Northminster’s Cuba Connection
In 1994 Northminster entered into a sister church relationship with Iglesia Bautista Enmanuel (Emanuel Baptist Church) in Ciego de Avila, Cuba. This is one of about 25 partnerships between churches of the Alliance of Baptists and churches in the Fraternity of Cuban Baptist Churches. At least annually since 1994 Northminster members have traveled to Cuba for dialogue and fellowship and to participate in worship with members of Enmanuel and its several mission congregations. On each trip our members have also carried much needed medicine, clothes and shoes. Among other financial assistance, Northminster has helped Enmanuel pay a short-term debt on the house which serves as their worship and educational center, is helping to supplement the meager incomes of persons who are assisting Pastor Noel Fernandez minister among the mission congregations, and has provided financial support for Enmanuel students attending the ecumenical seminary at Matanzas. Noel and his wife Ormara Nolla and members José Aurelio Paz and Eduardo Gonzalez have also visited Northminster on several occasions. Most recently, Northminster has helped support much-needed renovations and additions to Enmanuel's church building. This is a partnership of mutual respect and support, and we are richer for our relationship with our brothers and sisters in Cuba.
Northminster’s annual visit to our partner church in Cuba was November 9 - 13, the day Enmanuel will celebrate its 22nd anniversary as a church. Mary DeLancy, Kyle Gregory, D. H. Clark and Craig Henry have returned and are giving us great reports on their trip.
BOOKS FOR CUBA
by Craig Henry
The older we get the harder it is to be “pack horses for Jesus” (as we have jokingly referred to ourselves) when we make our annual mission trip to Cuba. However, this year there were some books we really needed to take, so we divided them among the four of us, and they safely arrived.
The story about the first set of books actually began about 20 years ago when Northminster member Mike Rabun was a part of the our large delegation visiting that year. When Mike, who was an addiction counselor, discovered there was no Alcoholics Anonymous presence in Ciego de Avila, he promised to send some AA books to help get a group started. Somehow, despite there then being no direct mail service between the US and Cuba, the books were successfully delivered.
Our partner church, Iglesia Bautista Enmanuel, welcomed the first and thereafter succeeding AA groups to meet in their facility. More recently the AA groups have been meeting in Enmanuel’s spacious community center, which formerly was the home of Enmanuel’s founding pastor, now pastor emeritus, Noel Fernandez and wife Ormara Nolla. The community center is another story for later. We are told that in the past 20 years many hundreds of people have been helped in part because of the seed Mike Rabun planted and the initial set of books he sent. Several of those folks have become active members at Enmanuel.
When we received news that the AA groups needed some additional books, Northminster member John Denison was quick to volunteer to order them. Our delegation presented them to the leadership of one of the AA groups prior to one of their meetings, and they were most appreciatively received. We were told that many more lives will be positively touched by this gift.
For the second story about books there is some sadness and some joy. The sad part is that Dr. Gaddy was cleaning out his library at Northminster and trying to figure out what books he had room for at his new home office and which he needed to dispose of. The joyful news is that one set of books got another appreciative new home with Enmanuel’s pastor Eduardo Gonzalez.
Each of the four of us took a volume of the four-volume set The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, a set that Welton has used many times in studying the Bible and in sermon preparation. In going through his books to “discard” he thought about Eduardo and how helpful the books could be to him. Eduardo received them with much thankfulness, knowing what a great resource they can be to him--and also because they were a gift from and greatly treasured by his pastoral mentor Welton Gaddy.
Another couple of good stories of why we must still be “pack horses for Jesus”.
A Firebrand of Hope
by Mary Martin DeLancy
Five days before our arrival in Ciego de Avila to visit friends at Iglesia Bautista Enmanuel, Carolyn Robbins Thompson delivered her message of HOPE for people confronting life through the prism of a disability to The Women’s Group there. Carolyn had traveled to Cuba to participate in a consultation organized by The Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN), a program of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
Carolyn’s journey to move beyond disability began when she was born with a tumor on one side of her face. Radiation treatment when she was just a few weeks old eradicated the tumor but left her with a sightless eye, scarred vocal chords, and an asymmetrical, partially paralyzed face. Repeated plastic surgeries made little difference in the long run. Pretending nothing was different about herself did not help her deal with the discrimination she endured. About 30 years ago, Carolyn joined the board of a center for people with disabilities which helped her appreciate her uniqueness. Now she advocates from a position of strength to promote a better understanding for people with differing abilities. “We reflect God’s likeness. I believe it takes all of us to do this, like we are each a piece of the mosaic that makes up this Image of God. Perhaps this indescribable God can only be mirrored in the diversity of humanity.”
