Cuba Trip: Date Change and Travelers Needed!

The dates of our trip to Cuba to visit our sister meeting, Velasco, have had to be changed. The trip will now be in February 2023 and include visiting Cuba Yearly Meeting, which is from February 16 to 20.

There are three Friends from Portland planning to go. Two of our Durham Friends who hoped to travel no longer can, so we are looking for two or three more who want to. Let Nancy Marstaller know if so. Thanks!

Interested in Visiting Friends in Cuba? [Now with an Update]

Update, May 7, 2022:

Rebecca Leuchak, Mary Hopkins and Chris Jorgenson, who travelled to Cuba for the annual sessions of Cuba Yearly Meeting in February, will be speaking at Durham’s meeting for worship on Sunday, May 15. They will be available for a short time to answer questions at the rise of meeting.

These Friends will then go to Portland Friends Meeting for an informational and organizational meeting starting at 1:00 to start planning the fall trip to Velasco, Cuba.  Rebecca, Mary, and Chris will answer questions; then we will organize folks to work on various aspects for the trip including funding, logistics, coordination with Puente and CYM, clearness for travelers, communication, spiritual support, and any other needs. The meeting will be in-person only and may last about 2 hours.

Interested in visiting Friends in Cuba? Or supporting those who go?

We’re so excited that Durham and Portland Meetings will be sending a delegation to Cuba in early November. If you are interested in going or helping those who go, or just want to find out more, please contact Nancy Marstaller by March 31.

The Portland/Durham/Velasco Sister Meetings committee will organize an informational session in April, to talk about details, and hope to have one of the recent travelers to Cuba join us. I hope to hear from many of you by March 31. Thanks!

Nancy Marstaller

marstallern@gmail.com

Message from Pastor Yadira, Velasco Friends Meeting in Cuba, February 19, 2022

From Yadira, pastor of Velasco Friends, via Facebook 2-19-22

Buenas noches. Dios les bendiga. Les saludo desde gibara dónde se celebra nuestra junta anual. Damos gracias al señor por la presencia de las hermana del puente que comparten este tiempo con nosotros. Muchas gracias por el presente que mandaron para nuestra junta de Velasco. Gracias . Voy a enviarles fotos de nuestra asamblea.

Good evening. God bless you. I greet you from Gibara where our annual meeting is held. We thank the Lord for the presence of the sisters of the bridge who share this time with us. Thank you very much for the present you sent for our Velasco meeting. Thank you. I will send you photos of our assembly.

U.S. Friends Visit to Cuba, December 2021

[Report courtesy of Friends United Meeting]

Worship in Velasco.

In December, Jade and Tom Rockwell, under the care of Camas Friends Church/Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends, followed a personal leading to visit Friends in Cuba. They called the ministry ¡Viva Amistad! — Living Friendship. Since Covid has created such difficulty in traveling to Cuba, we thought Friends would be interested in Jade’s report.

We were able to visit two Friends churches during our trip to Cuba in December, Velasco and Puerto Padre. We wanted to visit Havana as well, but, unfortunately, they were closed because of the holiday during the portion of our trip when we were in Havana. (The Friends in Havana Meeting are all from Oriente and return home to spend the holidays with family in the Eastern part of the island.)

The Velasco church only recently reopened after two years of closure for Covid. They are keeping their services short in duration in consideration of Covid risks. Cuban people were under a mandatory lockdown for Covid, which was only lifted in November. People were not permitted to leave their homes during this time, so it was much stricter than what we have had in the United States. Although this is now lifted, masks are still required both indoors and on public streets and this rule is enforced by a fine. The good news is that upwards of 85% of Cubans are reported to be fully vaccinated at this time. In Velasco and Puerto Padre, many restaurants and businesses were still closed. In Havana, most had reopened. 

There are widespread shortages of supplies that are affecting every sector of society. This has led to situations of civil unrest this past year, though we did not encounter any protests or confrontations while we were visiting. 

Included in the shortages are almost every medicine, medical supply, or household item. Even tropical fruits that fall from the trees are scarce in these times. We’re told people take what there is and sell them in Havana where they can make a better profit. It is recommended that visitors bring absolutely every personal item they may need for their trip because if you forget a small item, you likely will not be able to buy it anywhere. For our trip we brought donations of needed items and gave these to the Puerto Padre and Velasco churches for distribution. We also donated some supplies to some Quaker medical students to distribute in their clinical work in the wider communities. Trail mix was a nice luxury treat to share and we were grateful for it when transportation difficulties delayed us and we were left without meals. 

