Cuba Update - November 2016
Preparing to Lead
Much has been in the news over the past months about the improving of relations between the U.S. and Cuba. For those of us who are not just “Cuba watchers” but “Cuba goers,” the changes occurring, as a result, are a mixed blessing. Charter companies were once the only way to get to the island and involved complex reservations and long check-in processes. Now, commercial flights have begun, and you can book online. On the other hand, more travelers are now flooding the island, both from the U.S. and elsewhere, making the limited number of hotel rooms both scarcer and pricier. Our partners in Cuba (the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba and the Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary) also see the “good and the bad” of it all. They welcome the new ease of travel between our countries, both for families and to facilitate church relationships, but they are concerned that a rapidly evolving economy will leave many even poorer than they are already are. All of these “sea changes” will eventually be worked out and their effects addressed… but in the meantime, the church moves forward in preparing new pastors!
The joyful occasion which brought me to Cuba on this, my 12th trip since 2000, was a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the seminary. Founded as a joint venture of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Episcopal Churches in Cuba, it now also serves Baptists, Quakers, Pentecostals, and many other denominations, with a dual focus on both lay and ordained ministry. Most of the students are being served through distance education programs (last year alone, over 400 of them!). Here, two of the residential students, Roxana and Adriana, are illustrative of the faithful young people whom God is calling to serve the church in Cuba.
Roxana Gonzalez Batista, “Roxy” for short, is an exuberant 17-year old Quaker from Holguin, in eastern Cuba. Her English is flawless, after spending an exchange year at a Quaker high school in Pennsylvania.Her gift for appropriating languages was also evident when her answer to my question about her favorite class in this, her first semester in the Bachelor of Theology program, was “Hebrew!” She felt a call to ministry since the age of 12 and cites her parents as role models; both are pastors in one of the dozen Quaker churches or mission posts.
At a young age and living away from home for a year while in the States, she adopted a verse of the Bible which still inspires her: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. It was also in the States and on a mission trip with her school to serve the urban poor in D.C. that the Spirit convicted her of the call to serve. After giving a cup of coffee to a homeless man, his simple response of “bless you” hit her hard, and underscored the mutuality of serving others in Christ’s name. She cites Daniel as her inspirational figure in the Bible because he defended God in the face of a hostile culture. Next semester, she looks forward to taking a course on “Theological English.” I surmised that she was already pretty far down that road…
31-year-old Adriana Guerrero Enriquez brings more experience to her studies but no less enthusiasm that Roxy. A Presbyterian elder and former Clerk of Session for her home church, Adriana had already served as a lay pastor for a small church in the village of Sabanilla, about an hour from Matanzas. She was also a pastor’s wife who had worked closely alongside her husband until he decided to overstay his visa and remain in the U.S. Now, as a single mother of her 11 year-old daughter, Patricia, they live at the seminary. Along with her full load of studies, she is doing an internship at a local Presbyterian congregation where the seminary’s president, the Rev. Dr. Emilio Ham, serves as pastor.
Adriana, who already has her B.A. in Social and Cultural Studies, began taking extension classes at the seminary when she was given responsibility to be the lay pastor in Sabanilla. While in a homiletics class, someone observed her gifts and encouraged her towards professional ministry. Her call, she shared, has been confirmed by her experience in Sabanilla and by her “deep dive” into theology classes at the seminary. Her favorite Scripture? Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23). It was crystal clear to me that Adriana’s heart was resolutely yielded to serve the church in Cuba. May God continue to inspire, energize and equip her – and all the dedicated staff, students and faculty at the seminary!
If your congregation is open to exploring partnership with the vibrant Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba – and the faithful Theological Evangelical Seminary in Matanzas which serves it – consider joining one of the two vision trips I will lead in February. Applications are due by November 30, and space is limited. More information is available on our website.
Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development
$40,000 for programs and scholarships at Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary
Read more about Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary by clicking HERE.