We believe that it is necessary to thank everyone who, in one way or another, made possible this historic day for MCC/ICM and for those who had the good fortune to experience this incredible moment in time: those who supported financially, those who were constantly praying for us and those who worked overtime to make this a successful visit to Matanzas and Havana, Cuba.
We arrived full of excitement and expectations on 28 April 2015 at the Jose Marti International Airport, in the city of Havana. After arriving we went to immigration where we had to wait a long time to receive our religious visas, which were made possible thanks to the work of the theologian Elaine Saralegui and the Rev. Santiago, who is the Executive Secretary of the Fraternity of Baptists Churches of Cuba (FIBAC). Of course, that was only made possible, after the Office of Religious Affairs made their inquiries about MCC and verified who would be traveling to Cuba.
One of the major concerns of the Cuban Government, during this time of monumental change, is the number of requests for religious visas that they are receiving, especially on the part of the fundamentalist churches of the United States. They of course want to avoid, to the extent it is possible, these “fundamentalist missionary journeys” which could hurt the processes that lead the churches and the Government in Cuba.
Before I report on our activities, it is necessary to construct the context that currently exists in Cuba. Cuba is a practically a divided country, as it is in many countries. There is a region that is conservative and fundamentalist, which is the East side of the island. A more liberal and open region, is on the West side of the island, which includes Havana and Matanzas among many other cities.
For us as a delegation, it was a great educational opportunity to live and experience the grandeur of the Cuban people, in the midst of the limitations by the American blockade. Our Cuban host and the people we met just opened up their hearts, their churches, their traditions, and received us as if we were members of their community.
The people of Cuba are anxious to engage us in dialogue. They want to learn and work in union with MCC on some religious social justice projects. We have a potential outreach opening with many opportunities that we must embrace in a planned and intelligent manner, so that it is a blessing for both MCC and for the people in Cuba. Our Global Justice Institute, also has the potential for many opportunities to partner with the ministries in Cuba, in order to support and establish some fruitful relations in Cuba. I look forward to that conversation with the Rev. Elder Pat Bumgardner
We are well aware that this visit was a historic event in many ways. We have felt already, blessed and thankful for this wonderful experience as it has touched and will influence our being and our Ministry. We could not have been received by better people than by the group called, “Opening Gaps of Colors.” Their excellent teamwork, which we dare to say that they live in their daily practice the meaning to BE MCC, even without being members of MCC. We experienced firsthand our motto “Transforming ourselves as we transform the world,” during this visit.
(From left to right: Rev. Hector, Mary E Hunt, Rev. Mona West, Yileivys Cruz, Elaine Saralegui, Adiel Maimó, Phillip and Rev. Troy)
MATANZAS, CUBA (APRIL 29 – 30)
EVENT IN THE MATANZAS THEOLOGICAL EVANGELICAL SEMINARIO (SET): GENDER AND NON-HETERONORMATIVE SEXUALITIES: CHURCH ADDRESING CHALLENGES.
We were pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the event and the incredible participation of panelists and specialists in various branches of Sciences and different religious backgrounds. Some of the subjects treated with an incredible, open and respectful depth were the following:
1) Sexual citizenship, participation and emancipation in Cuba: history and future (Dr. Alberto Roque)
(2) Polyphony of sex: intersex bodies and the discomforts of culture (Adriana Agramonte Machado)
(3) Heterosexual citizenship vs. Equal opportunities (Rita M. Pereira Ramírez)
(4) Resilience in Havana for some gay couples, potentials and challenges (Manuel Nevales)
(5) The Church and historic challenges (Rev. Raquel Suárez Rodes)
(6) Family Code a perspective from activism. Family code a view from the right (Ms. C. Manuel Vázquez Seijido)
(7) Homo-parental families (Patricia Ares)
8) Queer studies and Queer politics: proposals for the Cuban context (Rev. Mona West, Mary E. Hunt, Elaine Saralegui and Clara Luz Ajo Lazaro)
We want to highlight several points:
- There was a total openness to dialogue and questioning regarding what and how to address the policy of the Cuban Government in aspects relating to the family code. This is a document the Communist Party has been working on the since 2007 which would establish a set standard of what a family is among the people of Cuba. There is an intense discussion of course, led by Ms. C. Mariela Castro and CENESEX, to at least figure out how to remove the “Unions of fact” in this code which would ensure that the concept of family does not take a more open perspective.
