Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary - October 2018 Update
Ricardo Jorgé would preach in the town square and the priest in the adjacent Catholic Church would ring the bells to drown him out. Jorgé would speak more loudly as hundreds gathered around him. The bell tolled more loudly! A family near the square offered their home for worship, which was soon too small, so another house was purchased for this purpose. A neighbor child (Carlos Camps, later to become a pastor) came to Mercedes’ home and brought siblings to Sunday School. Sadly, within only a few years of the “Glorious Revolution” of ’59, most had left that thriving church, fearful of the hostility and discrimination which the new communist government exhibited towards Christianity. Mercedes was one of the few Presbyterians left in town – Mercedes was the church in Sabanilla. In ’84 a seminarian arrived (Francisco Marrerro, later Dean of SET) and services were held in Mercedes’ home for four years. Neighbors would bring chairs. “We gathered to know Christ,” she said. A small sanctuary was built in ’96. They named it Resurrection Church because “it had risen from the ashes.”
Just last year a dilapidated house next door was purchased, thanks to gifts from First Presbyterian Valparaiso and First Presbyterian Fort Worth, so that this 36-member congregation can live into their vision for ministry to the elderly and to youth and so they could accommodate a Living Waters for the World system which makes clean water available to the community. “We want Cuba to know Christ,” Mercedes concluded.
So, what does this story of Resurrection Church in Sabanilla have to do with the Seminary in Matanzas (SET)? Well, quite a bit. Because this is exactly the context for which most of the seminary’s graduates are being prepared. It is always inspiring to spend time in Matanzas with the Rev. Dr. Carlos Ham, the President of SET, and to be reminded how this “outpost of ecumenism” (i.e. training pastors for Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist and Quaker congregations of Cuba, as well as many smaller denominations) uses its small, spartan campus to make a big impact for the Kingdom in Cuba. There are currently only 15 students in residence (seven are Presbyterians!) but the seminary serves over 550 students in diploma and degree programs spread around the island, most of them “aimed” to train lay leaders for the Church. With a crippled national economy, few of the students can take classes without scholarship support, and so the seminary must raise 95% of its budget from outside the country. But we were reminded of how gifts from partners like The Outreach Foundation go far in the Cuban context because the annual budget for SET is only $300,000 – for the entire seminary! [The annual budget for Princeton Theological Seminary exceeds $50 million…. million.]
Carlos reminded us that studies are not the only part of the education of these pastors-in-training: “Formation and service are the pillars of our seminary. Not only do students spend most weekends deployed to a congregation that is without a pastor, teaching and preaching, but back in Matanzas, they volunteer in the local orphanage and/or children’s hospital and participate in some of the cultural and artistic events for which the city (nicknamed The Athens of Cuba) is famous.”
One of the highlights of our time at SET was a Q and A with the students. Gathered in the only large meeting room on campus, we began with introductions: Yoelkis, here with his wife and daughter, had studied to be a lawyer and was the first blind student to study at SET; Adrianna was an elder who had already served as a lay pastor in her church when she felt the call to ordained ministry; Roxana was a Quaker from the eastern side of the island – both her parents had been pastors; Aneer, an elder at his large Presbyterian church in Cardenas, was drawn by the diaconal emphasis of the seminary; Susanna had worked as a mechanical engineer before coming to seminary – her weekend assignment was at the Resurrection Church in Sabanilla!
Returning to the story of Sabanilla, Mercedes, as we were leaving, encouraged us to come back next year: “I will be 90 years old then!!!” And she surprised us with two sprightly jumps in the air to prove, I suspect, that God still had plans for her for a while and she would be here to welcome us. May God preserve Mercedes so that she may soon see a full-time pastor installed in her church – and that would be worth THREE jumps, for sure!
Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development
Read more about the Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary HERE.
The Outreach Foundation is seeking gifts totaling $40,000 for programs and scholarships.