Cuban Methodists rejoice, praise God, despite poor conditions

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Cuban Methodists rejoice, praise God, despite poor conditions

April 24, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando  {0280}

NOTE: The italicized introduction was written by Renee Masvidal Kincaid, secretary of the Cuba/Florida Covenant Task Force.

An e-Review Commentary
By Carolyn Smith**

Since 1997 when the Cuba/Florida Covenant statement was signed by both the Florida Conference and Cuba Methodist Church bishops, many church members have gone to Cuba on Covenant caravans (mission trips). This is a very serious commitment for a renewed church-family relationship between the Florida Conference and the Cuba Methodist Church. In 2003 more than 30 caravans (of approximately four to eight people each) traveled to visit their sister churches in Cuba in their designated districts.
For many, these are their first trips abroad on a short-term missionary venture. Many have gone on mission trips to other countries, and, yet, their experiences with their Cuban brothers and sisters are special and unique.

The following are the comments of one member, Carolyn Smith, who went on her first caravan to visit sister churches in Pilon and Mota in the Sierra Maestra District last October. The caravan included four people: three went to Pilon and Mota and one went to Las Palmas — sister church of First United Methodist Church, Seffner.

Coming from the mountains and coal mining country of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., my trip to Cuba was a unique experience. Even though I have traveled in numerous parts of the world and the United States, it was still quite different to see how Cubans in our sister churches live.

We encountered the Holy Spirit, alive and well and living in the Methodist churches in Cuba. Family values are strong, with children eager to learn about God and know Jesus.

MOTA, Cuba — (L-R) Carolyn Smith and Millie Carey join Juan Carlos, pastor of the church in Mota, and Yamilel Oran Oliva, a member of the church, on a ride in the Cuban countryside. Photo by Dania Sellers, Photo #05-0157.

The people live in very poor conditions, but keep their homes clean and scrubbed. They recycle everything and repair old cars with pieces of hose, cables and other materials. One man was given an old tractor when the sugar refinery closed. He had an old car sitting in his yard without any engine or transmission, so he put his family in the car and towed it with the tractor. Most vehicles were Russian, German or American makes from the '50s and '60s. Many roads and side paths have no center line, no guard rails, no lights and many potholes. Transportation breaks down often, and they make frequent road repairs with available tools and spare parts.

Their lives are centered in worshipping God reverently several days a week and long hours on Sunday. They all pray and fast for the Florida churches on Tuesdays. Their delight is preparing dramas, dances and special programs for the annual feasts during Christmas, Easter and other special times of the year. Their creativity and imagination in producing these programs with so few resources is so amazing and awe-inspiring.

Most of them do not have jobs, or they work for a meager salary (about $6 a month) at a government job. They rely on government rations to supply their daily needs. The rations are basically monthly small amounts of rice and beans. Beef, chicken and other meats are rarely given out. Cuban women are good cooks and really stretch the meager rations they are given. There is limited refrigeration so they use their ration allotment daily. Pilon and Mota are located near the sea so they do some fishing to supplement their diets. Their water comes from a community well, with small pumps attached to an uncapped hose to a barrel. They save water in buckets when it rains. Special bottled water is provided for visitors to drink and use, even for brushing our teeth.

One of the wonderful characteristics of the Cuban Christians is their humor and the joy in their heart. They enjoy worshipping and praising with loud singing and dancing, rejoicing in His love. The sister churches were so excited to welcome the Keystone caravan, and each one of the churches roasted a pig as a celebration (this is their demonstration of welcoming love).

MOTA, Cuba — The Methodist church in Mota. Photo by Carolyn Smith, Photo #05-0158.

I taught Sunday School at both churches, sang a song in English ("If You're Happy and You Know it Clap Your Hands"). It was such enjoyment to take part in their children's program by teaching them lessons from our Vacation Bible School booklets "Lava Lava Let Jesus' Love Flow." Several pages of the booklet were in Spanish, and the Keystone children added stories for their friends in Cuba. I preached a sermon on "Are You Going to Heaven?," using a text from Jim Bakker and several scriptures on the Royal Roads of Romans.

We went to visit some of their missions in the nearby fields. Church members are charged with the responsibility of going weekly to villages to evangelize. When they find a home with a Christian witness, they continue worshipping there every week with those who come to hear the Word of God. Pilon and Mota churches have more than six missions. The fire of the Holy Spirit is working in those pastors and "church missionaries," and there is growth and revival. Visiting their "shack-churches" and seeing their faithfulness in such a needy environment was incredible. The rooms in their homes are divided by ragged curtains, with no screens or locked doors. The electric wiring is primitive and the power goes out so often they don't call them "black-outs" but "light-ins."

Some families raise pigs, some chickens or a goat. After school lets out, they let the goats into the school's fenced-in yard to "mow the grass."

Our Pilon and Mota sisters and brothers gave us a loving and meaningful departure, asking that we not forget them and come back soon. Many letters and beautiful wooden carved items were sent to the Keystone church. By the time we left, we had given away everything we had taken in our bags - clothes, medicines, bed clothes, suitcases, etc. All I kept was my backpack to carry a few items. They were all so grateful with the small donations we were able to leave.

We thank God for the privilege of taking our churches' prayers, financial contributions, love and spiritual support to our sister churches in Cuba. I am ready to go back next year!


This article relates to the Cuba/Florida Covenant.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Smith is a member of Keystone United Methodist Church, Odessa, in the Tampa District.

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