Report from Our Delegation to Cuba, February 2023

The delegation consisted of Kim Bolshaw from Durham MM, and Hannah Colbert, Sue Calhoun and Fritz Weiss from Portland MM. Here’s a photo of the four with the mission church in Calderon

  1. Our activities
  • We arrived in Cuba on Thursday 2/16. After settling in and dinner we attended the evening Worship service. 
  • During the annual meeting (Thursday – Sunday) we attended a lesson each morning, and then a business session in the morning and afternoon, and in the evening a worship service.  
  • We gave the message on Friday evening worship.  Our service ended with the song “Espiritu de Dios”.  In most of the subsequent services, this song was song because our hosts knew that we knew the words.
  • On Sunday visited Pueblo Nuevo, attended the  beginning of their Sunday worship & returned for the closing worship of the annual sessions.
  • Sunday afternoon we visited Banes mtg, and arrived in Velasco.
  • Monday we spent in Puerto Padre, visiting the Wilmington Center, the church, and touring the city.  Jorge Luis showed us his apartment and introduced us to his family.
  • We were in Velasco for the rest of our time in Cuba. We stayed in the parsonage with Yadira and her family.
  • On Tuesday we traveled via horse cart to, visited and worshiped with the mission in Calderon, and in the evening attended a prayer service.
  • On Wednesday there was a morning women’s prayer services and we then traveled to beach with many from the church for a picnic with an incredible cake, that evening we had dinner at a Friend’s house. 
  • Thursday Kim and Hannah left – Sue and I attended a house worship in the evening.  We gave the message at this service. 
  • Friday was a day of rest. Sue accompanied the Women’s group bringing food, companionship and prayer to a older women.
  • We went to local carnival in the evening. 
  • On Saturday there was a graduation celebration in the Velasco Church for the third cohort to complete the Peace Institute’s course in Quaker Studies.
  • The graduation was followed by a feast with a roasted pig with guests from Puerto Padre.  
  • On Sunday, we gave the lesson during worship. We had another feast with a rich Cuban stew (Caldosa). 
  • During our 12 days in Cuba we attended 13 separate worship services. 
  • We brought an unrestricted donation of 5280 euros to Cuba – a little more than $6,000. We also carried a donation from Wilmington Meeting for the Wilmington center project. 
  • We bought seven big suitcases of supplies including a lot of medical supplies, five computers, tools for the Wilmington center project, solar lamps, and more. We carried donations sent from Oregon, Ohio, North Carolina and New England. 
  • On Monday Sue and I flew to Miami, returning to Maine on Tuesday
  1. Report from CYM sessions
  • The theme of the annual gathering was “The Quakers that the world needs: becoming sowers of hope” and the text was Timothy 1 4:10 and the paragraph from George Foxes journal: “sing and rejoice ye children of the day and of the light because the lord is at work in this dark night…”. 
  • The lessons were from Hebrews 11 (“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”) and Romans 5, 3b-5 (“we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope”)
  • While the theme and the lessons focused on hope, throughout the sessions there were reminders that “es un momento tan duro”. 
  • Each meeting was invited to send 4 representatives (pastor, clerk of ministry commission, clerk of the meeting and treasurer) because of expense of hosting the sessions, not because of COVID.
  • The report on the finances of the YM recognized that the inflation during the past year and the endemic shortages of everything had impacted the YM severely and that the generosity of FUM and NEYM had been hugely significant.
  • There was significant concern about the needed repairs in most of the church buildings, and passionate discussion about what the priorities of the YM were and how they were determined. 
  • The YM commission for young adults had been laid down, in part because so many young adults had left Cuba for the United States. 
  • There were deep concerns about developing leadership for the church. Gibara is without a pastor. Soon Puerto Padre will be without pastors
  1. News from CYM
  • A new mission is being established in Santiago. Yerandi and Zuul will be moving to Santiago and establishing this mission. 
  • Pastors now have permission from both CYM and Cuban Government to have a secular job in addition to pastoring.  The YM is paying Pastors 3000 pesos/month and the local churches are encouraged to pay an additional 2000 pesos/month although most local churches are unable to do so.  5000 pesos is roughly equivalent to $34 dollars. 
  • The Peace Institute continued to work with the cohort of students who graduated through the pandemic, and is planning on launching a 4th cohort.
  • The upcoming visit by Benigo in June and the AVP training in Havana in September were mentioned repeatedly during sessions. 
  1. Requests from CYM
  • Cuba wants NEYM to understand the real conditions in Cuba. Much of this will be in a verbal summary.
  • The Cubans wonder if Puente and FUM work more closely together together to support Cuba Quakers.  Specifically, Colin Saxton is wondering if we might work together to replace the church van which needs to be replaced. 
  • A strong sister meeting relationship is very important. Would it be possible for the NEYM sister meetings to use WhatsApp and Facebook to communicate more regularly with their sister meeting. 
  1. Other Notes
  • Pastors and others  have been following NEYM Facebook page. They were excited to see pictures from the delegation being posted on NEYM’s Facebook while we were still in Cuba.  I shared this with Kathleen Wooten. 
  • Specifically Banes, Gibara, Holguin, Retrete and Puerto Padre asked for more contact with their sister meetings.  I sent a card with contact information from Banes to Burlington with this request. 
  • Because we were visiting, Velasco received funds to host us. With these funds Yadera was able to prepare huge meals and, in so doing, feed the larger community. 
  • At this moment, Visas through the US embassy are only available for family reunion.  Cuban’s believe it is impossible to get a Visa to attend NEYM sessions. I wonder if Puente and NEYM could lobby to get a request to the embassy in Havana to make an exception to this policy.
  • T-Mobile cellular plans allow free texting with others on the same plan which could make communication with NE easier for future delegations.
  • We were not required to have a COVID test to enter Cuba or to leave. Reportedly there is 100% vaccination in Cuba and very low incidence of Covid.
  • We were required to purchase medical insurance outside of Cuba as the Cuban health system is unable to provide care.
  • There were power outages every days, usually for several hours. 
  • In conversations, especially with the young adults we were told over and over that “todos quieren inmigrar”. 
  • Unlike previous trips that I have been on, there were few Cubans who spoke English at the annual sessions – only Richard and Kenya.  In Velasco, there was one young man who was studying English because he is planning to immigrate.
  • The pastors in Cuba are providing care, support and essential services to the communities – clean water in Gibara and Holguin, the outreach and food to isolated senors in Puerto Padre and Velasco, pastoral houses in Havana and Puerto Padre.  Every day in Velasco, people would come to Yadira’s door and receive food, water, money, conversation, prayer.
  • The contrast between the abundance of community and love, the beauty and potential of the island  with the very hard financial times is hard to describe. 
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