The Association of Retired Ministers, Spouses and Survivors has committed itself to a mission focus on the Reformed/Presbyterian Church of Cuba. We have worked primarily with the “Presbyterian Cuba Connection” and its executive secretary, the Rev. Dean Lewis.
A focus of our work has been helping a key seminary obtain the resources it needs to serve its students and the church’s growing membership.
ARMSS has sponsored three mission visits to Cuba at the invitation of the Cuban church, with about 15 ARMSS members on each trip. These people have visited churches, church members’ homes, ecumenical centers and Cuban mission projects.
ARMSS members who visited Cuba report being inspired by the will, warmth, hospitality and extraordinary resilience of the Cuban people, the commitment of the pastors who serve them and the joy expressed by congregations despite years of suffering and present hardships.
On a trip to Cuba in 2009, ARMSS members discovered great needs in the seminary library of the Reformed/Presbyterian Theological School at Matanzas. Due to the United States’ near-total embargo on economic relations with Cuba and the Cuban church’s meager finances, the library lacked current theological and biblical resources and digitized material. The students needed computers and a room to house them and the library needed air conditioning to maintain the books and resources.
ARMSS members have responded generously to meet these and other needs of the Reformed/ Presbyterian Church:
» We have raised more than $30,000 for the Cuba Connection and the seminary project.
» We have helped buy for Havana and Central Presbyteries two school buses that have carried more than two tons of resources for the library. It would have cost $3,000.00 to mail these resources by shipping them though Canada.
» We have purchased six computers and printers for the students and helped develop a computer room.
» We have paid to repair the air conditioning in the library to preserve the books in Cuba’s tropical climate.
Bob Worley, a retired McCormick Presbyterian Seminary professor and a member of ARMSS, has developed the vision for support of the seminary library while coordinating all these activities with Dean Francisco Marrero of the Matanzas Seminary. Worley has worked through the International Book Charities to compile resources for the seminary library.
“I think the seminary will need multiple years of help from ARMSS, so we should plan on raising additional funds” and send more ARMSS members on additional trips to Cuba, he said.
The Reformed/Presbyterian Church of Cuba has been growing in numbers ever since the Cuban government, as part of a 1992 constitutional revision, declared the country secular rather than atheistic. The church has around 10,000 members with 38 congregations, which comprise the Havana, Matanza and Central presbyteries. Pastors say around four-fifths of their members are new Christians.
In addition to the organized congregations, there are 20 preaching points and 32 pastors, including four who are officially retired but still engaged in active ministry. Pastors in Cuba cannot afford to retire because pension funds from the U.S Board of Pensions, to which these pastors contributed when Cuba was related to the Synod of New Jersey, have been frozen by the U.S. embargo.
The Cuban church needs more pastors to keep up with membership growth, and enrollment is growing at the Matanzas Seminary.
For now, the church must depend on outside resources to continue its mission and growth. As long as that remains true, ARMSS will continue its embrace.
BILL GANNAWAY is pastor emeritus of Westminster Church in Topeka, Kan., and president of ARMSS.