Where to Begin? Part 3

This is the last of a series of articles written by Ginny Derrough after fifty seven years of being away from her birth country of Cuba.

I asked the pastor we visited what he felt people in the US needed to be aware of pertaining to Cuba. 

He said, "One must make clear the struggle of the Cuban people to the American public.  Things are not what they seem.  We live under restrictions that are not seen when people visit but we definitely live them.  We are constantly being watched. It is imperative for people to know the truth about Cuba and lend their aid."

 He talked about conditions and how challenging things are.  Between rules, lack of resources, lack of materials, not knowing who to trust --- it is so very difficult to get anything done in Cuba. 

I personally had been asked numerous times over the last few years to visit Cuba.  My reply was always, "No, thank you. My parents sacrificed too much to bring us here and they did not want to support that regime in any way, shape or form. It is still the same regime and I would feel I was betraying my parents in traveling there."  

 In sharing this sentiment with him, he replied, "When you come or send supplies, you are NOT helping the government.  You are supporting your brothers and sisters to continue to win souls for Christ.  The church is the only hope for Cuba."  He has mentioned this several times. 

Our friend does everything with an eye to minimize government attention.  You are not allowed new construction so, when they purchase a house that is to become a house church and they want to build an addition, they apply for a repair permit.  They do all the work behind the scenes not even wanting the church members to know what is being done as they don't know who or how many snitches might be in attendance. Even with visitors from outside the country, they have the mentality of trust no one.  It takes time to recognize just who you can trust. 

Cubans still have to use a ration card for monthly food allotment.  They are allowed, per month, per family member: 

  • 4 lbs of sugar, 5 lbs of rice, 1/2 lb black beans, 4 oz. of coffee, 1 roll of bread per day.  

  • Women are allowed 10 feminine hygiene pads/ month/ qualifying female. 

  • There may be more but these were the ones that they shared.

The taxi driver, a known and trusted person to our friend, who drove us to the airport at the end (and was NOT a fan of Americans) said he felt he had a good life in Cuba.  He had enough to eat and was content.  However, he shared both his daughter and his son have left Cuba for Switzerland and, in time, he and his wife may follow.  He said, "Just when we think things are going to get better, they tighten the screws on you and it gets tough again."  So much for having a good life.

So, IS change coming?

The government is taking steps to make changes to the articles in the Cuban constitution.  

 One of the changes is being spearheaded by Raul Castro's daughter and it pertains to the acceptance of instituting homosexual marriages. 

The churches have united and  created a movement called  "Original Design" (picture attached). The signs read, "I am in favor of the original design. Family as God created it. "  All denominations have  joined in this cause and, in one week, they collected over 179k signatures from church members and others to submit to the government in opposition to the change being proposed.  

Cuba has about 11 million people with approximately 6 - 7 million adults.  So, 179k signatures may not seem like much but, given the shortage of time to collect the signatures and the fact that the churches achieved solidarity on the stance is impressive.   Even more so, THIS IS THE FIRST TIME IN THE HISTORY OF THE REVOLUTION ---- 59 years--- that any group has stepped up and gone against the government on any stance.  I take that back, it has happened before and those who didn't agree with the government's position were hauled off to jail, shot or just mysteriously disappeared.  

Education in Cuba is obligatory in schools sponsored by the state and, of course, they all follow curriculum dictated by the government. Should this change take place in the constitution, it would become part of the schools' curriculum.  The church has considered what its next step might need to be and they have positioned themselves and have already approached the government requesting that if this article passes, the churches be allowed to have their own schools and teach their standards.   

WOW!  BLOW ME AWAY!  THIS IS UNPRECEDENTED!

Again, no one, in the history of the revolution has come against the government making any demands and have lived to tell about it or prosper. Not only have they done this in writing but they have organized actually demonstrations to proclaim their "Original Design" position. 

Our friend feels with as much exposure as Cuba is getting, the government would likely not crush this movement in order to show the world that they are really open minded and allow freedoms in Cuba.  However, they may not necessarily grant any of the requests and bring stricter restrictions to bear on them. 

You can see very well why our friend says, "The church is the  only hope for Cuba."  It is the only organization that has dared to step up and make requests/demands of the government. This is HUGE.  

 Pray for the church in Cuba and that its leadership will not bend to the mind set of the political environment but will stay true and be energized for the cause of Christ.  

 

Where to begin? Part 2

This Cuba Connection is the continued insight from Ginny Derrough after fifty-seven years of absence from her home country.

 Where to begin?

The church in Cuba is central to its worshipers.  People don't just go on Sunday for one hour.  They seek each other's support throughout the week and help each other out with any need.  It's not only a place of worship but it's the place where they socialize, where they care for one another, where they do life. 

Time is a suggested frame in Cuba.  You set a time and people will show up within an hour or so of the time announced --- maybe later. 

For church activities, they do show up on a more consistent basis. However, when you say prayer meeting is at 8pm, people will start showing up around that time up to an hour later.   