- It was interesting to hear that in the first years of the Cuban revolution, people who identified as Christian, experienced harsh discrimination. And how some who have openly accepted their LGB sexual orientation were doubly discriminated against, particularly in the case of the Rev. Raquel Suárez, who will no doubt be a presenter for the Hispanic pre-Conference at the General Conference.
- We found that some churches are willing to openly address the issue of inclusion. Yet there are many more that refuse to even consider the question. .
- The Evangelical Seminary of Matanzas, after the visit of the President of the Baptist churches, has been very assertive to engage in much dialogue and discussion on inclusion. They openly made a statement by hosting this event.
29 April, was the night the Rev. Elder Troy Perry presented a lecture on the history and foundation of MCC, which was well received. Without a doubt, it was a much awaited moment by participants of the conference, as the crowd enthusiastically welcomed him. At the end of the presentation at the Conference, the Rev. Elder Troy, the Rev. Elder Dr. Mona and the Rev. Elder Hector had the opportunity to answer questions from the attendees.
We can say, with all truth, that MCC needs to be at this Conference next year, as a fundamental partner with Group SOMOS.
There we at least 90 participants at this event.
LABOR DAY – MAY FIRST
Around the world, except in the United States, the first of May is a day of great celebration, particularly in Cuba, where practically everyone participates in the parade, to celebrate the Cuban working people. We had the opportunity to attend this celebration as spectators. On all sides, we could only be witness smiles, cheerful, friendly, respectful, and very proud of being Cuban faces. The offered us the gift of hospitality with their supportive reception without noting our differences. The entire delegation enjoyed this day. Including the rain, which the Cuban people said, was a sign of blessing.
In the evening, the Group SOMOS, prepared for us a welcome dinner with Cuban music, food and joyfulness. We enjoyed a lot on the First of May in Matanzas, Cuba.
VARADERO – LOVING CARE HOUSE / REST ON VARADERO BEACH (MAY 2)
On Saturday we went along with some members of the group, SOMOS who were heading to Varadero, where we could learn about the ministry being offered in the “Love House”. The Loving Care House is a center for social services and education (CESERSE) founded by the Rev. Dr. Sergio Arce Martínez. This ministry was founded to offer social services to groups of children with various acute or chronic ailments, in many cases they are terminal. Loving Care House also provides housing for the elderly.
The Center’s goal: To promote and arrange educational and cultural spaces of healthy recreation with physical, psychological and spiritual benefits for a highly vulnerable sector of the population. For this sector, House of Love offers the possibility of enjoying the natural surroundings of Varadero beach. The Director of the Centre is Nacyra Gómez; with whom we will be in communication to establish some kind of formal partnering relationship between MCC and the “House of Love”.
Of course, we also took advantage of the Varadero Beach to enjoy some time to rest.
MEETING WITH THE GROUP “SOMOS”
On Saturday afternoon, we had the opportunity to meet with the group SOMOS to share with all the people who are a part of this group, about MCC, our vision, mission, core values and Strategic Plan. They are very interested in being a part of MCC. They are already enthusiastically saying,” WE ARE MCC”. We are entering a time of discernment with them through intentional prayer and dialogue.
SUNDAY WORSHIP IN THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF MATANZAS (MAY 3)
On Sunday, we were invited to participate in the Sunday worship service at the First Baptist Church of Matanzas, which involved a number of the members of our group. The Rev. Hector Gutierrez was invited to preach, the Rev. Troy Perry was asked to consecrate together with Pastor Orestes Roca Santana and the Rev. Mona West to jointly serve communion to the participants. (We have a video with the bilingual consecration.)
An interesting sign of solidarity and inclusion was experienced as Pastor Orestes, invited us to receive communion first, as a sign of the communion between the First Baptist Church and MCC.
LA HAVANA – CONSUL OF CHURCHES OF CUBA / INFORMAL VISIT TO CENESEX (MAY 4)
The Council of churches of Cuba, received the US Secretary and some members of various ministries, including those who are responsible for preparing promoters for the prevention and care of the LANDLESS. The Council brings together around 30 denominations and of course, they were aware of the presence of MCC in Cuba.
The Chairman and other members of the Board of directors were not present because they had to leave to attend to the emergency flooding which in previous days had claimed at least three lives and created hundreds of victims in the city of Havana who lost their houses and belongings.
They shared with us about the walking churches in Cuba, the difficulties they once had to survive in the Communist regime and the reunion with the same Communist regime which requested the support of the churches to sustain the population after the Cuban crisis in 1994, when they stopped receiving support from Russia.
