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CUBA CONNECTION

by Dan Christopherson, Southwest District Mission Program, Inc.
www.christforcuba.com - Direct Line: 941-468-7209

JULY 2022- Cuba Annual Conference

At Cuba Annual Conference appointment changes announced:

Major change in the Holguin Norte District the new District Superintendent is Yamel Miranda Romero (Pastor Pepe) of the Antilla church. Pastor Pepe has been at Antilla for eight or nine years so he will stay in Antilla now as the District Superintendent. With the District church being moved to Antilla from Mayari. I have known Pastor Pepe and his wife Zailidedios for years. Not to mention I have been blessed to eat Pepe’s cooking; he is a great chef. Change is inevitable, I am looking forward to working with Pepe.   

Antilla is an enchanting hillside village by the sea. The Antilla church is on a hilltop with uninterrupted panoramic views of the bay below. The sunsets from the parsonage dining room table are like a symphony of colors, which sings humans and other living things to sleep. What I am saying is I think you will enjoy Antilla!  

Pastor Alcibiades Negret Castro will continue to lead the congregation in Mayari. We wish him the best. 

In the Ciego de Avila District, the District Superintendent was not changed. Pastor Andres Rodriguez in the Ciego de Avila church will continue in his leadership position there. In Cuba, the District Superintendents have double duty as pastor also.   

Pastor Gaspar Garcia Cue will also continue his duties as District Superintendent in the Sancti Spiritus District plus pastor at Fomento Church. This district continues their tremendous growth with two Mission churches achieving the status of full-fledged churches.  

After a two-year absence of Annual Conference in Cuba I received reports of twelve hundred in attendance at Camp Canaan.

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.

MAY 2022 - Scarcity…..

In the last couple of years scarcityis a word that I would use to define the frequency of hearing “Good News.” I am determined to emphasize the positive factors that have developed through “challenging times." 

First, I want to congratulate Myakka City UMC, Myakka City, Florida, and Pastor Matt Curley for their adoption of Villamil, in the Ciego de Avila District in Cuba. As many of you already realize “the church that changes the most when you adopt a sister church in Cuba, is not the church in Cuba. It is the church in the United States.”  Welcome, Myakka City, I am excited to see where God is going to take you! 

First Sarasota UMC in Sarasota, Florida under the direction of Pastor Sam Wright has adopted their third sister church Cananova, in the Holguin Norte District. Thank you Pastor Sam and First Sarasota UMC. 

How is that for a start! Yes, you can have more than one sister church. 

To my surprise a couple of months ago Yunior Castillo Gonzalez fulfilled a lifelong dream to immigrate to the United States. Welcome Yunior! We in the Southwest District know Yunior well from his time in Mayari and are utilizing his many skills. Thank you, Pastor Rini Hernandez and First Cape Coral UMC for your assisting Yunior manipulating the challenges of a new immigrant. Here is the latest news; Yunior has been accepted to Asbury Theological Seminary!! This is a momentous accomplishment for this young man. I ask for continued prayers as he reaches for the stars. Go Yunior!! 

The Southwest District Mission Program is working in junction with the Atlantic Central District to send prescription medicines into Cuba. I thank Ginny Derrough and Ray and Barbie Dunfee for their assistance with this effort. These medicines originate in the Netherlands and, to avoid any connection to the United States, they will be shipped from the Netherlands directly to Havana, Cuba. Because some of the medicines are prescription medicines, we need a doctor in Cuba involved. The doctor and local District Superintendent will distribute the medicine. Minimum ordered is $2,500. So, this is not a small project. You cannot designate for one church or “your sister church.” But you can donate.  The more money we receive the more medicine we can purchase. 

Send donations to:
Southwest District Mission Program, Inc.
Attn: Dan Christopherson
125 Treviso Court
North, Venice, Florida 34275


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.  

 

FEBRUARY 2022 - Extraordinary Accomplishment

I have never acknowledged one church achievements over another church. I honestly believe it does not do justice to either church. Every church has a personality unique to their area, community, plus the people that make up the body of each “church.”  

Methodist United in Prayer (MUIP) is a Florida organization, yet this church is like no other church in the state, because it is not in Florida, it is in Michigan. The Wacousta United Methodist church is in Eagle, Michigan. That factor by itself shows the mindset of this church. Jerry Thompson that resides in Michigan during the summer and during the winter in Englewood experienced Cuba with me in 2019. He was blessed by the experience and took it back to Wacousta. Where he presented the program to his Church Council and “now here is the rest of the story.” 

A resounding yes votes came down from the Church Council. This church congregation of forty to fifty people led by Pastor Yoojin Kim spontaneously opened their hearts to the Cuba program. 

Jerry had met Pastor Raul at the District Superintendent’s in Moron, Cuba because he was the chef for Pastor Carlos and Deborah during our stay in Moron, Cuba. When asked if they could adopt Pastor Raul and his church at Chillante we just made it happen, Hallelujah. I was at awe watching God orchestrate this relationship. 

The church immediately started to raise funds to make life better for their brothers and sister in Chillante. Jerry was aware of the contaminated water situation in Cuba so one of the first projects was a new water purification system. With the establishment of this need they fulfilled that obligation within months. 

Jerry is a “potter” he spends his summer days with his hands in clay holding and molding articles of beauty to sell at his Fall Festival. While his hands are always busy his mind can wonder and with each sculptured piece Cuba thoughts poured through his mind. Why not make this a fund raiser for Cuba? 

Isaiah 64: 8 And yet, Lord, you are the Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We are formed by your hand.  

The potter had formed the idea of “Clay for Cuba Fall Festival.” The Wacousta United Methodist raised five thousand dollars ($5,000.) for their sister church in Cuba. Therefore, I have elected to bring this to your attention “Extraordinary Accomplishment” and that is the rest of the story! 



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:
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.