Caravans travel to Cuba, continue work of covenant



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Caravans travel to Cuba, continue work of covenant

April 21, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011   
tparham@flumc.org     Orlando  {0279}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

TAMPA — The number of Florida Conference teams traveling to Cuba is increasing as Florida United Methodists continue their commitment to being in relationship with their Cuban counterparts.
 
That relationship is part of the Cuba/Florida Covenant, which was signed by representatives of both the Florida Conference and The Methodist Church of Cuba in 1997. Since then, Methodists have traveled to and from the United States and Cuba to learn about each other's way of life and support each other spiritually.
 
Renee Masvidal Kincaid, a native Cuban, works to prepare groups of people, called caravans, for their trips to Cuba by helping them know what to expect when they arrive.

Kincaid is secretary of the Cuba/Florida Covenant Task Force, but she's also co-coordinator of the Tampa District's work with the Cuba/Florida Covenant, and in that role she's currently assisting a group of 14 people who are preparing to go to Cuba in July. The group includes four adults and 10 youth from three of the district's United Methodist churches: Palma Ceia; First, Lutz; and Hyde Park.
 
"For preparations, (there are) monthly meetings with the whole team, and we talk to them about the cultural differences and the purpose of the trips, which is to meet other young people," Kincaid said. "We are there to share."
 
Kincaid acquired some bilingual Bible studies for youth, and the teenagers will take those with them. They will also take along gloves, balls and "things to have fun with."
 

PILON/MOTA, Cuba — Cuban Methodists worship at a Methodist church here with members of Keystone United Methodist Church in the Tampa District. The Tampa group visited its sister churches in Cuba's Sierra Maestra District last fall. Photo by Carolyn Smith, Photo #05-0155.

The purpose of the caravans remains the same as it has since the covenant was ratified — "to share mutual cultural experiences and spiritual experiences and learn from each other," Kincaid said.
 
The 14 members of the caravan will be divided up and stay in two locations — Santiago and Niquero. Kincaid said conditions they will see include run-down buildings and possible electrical blackouts, but the spirit of the churches will be present in the midst of those challenges, she said.
 
"Churches over there are the life of the people — they have nothing else," she said. "They do dramas, sing, worship and dance, and the youth conduct services once a month."
 
The caravan members will carry water at all times for drinking and can expect to have some transportation difficulties, Kincaid said. Still, she believes the trips are not dangerous.
 
"It's safe — we have had a lot of caravans go," Kincaid said.
 
In 2003, 29 caravans traveled to Cuba. Last year, that number rose slightly to 31. The groups come from throughout the conference. Kincaid expects the redistricting and reduction of the conference's districts from 14 to nine, which will go into effect July 1, may change the dynamics slightly, but plans will be made to accommodate the reorganization. Her new district — South Central — will include 89 churches working together to continue sending caravans.

As the Orlando and DeLand districts prepare for the July redistricting, they have also made preparations for how they will participate in the Cuba/Florida Covenant, according to Marilyn Beecher, church and community worker for the Orlando District.
           
The new East Central District, which will include churches from the current Orlando District, as well as some from the Lakeland, Leesburg and DeLand districts, will receive retired District Superintendent Rev. Aldo Martin of Orlando as the leader of the covenant mission.

"Rev. Martin is very passionate about this and very knowledgeable and gives good leadership," Beecher said.

Martin, who was born in Cuba, will pursue plans to send a caravan to Cuba in either September or October. Beecher said she is seeking people who are willing to go on that caravan and then return to educate the churches in the district about the covenant.

"We're going to be thinking through who the strategic people are that would be able to come back and help us with speaking and get the word out. We're looking for some communications people," Beecher said.
 
Meanwhile, Nat and Mary Lou Natto, the Melbourne District's Cuba/Florida Covenant co-coordinators, continue their mission of increasing the involvement of churches in their area, as well as increasing the number of caravans. The couple attends Suntree United Methodist Church in Melbourne.
 
"My goal is to expand the contacts that we've made," Nat Natto said.
 
Of the 42 churches currently in the district, 14 have sister church relationships with churches in Cuba. Nat hopes that number will increase.
 
"We keep working on that," Mary Lou Natto said. "Nat and I have gone to several churches, and we show pictures, videos and give a talk."

PILON/MOTA, Cuba — Members head to worship during a visit from members of Keystone United Methodist Church, Tampa District, to their sister churches in Cuba's Sierra Maestra District. Photo by Carolyn Smith, Photo #05-0156.

While Americans are limited in the amount of cash they can take into Cuba, Nat Natto said other donations to the churches are just as helpful. He cites the example of giving his sister church, El Redentor in Holguin-Tunas, a television and video cassette recorder to show Christian videos to its community members. Additionally, Suntree United Methodist Church collected bags of children's clothing during last year's Vacation Bible School (VBS). The clothing is being delivered during caravan trips. The VBS children also decorated white t-shirts and hats for the children in their sister church.
 
Other material goods that are useful include toothbrushes, toothpaste, plastic bandages, coloring books and crayons. Even the sister church's pastor is the recipient of assistance. Mary Lou said the pastor requested books that will help him be a better pastor. In turn, she is sending him a Spanish copy of "The Purpose-Driven Church."
 
The Nattos traveled to Cuba in 2002 and believe they received many blessings from the trip.
 
"It's amazing once you've been down there," Mary Lou said. "Those people are so wonderful and so loving. They are so used to this (lifestyle). They're survivors."
 
This month, the Nattos are opening their home to Omar Perez, the assistant to Cuban Bishop Ricardo Pereira. Perez was scheduled to speak at their church at two worship services and a Sunday school class, as well as meet with other churches in the district during his stay.

Manuel Garcia, a member of Rockledge United Methodist Church in the Melbourne District, returned to his native country with one of the caravans in 2001, visiting the Holguin-Tunas District. Garcia and his wife, Isabel, were married in Cuba in 1957 and have lived in the United States since 1971.
 
"We received a lot from them in terms of their commitment to Christ and the way they work to expand the gospel of God in Cuba," Garcia said. "They are very active and very committed to the cause of Jesus."
 
Garcia said he made note of the "tremendous" needs in Cuba. As a result, his church has helped address some of the needs of its sister church, La Ceiba de Yareyal. So far, they've sent money to replace the church's roof and the barrier surrounding its large well.
 
Garcia praises the commitment to prayer of church members on both sides of the covenant.
 
"Every Sunday in our church we have been praying for them, and I know they are praying for us," Garcia said.
 
Garcia hopes to organize another caravan in the next year or two. He grew up in Holguin and was first invited to attend a Methodist church by an American missionary with the United Methodist Church when he was 12 years old.
 
The Cuba/Florida Covenant made official a relationship that had begun nearly 114 years before its signing. Prior to Fidel Castro's takeover of Cuba, relationships between Methodists in Florida and Cuba were strong. Between 1902 and 1968, both were under the same bishop. When Castro came to power, working together became impossible. The covenant renewed the relationship and sought to foster cooperative ministries between Methodists in Cuba and United Methodists in Florida.

For more information about the Cuba/Florida Covenant contact Renee Kincaid at rkinc@tampabay.rr.com or visit http://www.flumc.org/pathways_to_mission/cuba.shtml.

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This article relates to the Cuba/Florida Covenant.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Viera, Fla.




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