Among the things that we shared was that there was never a ban in the country of the profession of faith. Yet some discrimination was experienced by some members of the community. They also told us that it was difficult to have Bibles for everyone, during that period. Their solution was to, in some communities, separate books of the Bible and distribute them among the families so that everyone would have access to reading a book. As one family completed a book, they put it back in the rotation for others.
A great difficulty and concern that, faced with the new panorama of relations with the United States, is the onslaught that they will experience from fundamentalist Churches seeking to offer Bibles in exchange for the support of the Government to be able to meet with the tobacco business on the island. They plan to offer Bibles for all the Cuban people, in exchange for tobacco.
They shared with us about the prevention and care of people with HIV/AIDS. Those infected were placed in isolation with virtually no contact with their families. Even when the medicine is free, it is difficult having all the medications required, as the vast majority come from abroad.
A recommendation and request, that we heard a great deal is that MCC must lend its support to the end the embargo to Cuba. They expressed that it may seem to Americans that everything has changed in Cuba yet that is not the reality as long as the US continues its embargo to Cuba.
At noon, we had lunch with the Attorney of CENESEX MsC. Manuel Vázquez, with whom the Rev. Elder Troy Perry availed himself of the opportunity to plant the idea of the possibility that Ms. C. Mariela Castro consider participating in the MCC General Conference in Victoria, Canada. The Rev. Elder Troy will talk with the Rev. Elder Dr. Nancy Wilson on the process to be followed.
MATANZAS – VISIT TO KAIRÓS / MEETING WITH THE OFFICER OF RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY IN MATANZAS (MAY 5)
We had a meeting with the Kairos Center, which is a Christian Center that cultivates and promotes liturgy which integrates art and social work, with an ecumenical approach, renewed and contextualized in the Cuban culture.
Its mission is to offer liturgical formation to the churches in Cuba and establish relationships that encourage discipleship, service and human solidarity, integrating art and social work in a renewal form that keeps the spirit and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
The leaders and members, run the local and national programs. Groups of people, of other faiths, in the city are invited to participate as well as residents of the city of Matanzas, and members of the most vulnerable groups. Creative people and artists from across the country also participate as do children, youth and young adults. People, both Cuban and foreign, and institutions that are interested in working in the Kairos Center are invited to participate.
In the afternoon, we had a meeting with the Officer of the Region of Matanzas, for religious affairs in the Auditorium of the Communist Party. It was an interesting exchange between the Rev. Elder Troy Perry and the delegate about the change of direction in the relations between Cuba and the United States. They discussed the speeches by the Presidents of both countries and the expectations of the near future. The delegate made some very positive comments about the event at the Evangelical Seminary and the work that we are doing. The delegate told us about the deference that we were to receive at the Headquarters of the Communist Party in the city of Matanzas.
LA HABANA – SCIENTIFIC EVENT OF CENESEX / OFFICIAL VISIT TO THE HEADQUARTERS OFFICES OF THE NATIONAL COMMUNIST PARTY IN THE REVOLUTION SQUARE IN HAVANA, CUBA; INTERVIEW WITH OFFICIAL OF THE RELIGOUS AFFAIRES (MAY 6)
On their day of observance of stopping the violence against homophobia and transphobia, they offered a more inclusive space. Some of the objectives of this Conference were:
Give visibility to, combat and overcome all forms of discrimination and violence on grounds of gender, in particular, and for men and women discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Promote the actions and outcomes of institutional, political and governmental work in their country, as part of the national sex education program, in favor of respect for the full dignity of homosexual, bisexual people and transgender people.
Promote respect and acceptance for people with HIV, with emphasis on vulnerable groups.
We had the opportunity to dialogue for a few minutes with Ms. C. Mariela Castro Espin, who had many agreements with the Rev. Troy and the entire delegation of MCC. The event took place in the Auditorium of the Central Cuban workers in Havana, there were representatives of trade unions from several Latin American countries.
In the afternoon, we had a meeting in the headquarters of the Communist Party, which is located in the Plaza of the Revolution, with the officer of the Office of Care on the issues of religious affairs’, Lic. Maria of the Angels Perez Menéndez.
Lic. Maria presented to us, an abbreviated history of the churches in Cuba, how the relationship is working between the Cuban Government and the churches. She also said that the Muslim community is coming to Cuba and have decided to build the first mosque. The Rev. Troy shared with her our history and an account of the journey of MCC and our struggle with fundamentalist groups. He clarified that MCC is not a denomination that sends missionaries to countries where we would like to have churches, but only at the request of the indigenous people. He did say that he was hopeful that MCC would have a Cuban church or two in the near future.
