By Joe LaGuardia
On 6 November 2017, I embarked on a mission trip with a small group of clergy and lay leaders to Cuba through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. In partnership with the Fraternity of Baptist Churches in Cuba, the CBF has been nurturing mission opportunities over the past several years. These are my diaries from the trip. Read more: “Introduction” here. Find Day 1 here.
In a country otherwise made up of atheists, many Cubans are Catholics, some protestants, and the rest, those who follow a pseudo-Catholic cult by the name of Santaria. Santaria is a religion that is one part Catholic and two parts African ancestral worship. Witchcraft, along with animal sacrifices and other practices of divination, is common, and Santaria’s grip is vast and wide.
As one might expect, Baptist approaches to Santaria are about as diverse as Baptists themselves. For many Baptists, hostility is the only action against religions other than evangelicalism; but, for many Baptists who make up the Fraternity of Baptist Churches, those entangled in Santaria are no less worthy of hearing the Gospel and being treated as neighbor.
Today we went to Maykel’s house. Maykel is a pastor of a church in Havana, Iglesia Bautista El Jordan, as well as president of the Fraternity, and he explained how his presence in the community–he lives in the church’s parsonage–offers the opportunity to befriend neighbors who are in the Santaria movement. Maykel’s wife, also an ordained minister, is sensitive to their neighbors’ plight, and offers hospitality whenever the need arises.
Maykel’s church is also committed to being the presence of Christ in this diverse neighborhood. It is a hub for various ministries and groups, including after school programs and a computer classes for adults. Although 20 churchgoers make up Maykel’s church’s youth group, they can reach up to 100 youth in the area with ministries and special events that they promote out of El Jordan.
Maykel gets a salary from the church, although it was not always the case. He explained that when he first arrived at El Jordan, the average monthly giving was around $400.00. Maykel communicated the real needs of ministry in the area and taught on stewardship. Over several years, the congregation raised their level of monthly support to $1,600.00. Their goal is to raise their level of giving to $2,000.00, so that they may be able to fund other missions and church starts throughout Cuba.
El Jordan also began a building project to acquire a dining hall, dorm room, and kitchen to their current facility. Building in Cuba is precarious. You begin with the walls a brick at a time instead of the foundation, lest the pipes and cables in the foundation “disappear” in the middle of the night. Next, the church will install a roof, requiring $4,000.00 for supplies. The completion will mean that the church can serve the community in more creative ways, as well as host meals, mission groups, and neighborhood gatherings.
Our next stop was Milano Verde, or “Green Mill,” the campus of the Fraternity of Baptist Churches. With 2 buildings and several plans for expansion, the campus is central for the 42 churches in the Fraternity. In fact, 50 pastors and lay leaders plan to gather here next week for a church start/evangelism conference hosted by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Maykel explained the importance of this space. For one, theological education is a core value of the Fraternity, and although the local seminary is effective in teaching theology, it lacks the curriculum to support pastors in church starting and outreach ministries. The Fraternity campus is pivotal in providing these resources. Second, the campus serves the wider community, as it is home to a water purification system that is so good the local hospital uses the water to sterilize its equipment. The system and its installation were donations by a Presbyterian church in Florida, exhibiting the Fraternity’s success in building ecumenical partnerships.
Maykel also explained how ecumenical partnerships benefit their churches’ missions. The Fraternity recently approved placing a printing press, complete with building, on campus. The press will publish Bibles in partnership with the United Bible Society. South Korean churches are donating the press; Canadian Baptists are donating the pre-furbished building, and the Bible Society will donate supplies and materials for the Bibles. Local Cubans will benefit from the new micro-economy as they will work the press and transport the Bibles to the rest of the island. Future plans call for a volleyball/recreation field and a chapel for services.
As Maykel described the ministries of both his church and the Fraternity, I could not help but conclude that he is a master administrator and visionary. Many from his flock have affirmed as much, as many told us of how much the church and the Fraternity have improved as a result of his leadership. Best of all, he is not from outside the community–Maykel grew up in El Jordan, and it was there that he heard God’s call to the ministry.
El Jordan and the Fraternity’s campus embody the deepest values that the Fraternity represents, namely being the presence of Christ in a spirit of inclusivity, ecumenism, collaboration, theological education and missions. Another Fraternity Baptist pastor we met, Pastor Corita, originally traveled to Mexico to become a theologian, but heard the call to ministry in her native land of Cuba during her studies. After serving in marginalized communities in Mexico, primarily among children and others exploited by human trafficking, she became pastor of a church we set out to visit on Day 3 of our trip. She, like so many people we met, is the product of those core values, and her ministry to her own flock tells the story of a people who have become born again as a result of a Baptist movement that provides hope to this diverse island.