Mission in Context. Throughout the many conversations I sensed a sentiment of cautious optimism in regard to the many shifting realities. Uncertain about the long-term effects that the current changes will have in their society and whether the trend of economic openness will continue, they affirm their trust in the God who has been faithful in times of great pressure and scarcity. My heart was touched by hearing them offer prayers for our country, the transitions it is undergoing as well as our new president.
I am deeply thankful for the steadfast witness of our Cuban brothers and sisters even in times when most people in the country thought that being a Christian had gone “out of style” and when being identified with a faith community brought about severe social repercussions and even incarceration. They remind us that God’s mission continues in spite of changing social, political, economic and cultural realities. I hope that we may join them in recognizing that Christ’s love is as needed in the world as it has ever been and that we may be as committed as Cuban Christians in sharing it with others. Watch for my upcoming reflections on this trip.
Associate Director for Mission