We give her a copy of the documentary “Call me Troy”
LA HAVANA –VISIT TO MARTÍN LUTHER KING JR CENTER / VISIT TO THE FRATERNITY OF BAPTIST CHURCHES IN CUBA (FIBAC) (MAY 7)
A must-see in Havana, had to include the Martin Luther King Jr. Center which is a macro-ecumenical organization of Christian inspiration. The Center, according to the Cuban people and their churches, prophetically contributes to the solidarity and participation, conscious and organized, popular and critical, with a profound commitment in a socialist option. This contribution makes it a concept of Popular education and theology, critical, contextualized and liberating theology.
In the afternoon, we went to get to know the farm of the Fraternity of Baptist Churches of Cuba (FIBAC) that brings together about 30 churches. They shared with us their journey before forming the fraternity, when they were part of the United States Southern Baptist Church and their separation or expulsion from the Federation. They have wide expanse of property, on which they are in the process of building more facilities. Executive Secretary Santiago C. Delgado Castillo shared with us some details of its Bylaws and their avatars.
It was important for us is to visit this site, to thank them for their intervention in the obtainment of our religious Visas and their willingness to engage in dialogue with us.
MATANZAS – OFFICIAL VISIT TO THE THEOLOGICAL EVANGELICAL SEMINARY OF MATANZAS (MAY 8)
Friday was the official visit to the Evangelical Seminary of Matanzas, where we had a very fruitful meeting with the outgoing Rector, the Rev. Dr. Reinerio M. Arce-Valentin; the new Rector, Rev. Dr. Carlos E. Ham; the Secretary Elizabeth González and the Professor Dr. Clara Luz Ajo Lazaro.
The Rev. Troy took the opportunity to thank everyone for their hospitality for having received us previously, sharing their experience and above all to say that MCC is committed to training and quality education in our clergy and laity.
The Rev. Mona and the Rev. Hector discussed the possibilities of establishing both academic, relationships of exchange of MCC teachers who can teach some courses in the seminary. It was very interesting to see their interest and openness as we began to take the steps to formalize the relationship of MCC with the SET.
Currently they have 611 students (55 women), half of which are lay participants in training programs. The Faculty is made of 13 professors and guest professors from different universities and seminars, with which they have relations of exchange.
MCC and SET have many possibilities of establishing an interesting exchange relationship. We left them a copy of a lot of e-books about queer theology.
The SET has a very important role within the new Cuban process, they are looking to offer training and education to all sectors in Cuba and to be able to confront fundamentalism which is hovering around like a roaring and destructive lion.
SHOWING OF THE DOCUMENTARY
“CALL ME TROY” IN THE “EL MIRÓN”
In the evening, regardless of our tiredness, we couldn´t miss the showing of the documentary; an experience that no doubt will forever mark the lives of those who were able to participate. For them and for us, it was an incredible experience to be able to enjoy the documentary, in the presence of the Rev. Troy Perry and his husband Phillip.
LA HABANA – JOURNEY AGAINTS HOMOPHOBIA AND TRANSPHOBIA / ECUMENICAL BLESSING OF LOVE IN PAVILION CUBA (MAY 9)
We were in many publications that you could have already consulted during the past weekend. We made history together, all the organizers and participants to this wonderful day. And we can say with great pride MCC was a key player.
The Ecumenical ceremony of blessing of love, which was advertised by Mariela Castro, was based on a liturgy that the Rev. Hector Gutierrez shared with Elaine Saralegui and the Rev. Raquel Suárez. After contextualizing some phrases to the Cuban Spanish, Elaine and Raquel gave their approval. This will not be in the press, but we want to point out, that we are Transforming ourselves as we transform the world, in this last week, to put our best effort in the transformation of CUBA.
LAST MORNING IN MATANZAS, CUBA (MAY 10)
They were two incredible weeks, which touched our hearts and which raised us our spirits about the potential fertile ground that we together, with our Cuban siblings on this wonderful day.
We could not be treated and recognized in a better way. Joy, strength, enthusiasm and the faith of the Cuban people, have no comparison.
Now, breathe, reflect, and get your hands on the future we can walk together, Cuba and the Metropolitan Community Churches.
Rev. Elder Troy Perry
Rev. Elder Dr. Mona West
Rev. Elder Hector Gutierrez