by Dan Christopherson, Southwest District Mission Program, Inc.
www.christforcuba.com - Direct Line: 941-468-7209
JANUARY 2023 - How do you eat an Elephant?
Philippians 4: 6 & 7, Do not worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. 7. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace.
I have just returned from two weeks in Cuba with discussions with three new District Superintendents. The verse echoed through my mind as the District Superintendents talks about covid and the after effects. Plus the losing of leadership personnel with the migration to the United States. These are two new issues in my three years lapse I have not heard before. A long time friend and new District Superintendent “Pepe” in Holguin Norte start with his comprehensive list of concerns. Many are old time gremlins;
- Lack of food
- Absolutely no medicines
- Need of cell phones
We travel from Antilla in Holguin Norte on to Ciego de Aliva church in the district of the same name. Talks with another new District Superintendent we are sitting in front of a parsonage damaged by a hurricane seven years ago. Yes, you read that correctly. We have damaged parsonages and churches here in the Southwest District. What if I told you that’s the way it was going to be for the next six year? Trust me there would be a mutiny from within. But this is Cuba and that is just another “elephant” they deal with every day. This was the initial time the word “elephant” entered our conversion. We walked through the catastrophic remains of this once home of girls nine and ten years old. Seven years of rubble, weeds cover what was once a home filled with love. Further in the back yard was the shed that has been their home during this time. So we add another gremlin or elephant to this list:
- Parsonage and church repair
We traveled from there to Patria, I had visited with Hector and his family a few years ago. This time my heart was broken when I heard the news that his twenty year old daughter, three months earlier had die with dengue because of no medicines. A disease spread by mosquitoes totally treatable with common over the counter medicines. How could this happen in 2022? The answer is it’s Cuba, there is no medicines. As much as we do “we need to do better”.
On to the Sancti Spíritus district and another new District Superintendent. He had asked me, “what I wanted to see?” I told him, “I love the little church where no one would ever want to visit.” Well he did not disappoint me. We traveled for forty five minutes on a “Cuba path”, I can not even call it a road. I do not have much experience on a horse but trust me it could not have been worse. When we finally reached our destination standing on the street to greet us were a young pastor and his wife with one little girl in their arms and another by their hip. No his church was not the grandeur cathedral you see in Havana. Yet the pride on his face told me in his eyes this little church (La Sierpe) with dirt floor, split bamboo poles defining the walls, canvas roof with many holes lacked nothing. His heart over flowed with the love of Jesus Christ and was wanting to share it with others. What more do you need?
In conversation with the District Superintendent the list continues to grow.
- Travel cost for seminary students
- Lack of Bibles
- We need more water purification systems
After fourteen days in Cuba, much of it sounds familiar. So many elephants. So tell me, How do you eat an elephant?
We all know the answer but how do I tell Hector and his wife this?
Janet and I wish you a Happy and Healthy New Year.
AUGUST 2022 - Announcement!
The Southwest District Mission Program, Inc. is proud to announce a special addition to the Cuba Program; Dr. Joseph (Joe) Chirillo a long-time resident of Englewood, Florida. Plus, a member of the Englewood United Methodist Church. With his expertise in the medical field and knowledge of medicines he will be our Advising Physician. He will be facilitating our effort to a new horizon in receiving and the distribution of much needed medicines in Cuba. Welcome Dr. Joe!
JUNE 2022 - News out of Washington and Havana
The explosion at the Saratoga Hotel in the Old Havana section of Havana is a “blow” to Cuba in multiple ways. Even the novice traveler to Havana is familiar with Old Havana, the Capitol building, enchanting Saratoga hotel right in the heart of the city. Extensive renovations were nearing completion; in fact they were only days away from President Andres Lopez Obrador of Mexico ribbon cutting ceremony. The void of the Saratoga leaves a gaping hole in the prime tourist area of Old Havana.
Adjacent to the Saratoga is the Calvary Baptist church. The façade of the hotel was blown through the rotunda of the church causing extensive damage. Sorry to say the church is facing some unprecedented challenges for the foreseeable future. Many prayers needed for Pastor Alejandro Gonzalez and the Calvary Baptist church in Havana.
In the last couple weeks there has been some difficult negotiation and deliberation in Washington about present day Cuba policies. This is a political football that is being kicked around for nothing more than power and votes. It’s best I just report the changes or not and pray for wisdom.
Some of the pending changes:
- Lifting of restrictions on cash remittances
- The renewal of “People to People” educational travel to Cuba
- The gradually restaffing of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba
- The ability of flights from the United States to fly into other airports within the country
- Changing of the invitations to the Ninth Summit of the America’s in Los Angeles next month
- The extension of being able to take in medicines duty free thru December 31, 2022
Cuban diplomat Ricardo Alarcon who led the Cuba’s negotiations with Washington for two decades, concisely. Summed up the logic of engagement, “ We are two neighbors who have has abominable relations,” he said, “but unlike people, we aren’t able to move away.”
Two major contention points that has not changed: Removal of Cuba from the“Terrorism Country” list. Cuba was put on the “Terrorist list” by the Trump administration to make it difficult for the Biden administration to make changes. Now it is that political football being kicked to appease a voting block.
Lifting of the archaic sixty two year old embargo. Cuba has problems that far exceed the United States embargo. Tell me why we continue to give Cuba the excuse to blame the United States for everything. Just lift the embargo, is this going to solve all of Cuba problems? No it is not, so let’s just kick that political football down the road for another decade. It makes no sense.
