Theologians Together in Cuba
Last week three CCS students got together, through video, for a conversation. In January, Rachel Myers-Jordan and Karlene Kimber had gone on study trip to Cuba organized by the Montreal School of Theology as part of the Global Perspectives component of their diaconal program. Barb McGill did a similar trip to Cuba, also organized by the Montreal School of Theology, the year before. Together they talked about what they remembered, what stood out for them, and what they were taking away from the experience.
While in Cuba I saw the resilience and resourcefulness of the Cuban People. They build and create things by scavenging for resources, reusing, and re-purposing everything. This is necessary because of a lack of access to resources, due to the United States embargo and to challenges in securing trade agreements with other countries. The Cuban people simply can’t purchase basic things we take for granted and have in surplus in Canada because they never get imported onto the island. Things needed for basic living, like food and toilet paper, are available at the ration store at a discounted price to ensure everyone has access. But in Matanzas, stores carrying non-essential grocery items, hardware, furniture or clothing were empty in comparison to Canadian standards.
I link the resilience of the Cuban People to their strong sense of community – working together to ensure everyone is taken care of, hopeful that Cuba will one day fulfill the Cuban dream of a better future for the next generation.
“The church must fulfill the task of the church in their own context.”
Raul Suarez, Martin Luther King Centre. Havana, Cuba
A small group of elderly women sat in a courtyard in the warm sunshine. They enjoyed quiet conversation and a meal of fruit, toast and coffee. Not long after, this same group plus a few more moved together in morning exercises – that day Tai Chi.
Our study group would witness this scene and similar scenes over and over again as we visited churches between Matanzas and Havana. This was just a taste of the ministry churches offered to seniors in the surrounding communities. Like many places, Cuba is facing an ageing population, this combined with high divorce rates, and increased emigration rates in the younger generation has led to a large population of single elderly women and concerns over social isolation, nutrition and health. There is a need in the surrounding community, and the churches offer service and hope ministering to these needs.
The call to go out and serve the surrounding community was consistent throughout our visits. Despite declining church attendance and diminishing resources this call is not optional, but fundamental to the call of the church. Churches are a source of clean potable water to the community, they offer daily meals and fresh produce. Church organizations ensure that necessary medications and supplies arrive and are distributed as needed – a sign of possibility and hope.
“Some are theologians on the balconies…we are not ,
we are seeking to be theologians together as we walk with one another in life.”
During the trip, one of the students from the Montreal School of Theology and I had several conversations about the connections between our CPE (Clinical Pastoral Care) experiences at home and the experience of being on this exposure tour. Together, we wondered about how our role as guest and tour participant might be part of God’s work in the world and considered the impact of people being in relationship with one another in this way – community to community.
In our exchanges, we talked about expectations and assumptions being challenged, and about how pervasive the reflex of “fixing” things is, as we heard problem-solving chatter around us.
We discussed the importance and implications of being present – listening and witnessing – and noticed that through these actions we offered one another spiritual care, hospitality and solidarity.
These conversations and connections affirm for me the ongoing transformational possibilities of seeing one another and seeking to understand one another and our contexts.
“Jesus never said we were the salt/light/yeast of the church…
Jesus said we are the salt/light/yeast of the world.”