From November 15-22, Jon and Letita had the privilege of travelling to Cuba on behalf of our Covenant family. Our mission was to meet with some of our BIC (Hermanos en Cristo en Cuba) family there and prayerfully consider if/how God might lead us into a long-term relationship with a local Cuban congregation. In mid-December, Jon and Letitia presented to the Covenant family and hosted a conversation about connecting with a church in Santa Clara, Cuba. The following is a summary of their presentation. A copy of the visual portion of their presentation can be downloaded below.
As a part of a seven-person team, representing three BIC Canada congregations, we stayed in two cities and visited four different Hermanos en Cristo congregations. Our first few nights were spent in Palmira, Cuba. There we stayed at the Hermanos en Cristo training centre, which is also home to a local church in Palmira. The pastor in Palmira, Luis, is also the bishop of Hermanos en Cristo en Cuba. Luis and his wife, Yaneisy, were with us for almost the entirety of our trip. We met and connected with several people from the church in Palmira. Our time with them included visiting a seniors home they support, visiting a variety of small groups hosted by church members, and participating in a Sunday morning gathering where a newcomer to the church trusted in Jesus and 19 people were baptized! Through their hospitality, we learned about their lives, witnessed the ministry of the church, and developed a deep love for them.
A day trip from Palmira allowed us to visit the church in Espartaco. This aging congregation is in a very depressed small town. The church, however, is filled with hope. We heard about their dreams of building a space for the church to gather (it currently meets in the living room of the pastor). And we were blessed by the joy-filled singing of a dear woman.
For the second part of our trip, we transitioned to Santa Clara where we were hosted by Isbel and Maday, the pastoral couple at the church there. In Santa Clara, we stayed in the homes of people connected to the church and ate together at the church, which is also Isbel and Maday's home. Staying with them allowed us to visit, hear their stories, and see their ministry in action. In Santa Clara, we had special opportunities to share life with people in a unique way. We prepared food with them. We went with them on family errands. We explored the community with them. We heard about their struggles and dreams - both personally and as a church. As a church, they are in the early stages of launching a university ministry which will expand already existing work with youth and children. They show hospitality and care for seniors, particularly in their neighbourhood and particularly those who have no family around them.
While in Santa Clara, we also had the privilege of travelling with them to receive Mennonite Central aid kits and canned chicken. These gifts contributed through the hard work and sacrifice of North American anabaptist communities, are used to support both church members and to bless many with needs in their community. It was wonderful to see some of the impact had by this aid organization we partner with.
A day trip from Santa Clara allowed us to visit the church ministry in Vueltas. Pastored by a young couple and made up primarily of long-time church members, this church continues to have a vibrant children's ministry within its community. Huge numbers of children gather each Saturday for this program. They also run sports youth programming in the community.
As we came away from this trip, each church represented felt God's Spirit drawing to connect with a different Cuban congregation. Jon and Letitia both felt God drawing them/us toward the community in Santa Clara. The primary draw is not to a project or a specific opportunity. It is the possibility of developing a relationship with the church and the people there, through which some other opportunities may develop.
Overall, we were encouraged by the hopefulness we saw from people in a place with little hope. We were blessed by the generosity (to us and others) on display from people with little to offer. We were challenged by the passionate desire to connect with God and to see God work among them. And we were grateful to come away knowing that the church of Jesus, and specifically the BIC church is so much bigger than we'd truly known before. We now know brothers and sisters in Cuba and we know them as family. We would love to see our Covenant Church family know and connect with them, too! We believe it would be a huge blessing for both Covenant and the church in Santa Clara.