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Restrictions make traveling to Cuba more difficult

Restrictions make traveling to Cuba more difficult

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Restrictions make traveling to Cuba more difficult

Jan. 5, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0600}

An e-Review Feature
By John Michael De Marco**

As it nears its 10-year anniversary in May 2007, the Cuba-Florida Covenant has found its work becoming more complicated by government regulations in Cuba and at home.

Florida Conference United Methodists participating in a caravan to Cuba in 2005 visit this Cuban Methodist church, one of the 237 Methodist churches and missions currently operating in Cuba. Photo by Carolyn Smith, Photo #07-500.

“It’s been going great,” said Renee Kincaid, a native of Cuba and secretary of the Cuba-Florida Covenant task force. “About two-thirds of the Methodist churches in Cuba have sister churches here in Florida. Every time a caravan goes everybody comes back real excited. It’s so definite that when someone goes it’s because God’s sending them.”
Kincaid adds, however, this is also a time of “spiritual warfare” for covenant participants. In 2006 numerous caravans were delayed or reduced by changes in how the U.S. Treasury Department issues the religious license required for travel to Cuba.

Until 2006 the Florida Conference was able to receive an umbrella license from the United States, which covered all conference churches. But as the government began cracking down on certain non-denominational or cult-like religious groups seeking a license, it also began requiring each individual congregation to apply for its own license. Churches must also continue pursuing a visa from the Cuban government in order to enter and leave that country.

“The religious visas from Cuba for The Methodist Church have diminished a lot,” Kincaid said. “There was a period between July and October when there were no religious visas given for us to travel there. Even though the Methodist bishop of Cuba told us, ‘Come with tourist visas,’ we didn’t want to do that. When you travel with visas for which the Methodist Church in Cuba have applied for you, you feel very protected there.”

A caravan consists of groups of people from different conference churches who travel together to Miami and Cuba and then travel their separate ways to their sister churches before reconvening for the journey home. In 2004 and 2005 about 30 caravans comprising about 140 people traveled from Florida to Cuba and back.

Last year 18 caravans and about 100 people visited Cuba, Kincaid said. Between 150 and 200 caravans have traveled to sister Cuban churches since the covenant began.
“The relationship between the churches and the government in Cuba is always a very difficult situation,” Kincaid said.
The covenant was birthed in an era when Cuba was feeling the pinch of the recent collapse of the Soviet Union and Cuban President Fidel Castro envisioned some economic impact from missionaries visiting his country. Despite that early attitude, the granting of visas is rarely a certainty. Conference churches typically submit their visa applications three months in advance of a planned trip and usually don’t know if they will be granted until just a few days before a trip — sometimes the day before.

“We pack on faith,” Kincaid said. “God puts a burden on each of us for different parts of the world. Once you’re there, the hospitality is great. We really don’t talk politics at all with our brothers and sisters there.”

About 237 Methodist churches and missions currently operate in Cuba. Kincaid’s church, Bayshore United Methodist Church in Tampa, has partnered with the Niquero and Media Luna communities. She encourages a lot of prayer to be directed toward those churches in covenant with their sister congregations.
Those participating in a caravan undergo an intensive orientation, meeting with the covenant team once or twice per month in the months preceding a trip. Kincaid invites those interested in learning more about the covenant to visit its Web site,

“We need to encourage those people that feel a burden to go to Cuba,” Kincaid said, adding, “God has blessed me with two wonderful countries, which I love equally.” 

This article relates to Missions/Cuba-Florida Covenant.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.