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Conference continues process of getting aid to Cuba

Conference continues process of getting aid to Cuba

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference continues process of getting aid to Cuba

Oct. 31, 2008   News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0934}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

The Florida Conference has made strides in the last several weeks toward obtaining a license from the U.S. Department of Treasury that would allow the conference to send relief funds to hurricane-stricken Cuba.

The Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, director of missions and justice ministries for the Florida Conference, said Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker signed an application for the license Oct. 22.

If granted, Rankin said, the license will enable the conference to transfer “the collected offerings of many congregations throughout Florida” to The Methodist Church in Cuba.

In 2006, both the Florida Conference and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) were denied renewal of their licenses for aid to Cuba. Without the license, funding cannot be legally transferred to Cuba. UMCOR retained legal counsel to assist in its efforts, according to a news report from United Methodist News Service.

Forty men from the Methodist Church of Marianao repair the Church of Bahia Honda in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, which was damaged in the recent hurricanes. The crew erected walls, repaired electricity and put a new roof on the church. Photo courtesy of The Methodist Church in Cuba. Photo #08-1045. Web photo only.

Current relief offerings held in escrow in the Florida Conference total a little more than $58,000. The money will help The Methodist Church in Cuba rebuild and repair destroyed and severely damaged churches and parsonages. The Methodist Church in Cuba reports losses at more than $500,000, with 40 percent of the sanctuary and parsonage infrastructure destroyed or severely damaged.

“The funds the Florida Conference hopes to send will cover 10 percent of the cost, yet it will be a great help,” Rankin said. “Other Methodist conferences around the world with no restrictions from their governments are sending support.”

Rankin said gathering information for the license application took a month, with continuous communication between the Florida Conference and The Methodist Church in Cuba. The application asked for details on how the funds will be used and specific amounts for building materials that will be purchased with the funds.

While the Florida Conference and UMCOR await approval for licenses, a group of former bishops and co-presidents of The Methodist Church in Cuba who now reside in the United States issued a declaration about the situation this month. The declaration expresses concern for the welfare of the Cuban people and the church, especially in light of The United Methodist Church’s inability to respond fully to the hurricane devastation.

“ … We are asking The United Methodist Church to intensify its pressure on the United States government to grant the proper licenses that would allow us to act in accordance with the evangelical mandate of helping the needy: ‘As you did to the least of your brothers, you did it unto Me (Matthew 25:40),’ and be able to give assistance to that part of the Body of Christ in Cuba that has suffered as a consequence of these natural disasters,” the group wrote.

The Rev. Renaldo Hernández, pastor of La Nueva Iglesia del Doral in Miami, helped write the declaration.

“The declaration is an attempt to raise a voice to the leadership of The United Methodist Church in order to impress upon the politicians and ask them to let us do what we feel we are called to do by God to help the needy, to feed the hungry, and it’s a gospel mandate … ,” Hernández said.

Former Bishop Armando Rodriguez Borges, who resides in Des Plaines, Ill., and serves Iglesia Metodista Unida Hispana Nuevo Amanecer, signed the declaration.

“I think that we must have more support in money … and to have the permission from our government to send this money and also other material things,” Borges said. “And, in my opinion, if the government likes to help Cuba, and the Cuban government will not accept it, then they can use the church as a channel to send the help to the poor people.”

Hernández emphasized that this process should be about humanitarian needs, not politics.

“Human beings are in need, and brothers and sisters are in need,” Hernández said. “We need to do something about it.”

Hernández said several pastors and district superintendents in Cuba have reported to him the situation is still very difficult, especially in the Holguin and Pinar del Rio provinces, which were hit hard by the storms. Drinking water is contaminated, there are food shortages, and some people still have no electricity.

Cuba Methodist Bishop Ricardo Pereira worships with women at the 2006 Methodist Women's Fellowship. Photo courtesy of The Methodist Church in Cuba. Photo #08-1046. Web photo only.

Despite damage to at least 33 Methodist Church buildings, Hernández said the Cuban people continue to find a way to worship.

“They are worshipping in the open air,” Hernández said. “And I know Cubans … they will not stop worshipping. They will worship in the ruins. They will do whatever to continue worshipping.”

There is agreement with the group’s concerns among some members of the Florida Conference, as well as support for a call to action by United Methodists.

“I appreciate their leadership and lending their support to the urgent need to break down the political barriers that separate The United Methodist Church and The Methodist Church in Cuba,” Rankin said.

Rankin said Florida United Methodists can help by urging their legislators to find ways to remove the political walls between the two countries.

Rankin also suggested the conference “must expand the possibilities for prayer with an awesome God who moves mountains and reconciles hostile governments and brings peace with reconciliation and justice between the nations.”

Reneé Kincaid, secretary for the Cuba-Florida Covenant, believes that in the face of the challenges between the two countries and the process of obtaining a Treasury license, God’s mercy must prevail.

“We cannot do it without him,” Kincaid said. “ … When two countries are this far apart and are putting so many barriers (up), God is the only one that can solve this. It has to be miraculous intervention.”

Individuals wanting to make financial contributions 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.

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.