U.S. regulations with Cuba hinder Florida Conference recovery efforts

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

U.S. regulations with Cuba hinder Florida Conference recovery efforts

Sept. 24, 2008   News media contact: Tita Parham*
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0916}

NOTE: See related story, “Florida United Methodists help Cubans recover after Gustav, Ike,” at: http://www.flumc2.org/FCNN/articles/000050/005092.htm

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

The relationship between the United States and Cuba has come to the forefront of discussions within the Florida Conference in recent weeks as decisions about how help the island nation recover from hurricanes Gustav and Ike collide with political realities.

Leaders of The Methodist Church in Cuba said many of the churches in the country’s capital have collected mattresses, clothes and other supplies for people affected by hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Photo courtesy of The Methodist Church in Cuba. Photo #08-1004. Web photo only.

The key difficulty relates to a license issued by the U.S. Department of Treasury that allows funds to go directly from the Florida Conference to the Methodist Church in Cuba for ministry, such as disaster relief. In 2006, the conference was not granted a renewal of its license.
“The Florida Conference is applying for a license to send funds directly to The Methodist Church in Cuba under the laws administered by the Department of the Treasury,” said the Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, director of missions and justice ministries for the Florida Conference. “This way there is a guarantee that the donated funds of local churches for disaster relief will go directly to our partner church in the Cuba-Florida Covenant. There is no guarantee that the license will be granted, so we apply with the intent to receive it and cover the process with prayer that it will be granted.”
Rankin said both Cuban and Florida Methodists are very frustrated with the situation.
“The apostle Paul reminds us that when a sister or brother is suffering, we all suffer, and so it is with the sisters and brothers in Cuba who have been through two powerful hurricanes within two weeks of each other,” Rankin said. “ … It is hard to bear from Florida when you know the names of churches, individual Christian friends and neighbors.”
“I know that the political part of this is very complicated but … this is a humanitarian issue and this is the life of hundreds of thousands of people at stake,” said the Rev. Rinaldo Hernández, pastor of La Nueva Iglesia Cristiana del Doral in Miami.

Hernández said friends in The Methodist Church in Cuba have sent him updates on damage to the island, reporting that “nearly 500,000 dwellings (have been) completely destroyed” and as many as 10 Methodist churches have been damaged or destroyed.

Several weekends ago, Rankin attended a Cuba-Florida Covenant task force meeting with about 25 other people to discuss the Florida Conference’s response to the recent hurricanes. He said Linda Zelenka, the North East District’s coordinator for the covenant, gave a “powerful reflection” regarding the covenant’s effectiveness.

“We must become Cuban and experience the suffering and poverty that they experience, to become closer to them, though we are separated by barriers of geography, culture, political policies,” Zelenka said in her message. “And in doing so, we really begin to live the life of the Christian disciple, following Christ’s teachings. Spiritually, we become one in Christ and one with each other (Cuban and Floridian) as we walk together with the covenant.”  
Reneé Kincaid, secretary of the task force, said the group prayed on behalf of the Cuban people.
“What we did at the task force this weekend was a lot of encouragement — we went to the chapel on Saturday morning, and we were there for an hour and a half praying and pleading, and then we went to a meeting … discussing what we could do … because the covenant is forever,” Kincaid said.
Meanwhile, the issue of licenses for sending aid to Cuba drew the attention of MARCHA, the Hispanic/Latino caucus within The United Methodist Church. MARCHA is urging the U.S. government to issue licenses quickly to humanitarian organizations that want to provide aid to Cuba.

Additionally, the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church called on United Methodists to act on behalf of the Cuban people, including praying for them, responding to UMCOR and others seeking assistance, staying abreast of current events, and exploring issues that cause divisions among all people.

Methodist church leaders touring the eastern province of Cuba provide mattresses and other supplies to people struggling to recover from hurricanes Gustav and Ike. “Our aid did not cover all needs, but the (supplies) were like a ray of light that emerged in the midst of so much darkness,” leaders wrote on The Methodist Church in Cuba’s Web site. Photo courtesy of The Methodist Church in Cuba. Photo #08-1005. Web photo only.

Rankin said a collection of materials and supplies taking place in the South East District will be funneled through reputable organizations that already have the Department of Treasury license. Meanwhile, Hernández, who is spearheading that district’s collections, is hopeful the conference will be granted at least a temporary license by the time the collection is completed at the end of October. Hernández said some denominations recently have had success in obtaining licenses.
In a fact sheet issued Sept. 9 by the State Department, the U.S. government said Cuba declined the U.S.’s offer of humanitarian assistance. Additionally, the fact sheet said, “For a period of 90 days, the U.S. will expedite applications for immediate humanitarian assistance of up to $10 million per NGO, subject to appropriate restrictions.”
Financial donations for recovery efforts in Cuba from Florida Conference churches and individuals totaled $26,000 as of Sept. 23. Those wanting to contribute should make checks payable to Florida Conference Treasurer and designated “Disaster Relief, Methodist Church in Cuba” in the memo line. Checks should be sent to Florida Conference Center, 1140 E. McDonald St., Lakeland, FL 33801. 


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

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