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Florida United Methodists help Cubans recover after Gustav, Ike

Florida United Methodists help Cubans recover after Gustav, Ike

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Florida United Methodists help Cubans recover after Gustav, Ike

Sept. 24, 2008   News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0915}

NOTE: See related story, “U.S. regulations with Cuba hinder Florida Conference recovery efforts,” at:

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

In the wake of recent hurricanes in the Caribbean, a cross section of clergy and laity urged Florida United Methodists to rally around the people of Cuba with their prayers and tangible support.

Nearly half a million homes in Cuba were damaged during Hurricane Ike, exacerbating an existing housing shortage and adding another blow to Cubans still struggling to recover from hurricanes that hit the island in 2004. Photo courtesy of The Methodist Church in Cuba. Photo #08-1001. Web photo only.

“In Cuba … the danger of hunger and illnesses is very real, and we need to act quickly and coordinate our actions in response to that challenge,” wrote the Rinaldo Hernández, pastor of La Nueva Iglesia Cristiana del Doral in Miami, in an e-mail to churches in the South East District of the Florida Conference.

“As the body of Christ, we have the evangelical and moral duty to mobilize … to help the ones that suffer,” he said. 

An estimated 450,000 homes were damaged during Hurricane Ike, with about 63,000 beyond repair, and nearly 200,000 people were left homeless, according to news reports. The Cuban government estimates damages from hurricanes Gustav and Ike at nearly $5 billion, making the storms the worst Cuba has experienced.

The first blow arrived Aug. 30, as Hurricane Gustav traveled along the southern coast of Cuba and made landfall on the mainland in the Pinar del Río province as a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds near 150 miles per hour. Eight days later, Hurricane Ike made its first landfall in Cuba in the northeastern portion of the country as a Category 3 storm. It traveled across Cuba and along its southern coast before making its second landfall in the southwest region as a Category 1 storm.

Exacerbating conditions on the island is an existing housing shortage, and like many people in parts of Florida hit hard by the hurricanes of 2004, Cubans are still struggling to recover from the storms that hit the island during that hurricane season.

Hernández said friends in The Methodist Church in Cuba have been sending him descriptions of damage to the island.
“In Pinar del Rio province, 10 Methodist churches lost their roof, and in the eastern part several others (lost theirs) and a lot of members lost their roofs,” Hernández said. “Housing and food is critical … water is contaminated, and I’ve seen some people saying people are getting sick because there is not enough clean water.” 

Hernández has stayed in contact with the Rev. Onay Lopez, Cuba-Florida Covenant coordinator in Cuba. Lopez provided a list of several Methodist churches with damage, ranging from roof loss to total destruction, inclduing Los Palacios, La Palma, Bahia Honda, Sanguily, San Diego, Loma de Candelaria, Entronque de Herradura, Briones Montoto, Palenque and Soroa.
Many residents still do not have electricity and are using kerosene, coal and wood to cook, Hernández said.

The Rev. Aldo Martin, a retired Florida Conference pastor who volunteers as a district coordinator for the Cuba/Florida Covenant, has been able to speak with his brother Juan, who resides in Omaja, Cuba.

Reports from church leaders in Cuba estimate at least 10 Methodist churches were damaged or destroyed during Hurricane Ike. Photo courtesy of The Methodist Church in Cuba. Photo #08-1002. Web photo only.

“The only brother I have in Cuba is alive,” Martin said. “He’s 74, and he’s a good worker — he’s a farmer. (His) house was a shelter, and he had many friends from the neighborhood — not a large house, but a strong one.”
Martin said his brother sheltered so many neighbors during the storms there was no room to walk inside his home and many of the people brought “everything” with them. Martin’s brother told him, “We have plantains and chicken, and we are going to share whatever we have.”
Reneé Kincaid, who is a member of Bayshore United Methodist Church in Tampa and serves as secretary for the Cuba/Florida Covenant task force, said flooding from the storms is affecting the country’s already strained food resources.
“They need everything,” Kincaid said. “ … There is a tremendous food shortage because all of those fields have been wiped out.”
Kincaid received a report from the Rev. Yordi Toranzo of Niquero Methodist Church in the Sierra Maestra district describing the situation.

“As you can imagine, the hurricanes that have recently devastated our country will have a large toll in our food supply,” Toranzo wrote. “Entire crops of tobacco, rice, produce, etcetera, are on the floor.”

More than 4,355 tons of food in warehouses and stores were lost during Hurricane Gustav, according to a Miami Herald report of the Cuban government’s damage estimates. Hurricane Ike destroyed nearly 80,000 acres of bananas and 25,000 acres of other products and flooded 1.2 million acres of sugar cane.

Toranzo has also felt the affects of the storms more personally. He said his sister-in-law and her three children “lost their home and all their belongings.”

“We are so thankful that these hurricanes did not hit Florida,” he said. “We continue gathering early in the mornings to thank God for His blessings and ask for His mercy.”
Kincaid believes the faith demonstrated by the Cuban people will help them overcome the crisis.
“I just would say that the Cubans are continually looking for God’s mercy,” Kincaid said. “He has never failed them, and they are waiting for God to do the next thing.”
How Florida United Methodists can help

Right now, Cuba needs financial contributions and “prayers, prayers, prayers,” Kincaid said.

The Florida Conference’s coordinated response to the need in Cuba includes a direct request from Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker for financial donations. 

Cuban Methodist Church Bishop Ricardo Pereira (right) and a team from his office provide relief in the central and eastern provinces of Cuba, which sustained heavy damages during Hurricane Ike. Many areas are still without electricity, and several sections of the national highway were flooded, making it difficult to reach affected areas. Photo courtesy of The Methodist Church in Cuba. Photo #08-1003. Web photo only.

The second portion of the response will come from material donations made at several locations throughout the conference. Hernández has organized a collection system in the South East District of the Florida Conference to gather bottled water; nonperishable food; hygiene items, such as soap, toothpaste and deodorant; and first-aid medications, such as pain relievers.

Hernández asks that individual churches collect and sort these items and have one representative deliver them to the district office in Miami. Churches should also call the Rev. Gustavo Betancourt at 786-326-1658 to make delivery arrangements. Donations will be accepted through Oct. 30.
“The wonderful thing is we are beginning with the South East District, and I am receiving calls from pastors in other parts of the conference,” Hernández said.
Christ Hispanic United Methodist Church on Curry Ford Road in Orlando will also offer a collection drive of similar items Sept. 22-28. The church expects to gather a truckload of items and deliver them to a distribution center in Miami, where they will be sent to Cuba. The church will also accept clean clothing that is folded and in excellent condition. More information is available by calling the church’s pastors, The Revs. Gary and Amparito Garay at 407-277-7599.

Individuals or churches wanting to make a financial donation for recovery efforts in Cuba should make checks payable to the 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.
More information about the Cuba-Florida Covenant is available at The Methodist Church in Cuba may be reached via e-mail at


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