A letter from… Cuba
Edelberto Valdés Fleites reports on the struggles and joys of the Church in Cuba
We live on an island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, so we often feel separated from everything and everywhere else. Why? Because we have neither concept of borders nor limits. It is the seascape, not land, that largely shapes our imagination. At the same time, we enjoy the sea and the sea breeze that rises up from the beaches, and the sun – which is more often than not too strong. All of this, together with wide variety of different groups that form our nation, have gifted Cuba with a breadth of cultures, colours and flavours.
The story of the Presbyterian Church in Cuba starts in 1890 through the efforts of an ordinary worker, llmado Evaristo Collazo, who was very much influenced by the struggles for independence from Spain. Like the story of our country, our Church was born through the commitment of the people. And, for many years, our Church supported schools, free medical services and social work – doing much to help and transform the lives of ordinary people.
The revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959 resulted in deep social, economic and political changes. These changes were life-transforming for the whole of Cuban society, not least because of the ideological shift – adopting a Marxist ideology, like that of the then Soviet Union. For the Churches, a new epoch began: how shall we be living witnesses of our faith with very minimal resources and limited possibilities?
Many ecclesial leaders and church members fled out of fear. Church life diminished to incredibly
low levels, sometimes down to one remaining faithful. At the same time, our powerful neighbour (the US) imposed a blockade on all countries trading with Cuba. The blockade, which still exists, has affected and continue to impact on the day to day living of Cubans.
It was only at the end of the 1980s that the Cuban Churches began to grow again – to experience new life. Whenever I have been asked to explain how and why this change happened, my answer has always been the same: ‘God’s Spirit never went away from, nor took exile from Cuba!’ The faithful who supported the Churches bore strong, rich and vibrant testimonies. So much so, that others say that they too wished to be part of such resilience.
Today it is different. We can celebrate with delight the presence of the God of life and the many gifts we have been blessed with …
This article was published in the May 2017 edition of Reform.