We are grateful to have encountered Carolyn during our visit to Enmanuel and to be touched by her enthusiasm for her mission.
In the Garden
by Mary Martin Delancy
In the town of Enero Primora, a plaque outside the front door designates one home as Triple Excelencia Nacional. It is the Eden surrounding the dwelling that compels attention and attracts visitors. Since his retirement from his engineering career, Jose Guillermo Gonzalez has devoted his bountiful energy and passion to cultivating a tropical paradise in his front, back, and two side yards. Except for narrow pathways, varied shapes of greenery vie for spots of black earth. Epiphyte orchids bloom suspended above the competition by wrapping aerial roots around larger plants. Jose punctuates his encyclopedic botany lessons with vignettes from a long ago youth. At 82, he embodies the peace and contentment of a life well lived.
by Mary Martin Delancy
Meet Elsa Maria Rodriguez Ortega, school librarian and hostess extraordinaire. A member of the Iglesia Bautista Enmanuel family, she welcomed me into her home for a steak dinner topped off with flan served with Cuban coffee. Although Elsa lives alone, her daughter Judith, granddaughter Flavia, and son-in-law Donald joined us for the visit. With the help of Cindy who came to interpret, we shared food, drink, and our disparate worlds for a couple of hours. Friendship came easily.
Love and Joy
By Mary Delancy
In 1959, when the Cuban Revolution brought Fidel Castro to power, Noel Fernandez was 17. What he witnessed as a member of a large youth group at the First Baptist Church in Havana reflects similar dynamics that occurred in the society as a whole. The youth group split into 3 groups: Some left Cuba because they felt they could not be Christians in a communist society; some left the church to join the revolution; others chose to remain in church while participating in the social revolution. A further division developed in the group who remained in church: Some participated only in the life of the church shunning the larger society while others strove to be part of the church as well as society.
Noel and Ormara met in this youth group and have shared their lives through many changes wrought both by revolution and passing years. Noel became a minister which caused his incarceration during a period when the government policy dictated that ministers were not helpful to the revolution. He was released after 3 years because of failing eyesight. Now he is blind. Ormara’s penalty came not from the government but from her church. When she spoke out against a pastor who discriminated, she was expelled from the congregation. Both Noel and Ormara continued their work despite these setbacks.
These two dear people accompanied us to Camaguey on the last day of our visit. Near a square where artisans displayed their creations and vendors peddled their wares, Noel and Ormara strolled down an alley. There they found the door of the first apartment they lived in after their marriage. The love they have shared for more than 50 years made finding this honeymoon retreat a joy to remember.
by D. H. Clark
As you know the floral offering for the second Sunday in Advent were in memory of our dear friend from Ciego de Avila, Cuba, Nora Hernandez. On our recent trip we once again had an opportunity to have good visits with Nora at the home she shared as a duplex with her son, Pastor Eduardo Gonzalez, and his family: Wife-Yonia, Sons-Yunior and Eduardo Manuel.
Nora, so vibrant and full of life, was always eager to entertain and feed, and feed, and feed, visitors from Northminster as she did for all her neighbors and others in the town. She was a marvelous cook, never satisfied with 1 or 2 or even 3 or 4 dishes. She was happiest when we went away full as ticks. Her use of spices and perfect sense of timing of the meals made for authentic Cuban cuisine that was to die for.
She was so proud of Eduardo, whom we met before he was baptized into the church. Some of us were fortunate to be present at his baptism, the dedication of his younger son, and his ordination service. We all share Nora’s pride in this brilliant, dedicated young man.
The accompanying picture was taken on an outing during our last trip. We went to the home of a man who has produced a botanical garden in his home that has national prominence. Nora always loved flowers and plants and truly enjoyed the day.
