Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary - April 2016 Update
A New Cuba Emerges even as the Church Remains Faithful
Four in 1980 and four hundred and forty-four in 2016. Quite a big difference, yes? And, amazingly, it represents the somewhat exponential growth of the number of students being served by the Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary (SET) – our Presbyterian partner in Matanzas, Cuba! The Rev. Dr. Carlos Emilio Ham, who was installed as president this past June, has experienced it all. Our Outreach Foundation team met with him on the verdant seminary campus which overlooks Matanzas Bay. In the small lecture hall with the windows still open before the late-spring heat and humidity return to the island, Carlos shared stories of those earlier years when there was a stigma for being a Christian. Certain professions (like journalism and psychology) were barred to them, and even during mandatory military service, Christians were relegated to their own battalion.
But through those years the seminary, not unlike the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba which it serves and of which Carlos is a pastor, has consistently found new ways to be relevant for the Gospel. For the seminary (the only ecumenical theology institution on the island – its board is guided by Episcopalians, Quakers, Baptists, and Presbyterians) this has meant developing new courses of study such as Prison Chaplaincy and Science of Religion and offering a full range of programs from certificates to Master’s degrees which are aimed at both equipping the laity and producing pastors. It has also meant bringing theological education to its students rather than insisting that its students reside on campus. Some programs are offered remotely with professors traveling, setting up shop in Havana for a multi-week intensive or flying to the far east of the island to do the same.
Some students come to campus for a week’s intensive every few months, and then return home to read, write and practice what they learn in their contexts of active ministry. We met one of these students, Lester, who is pastoring a church in Iguara, a small town of about 4,000 near the center of the island.
Three years ago, Lester was teaching computer science and serving as an elder in his church in Santa Clara. Then a local pastor, Rev. Edelberto Valdes, discerning in him both spiritual maturity and a gift for leadership, asked him to consider pastoring this small church which had been founded about 20 years ago. It had been without a resident pastor for most of that time. Lester accepted the call, and God has blessed his work at the church. Attendance is up and children and youth ministries are thriving. Prayer meetings are held each week in three different homes, and a much-needed outreach to the elderly brings food to their homes and picks up their clothing to be washed. Every two months, Lester must take a series of buses in order to make the 200-mile journey to the seminary where he will put in 14 hour days in order to cover two classes in one week. The program will take him a total of five years. He is deeply committed to both his studies and the little church he serves.
As attention focuses on the changes anticipated in Cuba now that relationships are improving between our two countries, the seminary continues to train young and men and women, as it has for 75 years through good times and bad. Want to play a strategic role in encouraging the growing Church of the “new Cuba?” Join us in partnership with the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas!
Associate Director for Partnership Development
Amount needed in 2016
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