Donations we brought: latex gloves, soaps, toothbrushes, toothpaste, laundry soap, sanitizer, deodorant, menstrual supplies, first aid supplies, condoms, batteries, over the counter pain/allergy/diarrhea relief, vitamins, school supplies, instant read thermometer for Velasco church (other churches could still use these), and some very small gifts for kids in Sunday schools. I can say that absolutely every item we brought was much needed and appreciated. We were told that people are being turned away from needed surgeries if they cannot furnish their own latex gloves, suturing thread, etc. Donations that carry much monetary value are difficult to manage well. Useful-but-not-valuable are the best things to bring. Think what you use most frequently at home. The churches keep a stash of these supplies to respond to needs, but in these times, if the public knows that there are resources, people take them to hoard or sell, so our leading was to let the pastors or healthcare professionals that we know handle them with discretion according to needs they encounter.

We also brought some videos from my Yearly Meeting of songs and greetings and these were very much appreciated. In Puerto Padre, we were able to share them in a worship service. This really encouraged and inspired people to be able to connect and share worship. Puerto Padre and Velasco have both gone through changes in the past few years of embracing more Cuban-style music and expression in worship, and this is bringing a lot of spiritual vitality to their Meetings. In the past, Cuban style instrumentation and music, as well as expression such as movement and clapping, was seen as not appropriate in a Quaker Meeting, but now these communities have a different leading. Friends described this change as liberating their worship, as expressing their authentic selves in worship (rather than imitating a foreign culture), and as expressing the joy of their faith that some described as a spiritual gift of Cuban culture. It is part of a formal music ministry in Puerto Padre, and their praise band sometimes visits other Friends churches to share (not only Cuban music—they enjoy many styles).

We greatly enjoyed participating in this joyful worship and praise in both Velasco and Puerto Padre.

In Velasco, because they did not have a projector, we were not able to share our videos in worship, but we shared with our host family and church leaders who appreciated them. We also captured video greetings from Cuban Friends to bring home.

In Puerto Padre, the church has been able to persist in their construction projects, completing more of them during Covid. They pause the projects when they are short on supplies. Right now they are not able to get cement at an affordable rate, and this is the main material used in the construction projects. However, they are pleased to have completed a cafeteria which is used for a ministry feeding elderly people, and also overnight for up to seventy visitors. They also have a carpentry shop where they build wooden furniture to raise funds for the church. 

There have been some very devastating Covid losses in Quaker communities that folks are still grieving. We remain in prayer for our Friends there, and give thanks that the vaccination campaign has hopefully brought these tragedies to an end in Cuba. 

Crisis in Cuba – July 2021

From Friends World Committee for Consultation:

DECLARATION OF THE YEARLY MEETING OF THE FRIENDS CHURCH (QUAKERS) IN CUBA
Peace is a desire and a necessity for all human beings. It is an essential condition for our personal and communal well-being. For the current moment in Cuba, marked by a crisis situation that affects the most sensitive areas of citizens’ lives, it is becoming something urgent.
Quakers, inspired by the teachings of Jesus, also seek to live and promote peace, through alternative ways, based on the principle of non-violence, to carry out civil justice and work within society to repair wrongs or errors.
Quakers believe in the Peace of Jesus. This Peace is not like what the world gives (John 14:27), from positions of power that exclude the voice of the least in the Kingdom. From this perspective, we Quakers know a Virtue that takes away the occasion of all war, and consequently, we do not support any way to solve conflicts that involves the use of force.
We therefore advocate for dialogue and for our authorities to recognize the tension and overwhelm of a people that feel vulnerable due to the precariousness of their economy, their health and their public services.
Likewise, we consider that the government must promote alternatives to violence in the face of other sectors of the people that, for various reasons, are fueled by positions of hatred that are encouraged from abroad and that in the current context of the crisis that we are experiencing, become breeding grounds for the emergence of violent demonstrations with unpredictable consequences.
This is the time to open spaces for dialogue in the search for an answer to dissatisfaction and a solution to our problems. Let us all seek a common path that leads us to well-being and peaceful coexistence. Conflicts, if we address them with non-violent alternatives, are opportunities to find a peace that shelters all Cubans.
From a recent newsletter from Friends United Meeting:
During last week’s FUM International Prayer Gathering, we heard a distressing report from Friends in Cuba. Jorge Luis, Clerk of Cuba Yearly Meeting, sent a message to the global community requesting prayer as Covid rates are doubling there, food is scarce, and the medical and economic systems in the country are on the verge of collapsing. This week, demonstrators are taking to the streets demanding change. While churches in the country cannot gather for worship, Jorge reminded us that the church is not closed, and their members and pastors are doing their best to care for each other and their communities during these difficult times. 
Since the US State Department designated Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, many of the channels Friends United Meeting has previously used to send support for Cuban Friends are now closed to us. This designation also prevents the US from sending humanitarian or medical assistance amidst this crisis.
On Tuesday, July 13, representatives of New England Yearly Meeting, Friends World Committee for Consultation–Section of the Americas, Friends Committee on National Legislation, and FUM met to discern how the global community of Friends can best support Cuban Friends. We ask Friends to pray for Cuban Friends. Pray that Cuban Friends will experience God’s strengthening love and courage during this time of trial. Friends United Meeting is preparing to send support to Cuban Friends through our Covid-19 Solidarity Fund. We are investigating several legal avenues for distribution. Contributions to this fund will go to support the ministries of Cuba Yearly Meeting. Friends can mail checks to the FUM office or give online at https://donorbox.org/covid-19-solidarity-fund. We encourage [U.S.] Friends to reach out to their members of Congress, urging them to lift restrictions against humanitarian and medical support for Cuba. 

Velsasco Friends Meeting Report, February 2021

Velasco, Durham and Portland Sister Meeting Committee February 2021 Report 

In the fall of 2020 Portland Friends Meeting and Durham Friends Meeting approved Portland joining in the sister relationship with Velasco Friends Meeting in Cuba and the formation of a joint committee to care for and nurture the relationship. The new committee meets monthly. Nancy Marstaller and Fritz Weiss are co-clerks. 

Durham has noted and appreciated that there is new energy in the relationship with Velasco. Our two meetings in Maine are building a stronger relationship. Committee members are now receiving newsletters from both meetings and recognize that the first experience of intervisitation may well be Durham and Portland visiting each other. 

An invitation to Friends in Portland and Durham is to hold Velasco in Prayer as they gather. Velasco meets

  • on Sunday at 9:00 AM and
  • on Tuesdays at 7:30 pm for a service of prayer and preaching,
  • on Thursdays at 8:00 pm for house worship,
  • on Fridays at 7:30 pm the ladies meet,
  • on Saturdays at 8:30 pm the youth.

They are in the same time zone as we are. We can hold them in prayer at those times.

Communication with Velasco Meeting is via facebook messenger with Yadira Cruz Pena (Pastor) and email with Zoe Lazara (Clerk).  Nancy Marstaller and Wendy Schlotterback from Durham and Hannah Colbert and Sydney McDowell from Portland are able to send messages; if you have messages you might like to send, please share with them. 

Our meetings are open, if you are interested in being involved, please contact one of the co-clerks.

Con amor, Nancy Marstaller, Wendy Schlotterback, Hannah Colbert, Doug Malcom, Ann Dodd-Collins, Sydney MacDowell, Fritz Weiss

Velasco Friends Meeting (Cuba), September 2020

Velasco Friend Meeting Report, March-April 2021

March/April 2021

News about Our Sister Meeting in Velasco, Cuba, and all Cuban Friends Meetings – from Nancy Marstaller

The Puente des Amigos Committee of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends recently sent this information regarding Velasco and all Cuban Friends Churches:

Cuba Yearly Meeting (CYM) has asked for our prayers and support as they struggle to find funds to pay their pastors and church workers a government mandated five fold salary increase. CYM supports 12 pastoral workers and 3 retired pastors.  We cannot corporately send funds to Cuba or funds which support salary costs without violating US treasury regulations, but individuals can make donations.  

The Cuban Quakers also have a long history of sharing resources, medical supplies, filtered water and other necessities with their neighbors.  During the pandemic, the need has been greater and the Meetings are struggling to continue to support their communities.

