The story of Cuba as told by Cubans is very different than the narrative offered by the U.S. America has long overshadowed Cuba with its vast military power, its store of resources, and its policy of containment. Just this past week the U.S. government prohibited our cruise ships from going into Cuban ports. As our hosts told us, it is the people of Cuba who will suffer as tourism is essential to its fragile economy.
Years of sanctions and limited travel between Cuba and the U.S. have contributed to a wariness between these neighbors, and both have suffered for it. When I learn the stories of the revolution here in Cuba and see the esteem in which Martin Luther King, Jr. is held, I gain fresh perspective on liberating impulses that the U.S. has sought to squelch.
It was fitting to be here on Pentecost. We visited Ebenezer Iglesia Bautista on Sunday morning and sensed the movement of the Spirit in the lively worship service, most of it led by children. They sang, read Scripture, led in prayer, and even took up the offering. Proud parents and teachers beamed as they witnessed their well-taught kids. The holy kiss is still a part of worship—a lovely greeting not just reserved for church here.
Adjacent to the church is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, which hosts educational opportunities, does community engagement, and provides international advocacy for justice and human rights. The center has gained notoriety for its programming, which is an indispensable aspect of gospel work. Its ministry is far-reaching—as is its sister ministry, the church.
There is an interesting juxtaposition of governmental policy and ecclesial influence. It was because of the official Communism of the country that women’s equality became more a part of the public square conversation. Indeed, in a lengthy and historic exchange with Fidel Castro (about 10 hours), church leaders pressed for greater congregational freedom, and women took their rightful place in pastoral leadership. Breaking free from the Southern Baptist influence as part of the revolution of 1959-1960 actually benefited women greatly.
We begin our conference with pastoras today. These women are affiliated with the Fraternity of Baptists in Cuba (FIBAC) and have travelled to Havana to meet with the Women’s Leadership Initiative of Central. We anticipate a lively time of learning. Already we have sensed a deep kinship with the Cuban women who have been instrumental in planning our cultural immersion experience.
Congregational partnerships between North American churches and FIBAC churches has been mutually beneficial. Growing in understanding one another’s contexts opens a vista of shared hope and work for liberation. It is good when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity, as Psalm 133 remind us.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares leaders for seeking God, shaping Church, and serving humanity and all creation.