The continued insight from Ginny Derrough after fifty-seven years of absence from her home country of Cuba.
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!
Nearly all the house churches we saw had roof leaks. All of them needed repairs of one type or another. At one, the pastor said when the hurricanes come, he (and some members of the church) gets up on the roof and removes the corrugated metal panels so they won't get blown away. After the storm passes, they put them back up. Of course, this means that the interior has been totally soaked and wood rot starts setting in. Between wood rot and termites, some of the structures are just not safe. So, in this specific location, they need to make repairs in hopes of selling that property and buying a better one that is sturdier. The new location they have their eyes on is more centrally located, has a big yard where they could hold some services outdoors and have fellowship time, and is in much better condition. They can purchase that other property for 20k. They might be able to sell the one they are in for about 7 - 8k.
The mission that captured my heart was in Tunas de Zaza. 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 Tunas de Zaza 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. You will see a picture attached --- she is very short --- and round as she is short. I just love her!!
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 Tunas de Zaza, they made us a flan and offered juice and cafe. So very giving.
On Thanksgiving Day, our dear pastor friend has instituted a Thanksgiving Day in all the churches he's served. He has a meal prepared and goes all out. He gives the history of Thanksgiving in the US in the church bulletin and encourages the people to consider all they have to be thankful for. All of the mission churches are invited to take part. Worship (yes, VERY loud) started around 11ish and lasted until about 2 - 2:30. Lots of singing, dancing and myriads of people coming to the front to testify and give God glory and thanks for all He has done in their lives. This, of course, is not a holiday in Cuba so people had to request time off work or school. Some traveled 4, 6, 10 hours. Those who traveled the farthest came the day before. After the worship service, food was passed out and we sat on our benches and ate and visited.
Another interesting item in worship is that they wave the Israeli flag. The Cuban church has great respect for Israel as they consider them God's chosen people. In my opinion, I think they also identify with Israel as a people oppressed, enslaved, persecuted who put their trust for deliverance strictly in their God.
Our friend will say over and over again, the church IS the only hope for Cuba. It will only be free when it accepts the freedom Christ gives, not any type of governmental freedom. True freedom will follow as governments turn their hearts to the welfare of their people instead of their own and that will only happen when Christ captures their hearts.
Next up --- is change coming?