Nora suffered from diabetes and other medical ailments and had weakened noticeably from our last visit. Sadly, she died suddenly and peacefully at home the week of Thanksgiving.
Please pray for Eduardo, his family, and the whole church as they along with us mourn the passing of this unique, wonderful woman. She is missed deeply by all.
Auld Lang Syne
By Kyle Gregory
“In 1788 the Robert Burns sent the poem ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to the Scots Musical Museum, indicating that it was an ancient song but that he’d been the first to record it on paper. The phrase ‘auld lang syne’ roughly translates as ‘for old times’ sake’, and the song is all about preserving old friendships and looking back over the events of the year. “ (www.Scotland.org)
For some reason I have been thinking about that old song a lot since I returned from Cuba. Maybe it is because I most looked forward to re-visiting friendships made over my last two trips, or maybe it’s my age, or maybe it’s simply because once you get a song stuck in your head it can be hard to get rid of it. But for whatever reason, it has now become an integral part of my Cuba experience. God only knows (literally) whether I will ever physically return to Cuba but I do know that the congregation of Enmanuel will always be in my mind and heart for “auld lang syne.”
We bring small things when we visit Inglesia Bautista Enmanuel, and contribute financially to their ministry. But the main purpose, as I understand it, is simply to show our support and concern for them. As someone told me years ago “you can pretend to care but you can’t pretend to go.” That saying has gotten me up off the couch many a time, and that is what keeps me getting on a plane to Cuba. I can’t say I care if I don’t go.
It had been ten years since my first visit and seven years since my last. Of course, I’ve seen Eduardo, Turi, Noel, and Ormara when they have visited us, but not any of the other friends I made there. The only family I have maintained contact with between trips is Yadianna and her son, Fabio. Fabio had his baby dedication the Sunday I was there and I gave him a small toy in remembrance. We have been fast friends since. In the ten years since I first met them, Yadianna has married and had another son, Kenny. Fabio remembers me through pictures of our two times together, but Kenny only knows me through the small gifts I’m able to send from time to time. According to Eduardo, Fabio is going to be the “next pastor at Enmanuel” as he faithfully attends church every Sunday. I think how nice that would be if Fabio did become a minister!
Other friends I remember but only have contact with when I go to Ciego de Avila. It is always good to see them again. Some don’t seem to have changed a bit and some I hardly recognize. It is the children, of course, who have changed the most. You can imagine my surprise when I realized on a trip to the Camilo Cienfuegos Monument and Museum that one of our translators for the day was Alejandro, a young man I first met ten years ago when I shared a meal with his family. He speaks perfect English and when I asked how he learned so well he replied that he watches American movies! (Somehow I don’t think watching movies in Spanish would have the same result for me.)
The next evening I was privileged to return to his grandmother’s house and again share a meal with them. Most surprising on this visit was seeing Alejandro’s cousin who is a doppelganger of my grandson, Archer. The family was amazed when I showed them photos of Archer and when Marcel saw the picture he excitedly said (in Spanish, of course) “he has my face!” Now he wants Archer to come play with him – if only it were that easy.
As many of you know, I have hosted several foreign exchange students over the past few years. That is the main reason that it had been so long since I returned to Cuba. But after talking to all of my European “sons,” and on this trip talking to Alejandro and Fabio, I am even more convinced that we have much more in common with our brothers and sisters in the rest of the world than differences. All teenagers prefer to be with friends, keep up with international soccer, and listen to music – some even the same. Little ones like toys. When I gave five-year-old Kenny a bag of things that I had brought he couldn’t help but sneak a peek. I’m sure his mother told him to wait and not just pounce on the gifts – mothers are the same everywhere, too. But when he saw the little water bottle on the top and cried “Minions!!!!”, I knew we had connected.
While researching the actual spelling of “Auld Lang Syne” I found the history of this song we sing to usher in each New Year. I discovered there are actually five verses, all very poignant. But the fourth verse seems most appropriate as I think of my friends in Cuba:
We two have paddled in the stream
From morning sun till dine.
But seas between us long have roared
Since long, long ago.
The seas will continue to roar between our two countries but the connection will always be there as I preserve old friendships and look over events of the past year for “Auld Lang Syne.”