APRIL 2022 - Side Effects
Another factor effected by the storages in Cuba is animal abuse that occurred in Sancti Spíritus, a province many of you have traveled. Through a publication on Facebook, the Antillean shared images of a horse that is used to transport people in the so-called “carts”, which collapsed in the middle of the street after its strenuous work in the sun.
It’s an enchanting ride through the city streets hearing the rhythm of clickety- clack of the horse’s hoofs. I must admit I have been on carts with six or seven people Americans plus the driver. Maybe even some luggage. The pace labors going up some inclines.
We have witnessed that during “normal” times the physical appearance of many fall short of being in good condition. In Sancti Spíritus and the rest of Cuba, animal-drawn carts abound.
According to the young animal rights activist, carts are used in Sancti Spíritus “to transport up to 8 and 10 people from one place to another and excessively heavy loads.”
A similar case was reported last September in Havana. At that time, a jurist reported a case of animal abuse that occurred when a horse lay on the ground with signs of fatigue.
The defenseless animal spent more than eight hours exposed to the sun and heat there, as its owner abandoned it at the scene after not reacting to the blows and kicks inflicted.
We can see what is happening to the equine cart haulers. What is happening behind closed doors?
A portion of this article originated in article from Havana Live.
2021 - Year in Review
Below you can see the activities and accomplishments in the year 2021. I have told you before I am a numbers person so these numbers are pathetic. You will see the word “canceled “ prevalent throughout the report, that is 2021. The highlights though few have taken us down a path less traveled. I also know I am not alone on this path; God can accomplish what man cannot. I put my faith in him.
One factor we are very proud of is three new sister church relationships. These are not made over night, some of these have taken years of cultivation and praying. I thank my staff for their persistence and patience during these very difficult times.
New Sister Church Relationships:
St James UMC Sarasota Ciego de Avila (Ciego de Avila district)
First UMC of Clewiston Pina Resurrection (Ciego de Avila district)
St. John’s UMC Winter Haven La Palama (Ciego de Avila district)
Reconnected Relationships: None
Lost Relationships: None
General Information on the District:
Number of churches in Holguin Norte District: 53
Number of churches in Ciego de Avila: 24
Number of churches in Sancti Spiritus: 12
Number of new churches (3 districts) 2020: 0
Number of Cuban churches (3 districts) with a sister church: 56
Number churches in the Southwest District: 72
Total Number of travelers that went to Cuba in 2020: 0
Number on Youth Trip: 0
Number of first time travelers to Cuba: 0
Number of churches represented in the travelers 0
Non-alliance travelers that went to Cuba: 0
Number of Cuban pastor visits to the United States and Southwest District: 1
Adopt a Pastor: The Methodist church in Cuba continues to grow so the churches without sister churches in Cuba also continues to grow. The Southwest District was blessed with establishing three new sister church relationship in 2021. This is a true blessing when you think churches struggling with the coronavirus here in the United States still felt the need to reach out to assist others less fortunate. Thank you, Southwest District.
The “Adopt a Pastor” Program continues to make sure every pastor in our three districts receive a salary. It took creativity to accomplish this in 2021. We thank God for doors he opening for us.
Number of churches in the district without sister church yet salaries all paid:
Holguin Norte: 11
Sancti Spiritus: 9
Ciego de Avila: 12
Bibles for Cuba: Because of the lack of trips this year we were not able to purchase any additional bibles. We have money in this account and look forward to our continuation of the disbursement of God’s written word, plus Galcom recorded bibles through out Cuba in 2022.
Out of state sister church trip: We were blessed with the opportunity to travel to Appleton, Wisconsin to promote the Cuba program plus assist with raising funds for their sister church Turiguano, Cuba in the Ciego de Avila. With a thinking outside of the box mindset this is a little church in Wisconsin were able to raise funds not possible under normal circumstances. Hallelujah!
Lisy’s Dream Daycare: I do not have much to report here. We do know they were closed for months due to the coronavirus. We have good people in place so we are praying they have been successful in the realignment of procedures to reopen as soon as possible.
Youth Trip: The Youth trip for 2021 was canceled.
October Cuba Event: We did not know how this event would go because it was our first back together event scheduled in year and half. It turned out great as eighteen churches were represented in attendance. A delicious BBQ pork lunch was served with raving reviews from all. Guest Speaker was Rini Hernandez and he kept people on the edge of their seats as he spoke about growing up in Cuba. Plus he spoke about the present conditions with the coronavirus, lack of medicines and food.
I spoke about the challenges of doing business in Cuba at the present time. We mentioned new avenues of sending funds and getting medicines into Cuba. All come with a cost that now seems to be the only option we have. This event was held as an informational symposium as per a fundraising option and was well received as such.
Summary and the future: In summary we are about to complete the second year in a roll of no travel, high stress because of the circumstances and conditions in Cuba. Though we are seeing cracks in the doors of sending funds and medicines into Cuba, it still takes time and money to complete each.
Chris Sherrod and I both agree with the travel cost, the unknowns with visas, the difficulties and restrictions of travel between districts, plus scarcity of food and gasoline there will be no group trips until after September 2022. We will continue to evaluate the situation and will keep you informed.
We are living in a changing world, changing atmosphere, changing churches and changing policies. Stay tuned as we adopt accordingly.