The Holy Spirit and Your Sister Church Await In CubaMissions and Outreach
Perhaps you heard in church about the relationship between United Methodists in the United States and Cuba. Your heart stirred to experience it for yourself, but soon that feeling was replaced by doubt.
You’ve heard about the travel restrictions, and maybe you told yourself that you just can’t get involved. There’s just no way.
Every budget season, you are told to do more with less, and perhaps you have an aging congregation for whom just getting to church is a challenge. There are plenty of ministry needs in your own back yard. Why would you tackle the bureaucratic obstacle course of looking to Cuba to form a sister church relationship, for God’s sake?
Actually, for God’s sake is precisely why – but also for your own and that of your church. A Cuban sister church partnership may be the pathway to vitality that ignites people’s energy and passion. It is the way to erase doubts and fears.
|With support from Grace UMC, Merritt Island, Cuban sister church Bástate Mi Gracia in San Germán, Cuba, is able to offer snacks to Sunday school children and refreshments to its local community.|
Just ask Paul Griffith, Chair of Methodists United in Prayer (MUIP) Cuba Ministry.
“I took my first mission trip to Cuba about seven years ago, and God changed my life through that trip. I have been involved in the MUIP Cuba ministry ever since,” Griffith said. “I have taken about 12 mission trips to Cuba, and I am blessed to see how God continues to work powerfully through the Methodist Church in Cuba.”
These God moments are why the sister church program was established. Recognizing the mutual bond in Christ and the rich history shared, the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church and Methodist Church in Cuba met in the 1990’s to discuss a mutually beneficial ministry partnership.
That led to the Cuba/Florida Covenant (later called Methodists United in Prayer) in 1997. This covenant was about praying for one another, building interpersonal relationships, and meeting the needs of the Methodist Church in Cuba.
It has been life-changing.
“We send mission teams, support pastors, partner with churches, and build bonds of Christian fellowship. We also have a variety of projects that include pastor salary support, clean water, marriage-strengthening, funding house churches, helping retired Cuban pastors, and supporting the Cuban Methodist Seminary,” Griffith said.
He cited statistics that show the Methodist Church in Cuba is:
Growing at around 10% each year and has been for more than 20 years;
One of the largest and fastest-growing denominations in Cuba, now with more than 450 churches;
Poised for continued growth with more than 1,300 “missions” and planting future churches in under-reached areas
For the 200 Florida United Methodist churches that participate and have sister church relationships with 231 churches in Cuba, the ministry is well worth the bureaucratic challenges.
“In the 23 years of existence of the covenantal relationship between the Methodist Church in Cuba and the Florida Conference of the UMC, we have experienced periods of limited relationships between our governments as well as greater flexibility, said Icel Rodriguez, Director of Global Missions for the Florida Conference.
“One thing is certain, though, regardless of the political situation, our Christian bond continues to grow and strengthen.”
And it becomes a two-way blessing.
“While churches in Florida have financially supported the Cuban church in many ways, the Cuban church has blessed us with the refreshing waters of their Spirit-filled worship and their commitment to make disciples of Christ,” Rodriguez said.
“The fellowship and communion that sister churches in Florida and Cuba experience is unique and special. I’m persuaded that this relationship was born from the heart of God and will continue to exist and thrive for years to come.”
It is a chance to witness the Holy Spirit in action, as well as a reminder of the power of faith.
“The Holy Spirit is alive and well in Cuba in the Methodist Church,” said Alice Matthews, Atlantic Central Cuba Coordinator. “You can’t come away from there without being touched.”
Matthews recalled a visit to a sister church in a remote part of Cuba when a little girl came forward complaining of a stomach-ache.
All of the “moms” on the trip were searching through their purses for a Tums to ease the pain when the little girl’s father simply put his hand on her stomach and started to pray.
“God is there with us, and [being in relationship] with the people of Cuba gives a whole new meaning to faith,” Matthews said.
Coordinators like Matthews can provide guidance, training, resources, and contacts for churches considering a partnership in Cuba. A wealth of resources is also available on the website www.cubaministry.org.
Grace UMC's Cuba Coordinator Mike Ferger (center) walks with Pastor Kiustin Batista and his daughter Daniela (left) and Victor Rodríguez and Nicholas Hart (right) to visit Cuban Sister Church Bástate Mi Gracia in San Germán, Cuba.
These resources can help people navigate the ever-changing travel requirements.
Still not sure? Sister church proponents encourage you to see for yourself by joining one of the Cuban mission caravans throughout the year. They predict your faith and outlook will never be the same.
That’s how it happened for Mike Ferger of Grace UMC in Merritt Island. In 2004, Ferger was eyeing retirement as a high school Spanish teacher when his pastor asked him to join a mission trip to Cuba. One trip was all it took.
“When I first went to Cuba about 15 years ago, I did not know what to expect, Ferger said
“I do speak Spanish, and I knew some facts about Cuba, but had not met her people face to face. This personal contact and interaction with the people of Cuba turned out to be one of life’s greatest blessings.”
He is now the Cuba coordinator for Grace United Methodist and Bástate Mi Gracia in San Germán, Cuba. Subsequent trips strengthened those relationships and added new ones.
“I have found the people of our sister church, as well as everyone else I have met, to be kind, warm, loving, caring, accepting, gracious, friendly, and welcoming to me and to everyone who has gone with me over the years,” Ferger said.
“The mission teams who visit our sister churches and provide the much-needed support are grateful that God allows us this privilege. However, the Cuban people bless us with their love, their positive outlook, and their acts of kindness, and we return uplifted, rejuvenated, and ready to go again.”
--Colleen Hart is a freelance writer based in Merritt Island.
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