We had worship  meeting on Tuesday night.  Went from about 8ish to about 9:30ish - 10..   They love praise music and they love it LOUD.  Anyone who can get their hands on a sound system does so and they crank it up to the max.  We were asked to sit up front near the pastor and the worship team.  The LOUDEST section.  One thing for sure, you will NOT fall asleep during one of their services.  

The worship team incorporates liturgical dance as an offering to the Lord and multiple leaders come to the podium to share, pray, give thanks, preach. 

During the morning on Tuesday, we met with a district superintendent of one of the areas and a couple of other pastors.  They are all struggling and everyone is hoping you will help out --- either with supplies or, primarily, with monetary support. I think it is so draining to figure out who to help and with how much and for how long.  

That afternoon, we visited 3 mission house churches. 

 The primary pastor we visited is dynamic.  He is so very resourceful and appears to have endless energy and not get weary at all --- at first sight.  After a few days, you do get to see that the struggles are many and they do weigh on him.  It gets discouraging.  His health is taking a hit. He has to be very careful and works hard to stay "under the radar" in order not to attract attention to himself and, potentially, get into trouble with the authorities. 

He has started 15 missions.  He has hand picked young couples or single capable men/women to lead each of the missions.  If it is a couple, they both must feel the call to ministry and work as a unit. This particular pastor is also very involved in the dynamics of  property acquisitions.  He studies the communities and looks for properties that are centrally located, that will be easy for people to get to and that are "sound" or as sound can be.   Most of these properties are in disrepair and need help.  Keep in mind this is a rural area. 

A "mission" is a house church. Most churches in Cuba are house churches.  Churches are not allowed to own property so, an the name of an individual is on the purchase of the property and the pastor lives in one half (or part) of the property and the rest is renovated to house the church.  When this pastor and whoever he is working with in purchasing a property, make a final decision,  the property is not titled in the name of the pastor that will be assigned there.  It will be in some other pastor's name.  He also will not talk to other people about the process or possibility  until the paperwork has been finalized. If the authorities or some other sources find out the church is trying to procure a property, they will try to road block the purchase. 

The pastors at the missions have attended a 2 year course.  They then serve the mission until the criteria is met. 

Once it's a church, the pastor then will attend a 4 year course in seminary --- 21 days twice a year for 4 years.

For a mission to become a church, it needs to meet two criteria:

1) must have 25 or more members 

2)  must have raised enough support (whatever that means). This is very difficult.  Everyone is struggling and a church really and truly cannot come up with funds to make the necessary repairs to the buildings, pay for its upkeep and pay a pastor's salary (20 pesos / month). Somehow, a number of them do by the grace of God.  The support partly is so they can have their own space.  The missions start out in rental homes. Sometimes they have to move.  The community at large will not really take them as seriously until the mission has a permanent place where the community  knows they are committed to being there. 

This is where the marvelous work of our SW District Coordinator comes into play.  Wish we had dozens like him but there is only one.  He does such a fantastic job of pairing up churches in our district with churches in Cuba to, at least, provide the pastor's salary and, hopefully, provide additional support. They become sister churches.  Of course, individuals have also made commitments to support a pastor or a church or provide funds for a water filtration system -- many, many different ways to help out. Each of our districts in the Methodist  church in Florida has a coordinator to do this but none of them take it as seriously and passionately as our district coordinator here in SW District.  God bless him and his wife!

The mission that captured my heart was in “Jesus Home” name changed for privacy reasons.  It is far south in the Sancti Spiritus district, on the coast. Every time a hurricane threatens, the entire town is evacuated.  The pastor is a woman and she and her husband are humble, kind people.  They felt a call to go there.  When they first arrived, they could not find a rental.  An ailing woman said she would allow them to move in with her and pay rent.  They paid rent AND took care of the woman so they could start the mission.  After about 18  months, the lady passed and a few months later the son decided to sell the house.  They then found a rental --- which they are in now -- but until they have a permanent place, they will not be taken seriously by the community at large who has  a "wait and see" attitude to see how long people are going to last. 

 The conditions in “Jesus Home” are very, very poor. Water surrounds them and the land is saturated.  This particular home is built up a bit more than the others and is centrally located right off the main road.  They have public water that is piped in 12 hours a day but, they also have a well that provides them with good water when the other is not available.  They have no refrigerator and the bathroom is in dire disrepair.  As with the other missions/churches, they live in half the house and the other half is where the church meetings take place. Still, this couple has chosen to remain and love this community.   Very, very humbling.  They need to purchase the home they are in to become a viable presence.  The home costs $2600.  On top of that, they will need funds to make repairs. I was so humbled and touched by these kind servants.  

These mission churches have so little and yet, when we stopped by, they were so hospitable and wanted to share what they have. One rounded up a basket of fruit for us.  At “Jesus Home”, they made us a flan and offered juice and cafe. So very giving.