Marcos Longoria, clerk of Miami Friends Church and son of Ramon Longoria – long time secretary and clerk of CYM who died this past summer- is collecting funds from individuals to support pastors and to help pay for personal hygiene supplies for CYM. Donations may be sent to:

Marcos Longoria, Clerk, Miami Friends Church// 330 SW 79 Ct., Miami FL  33144

Checks should be made out to the Miami Friends Church with a note in the memo line indicating “pastors fund” or “personal hygiene”. 

Thank you for your consideration of this opportunity. If you have questions, please speak to Nancy Marstaller

Cuban Churches Experiencing Economic Crunch, April 2021

From Cuban Friends, shared by NEYMF Puene des Amigos Committee

The Gibara Friends Center is set to provide hospitality to large groups — but groups have not been able to travel to the Friends Center since the Covid pandemic began

The economic crisis that Cuba is experiencing at present is the most acute since the 1990s, when the collapse of the socialist bloc in Europe occurred. Although Cuban experts say the country is more prepared now than then to meet the crisis, there are circumstances that make the road to recovery more difficult, such as the pandemic context that aggravates the world’s economies. Internal and external factors create uncertainty that is difficult to unravel.

In addition to the six-decade embargo on the island, recent US policies create difficulties with tourism—which constitutes the country’s main income—by prohibiting the entry of cruise ships and the arrival of travelers through the different provinces of the country. Another US-created difficulty is the recent restriction on the remittances that normally flowed between families on one side and the other of the waters. In addition, conflict between the US and Venezuela has led to a decrease in oil supplies in Cuba and an appreciable decrease in the availability of transportation.

Nonetheless, Cuba has continued to maintain free education and health care even as it is forced to regulate the internal economy in ways that have led to the increase of wages and prices in a year of epidemiological complexity that has unleashed a crisis of food, medicine, supplies, fertilizers, animal feed, etc.

How this crisis affects the Cuban church

Everything that affects society also affects the church. Communities of faith need an economic base that sustains both community members and their institutional and administrative order. Cuban churches have been supported by the contribution of their membership and additional support from counterpart churches abroad—which now encounter obstacles in sending their contributions. In general, the Cuban churches do not have financial support beyond these options.

Ministries continue even as the economy suffers. Churches that have ministries to assist the elderly persist even when the cost of food has risen by up to five times. Car maintenance, fuel, and various services that have always been paid for in US dollars continue to be needed, even though they have become more expensive on account of inflation, and because of the difficulty in acquiring US dollars in the interior of the country. (On the black market, one US dollar is now equivalent to forty-eight or fifty Cuban pesos.) Just as the state has increased the salary of its workers, the church has also increased the salary of its workers, lay or pastoral, because everyday life has become more and more expensive. All churches have ministries that need funds to function, in commissions, departments, councils, etc. Electricity rates have risen up to ten times their value, so the monthly rate is close to or exceeds one thousand pesos.

Churches that have buildings and are accustomed to renting out space have seen their income possibilities reduced as travel has ceased, both internally and internationally. Similarly, the pandemic has limited the ability of churches to gain income by providing transportation services.

How it affects Cuba Yearly Meeting

Cuba Yearly Meeting has been supported by a budget equivalent to twenty thousand US dollars a year (five hundred thousand Cuban pesos). In addition to the annual contribution from each of the Monthly Meetings, main economic inputs have come from use of the Gibara building, the Friends Center bus, and donations from groups that visited us during specific events or with special interests. This budget has supported twelve pastoral workers from ten Monthly Meetings, and three retired workers. Income generated by the Gibara building also supported those who worked there.

The Yearly Meeting suggested that the necessary salary increase for pastoral workers should correspond to 3,000 pesos. Since there are no other means of support, the duty for raising funds for the salary increase was given to the Monthly Meetings. The Meetings located in cities, and therefore on more solid financial footing, were able to raise the suggested figure. Holguín, Gibara and Puerto Padre achieved the increase, while Velasco did it with more difficulty. The Meetings of Banes, Retrete, Bocas, Pueblo Nuevo, Vista Alegre, and Floro Pérez were able to raise only approximately fifty percent of the requested increase for their workers. The missions of Delicias, Calabazas, and Asiento de Calderón are supported by the Monthly Meetings to which they belong and the Yearly Meeting, although Delicias does contribute to its worker. The Yearly Meeting encourages ventures that can generate internal income to pay not only salaries, but also ministries and administrative expenses. Our church buildings and parsonages, many of which are approximately 100 years old, require restorative interventions that are impossible to carry out in this complex period. That is why, during this pandemic, we are focused on the support of the church structure and prioritize the payment of our pastoral workers.

—Jorge Luis Peña,
translated by Karla Jay

Cuban Churches Experiencing Economic Crunch, April 2107


The Gibara Friends Center is set up to provide hospitality to large groups—but groups have not been able to travel to the Friends Center since the Covid pandemic began.

The economic crisis that Cuba is experiencing at present is the most acute since the 1990s, when the collapse of the socialist bloc in Europe occurred. Although Cuban experts say the country is more prepared now than then to meet the crisis, there are circumstances that make the road to recovery more difficult, such as the pandemic context that aggravates the world’s economies. Internal and external factors create uncertainty that is difficult to unravel.

In addition to the six-decade embargo on the island, recent US policies create difficulties with tourism—which constitutes the country’s main income—by prohibiting the entry of cruise ships and the arrival of travelers through the different provinces of the country. Another US-created difficulty is the recent restriction on the remittances that normally flowed between families on one side and the other of the waters. In addition, conflict between the US and Venezuela has led to a decrease in oil supplies in Cuba and an appreciable decrease in the availability of transportation.

Nonetheless, Cuba has continued to maintain free education and health care even as it is forced to regulate the internal economy in ways that have led to the increase of wages and prices in a year of epidemiological complexity that has unleashed a crisis of food, medicine, supplies, fertilizers, animal feed, etc.

How this crisis affects the Cuban church Everything that affects society also affects the church. Communities of faith need an economic base that sustains both community members and their institutional and administrative order. Cuban churches have been supported by the contribution of their membership and additional support from counterpart churches abroad—which now encounter obstacles in sending their contributions. In general, the Cuban churches do not have financial support beyond these options.

Ministries continue even as the economy suffers. Churches that have ministries to assist the elderly persist even when the cost of food has risen by up to five times. Car maintenance, fuel, and various services that have always been paid for in US dollars continue to be needed, even though they have become more expensive on account of inflation, and because of the difficulty in acquiring US dollars in the interior of the country. (On the black market, one US dollar is now equivalent to forty-eight or fifty Cuban pesos.) Just as the state has increased the salary of its workers, the church has also increased the salary of its workers, lay or pastoral, because everyday life has become more and more expensive. All churches have ministries that need funds to function, in commissions, departments, councils, etc. Electricity rates have risen up to ten times their value, so the monthly rate is close to or exceeds one thousand pesos.

Churches that have buildings and are accustomed to renting out space have seen their income possibilities reduced as travel has ceased, both internally and internationally. Similarly, the pandemic has limited the ability of churches to gain income by providing transportation services.

How it affects Cuba Yearly Meeting Cuba Yearly Meeting has been supported by a budget equivalent to twenty thousand US dollars a year (five hundred thousand Cuban pesos). In addition to the annual contribution from each of the Monthly Meetings, main economic inputs have come from use of the Gibara building, the Friends Center bus, and donations from groups that visited us during specific events or with special interests. This budget has supported twelve pastoral workers from ten Monthly Meetings, and three retired workers. Income generated by the Gibara building also supported those who worked there.

The Yearly Meeting suggested that the necessary salary increase for pastoral workers should correspond to 3,000 pesos. Since there are no other means of support, the duty for raising funds for the salary increase was given to the Monthly Meetings. The Meetings located in cities, and therefore on more solid financial footing, were able to raise the suggested figure. Holguín, Gibara and Puerto Padre achieved the increase, while Velasco did it with more difficulty. The Meetings of Banes, Retrete, Bocas, Pueblo Nuevo, Vista Alegre, and Floro Pérez were able to raise only approximately fifty percent of the requested increase for their workers. The missions of Delicias, Calabazas, and Asiento de Calderón are supported by the Monthly Meetings to which they belong and the Yearly Meeting, although Delicias does contribute to its worker. The Yearly Meeting encourages ventures that can generate internal income to pay not only salaries, but also ministries and administrative expenses. Our church buildings and parsonages, many of which are approximately 100 years old, require restorative interventions that are impossible to carry out in this complex period. That is why, during this pandemic, we are focused on the support of the church structure and prioritize the payment of our pastoral workers.

—Jorge Luis Peña,
translated by Karla Jay