Presbyterian witness in Cuba began in 1890. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) continues the tradition of Christian support through our partner church and mission personnel. The gospel is preached in more than 40 communities across four provinces in central Cuba. Congregations also reach out to elderly persons and others particularly affected by the country’s economic problems. Through the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanza students receive preparation for ministry. Lay leaders receive training through programs around the island. There are many PC(USA) congregation and presbytery partnerships with Cuban churches and presbyteries.
A Brief History of Cuba
This 745-mile-long island, located just 90 miles off the tip of Florida, was inhabited by about 50,000 people of the Cibony and Taino nations when Columbus first arrived in 1492. African slaves were introduced in 1523, and many more slaves were brought over as sugar cane production increased.
Cuba’s first liberation movement began in 1868 — 50 years after most other Latin American countries — when a wealthy estate owner named Céspedes freed his slaves and called for a revolt against Spain. After 10 years of guerrilla warfare this struggle was finally put down. Another insurrection was begun in 1895 by the poet José Martí. The Cuban people gained independence from Spanish rule in 1898 after the Spanish-American War, but they immediately fell under U.S. domination.
The first Cuban constitution contained the famous Platt amendment, which gave the United States the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and keep a naval base at Guantánamo Bay. The United States used this “right” liberally, sending U.S. Marines there in 1906–9, in 1912 and again in 1920. At the time U.S. companies owned or controlled half the natural resources in Cuba. Cuba was ruled by the dictator Fulgencio Batista most of the period from 1933 to 1959. This ended with the successful insurrection led by Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement.
The United States cut off diplomatic relations in June 1960 in retaliation for the expropriation of about 2 billion dollars of U.S.-owned property. From this moment Cuba became the major battleground of the Cold War in this hemisphere, and balanced, unbiased information became virtually impossible to obtain. The sins of the government are well known — state control of the media, repression of dissidents and homosexuals, prohibition of independent trade unions — but the substantial achievements of the government are largely unknown. These include reduction of infant mortality to First World levels (10 per 1,000 live births) increase in life expectancy to First World levels (76 years for both men and women) eradication of malaria, polio, tuberculosis and tetanus universal health care and a 94 percent literacy rate. With the loss of substantial aid from the former U.S.S.R. and the 35-year U.S. embargo, Cuba’s economy is reeling. Cubans are uneasy in this time of change — yesterday’s paradigms no longer give a sense of security and no new ones have taken their place.
David Cortes-Fuentes and Josefina Saez-Acevedo
The Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas, Cuba, prepares ministers for Cuban churches, including the longtime PC(USA) partner church, the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba. Not enough Cuban professors are available to meet the demand for seminary instruction, so the seminary has invited David Cortes-Fuentes to teach New Testament and Greek. Josefina Saez-Acevedo is looking forward to using her experience in Christian education and ministry to further their work in Cuba. The Evangelical Theological Seminary was founded in 1946 by Presbyterian, Methodist, and Episcopal churches. In addition to offering the basic degree for those called to pastoral ministry, it also offers BA programs in Christian education, Bible and Theology, and Christian Service for lay leadership training. Two Master´s degree programs area also offered.
Jo Ella Holman
Jo Ella Holman
As regional liaison for the Caribbean, Jo Ella Holman’s ministry focuses on churches in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Curacao, Grenada and Trinidad & Tobago. She works closely with the Caribbean and North America Council for Mission (CANACOM), an organization that enables mutual mission among churches from the two regions. Her ministry involves facilitating and supporting programs of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) partner churches and organizations and implementing regional strategies. She also works with mission personnel in the region by communicating regularly with them, offering them counsel and encouragement and helping them reflect on and assess their ministries. She also works with PC(USA) congregations and presbyteries in the United States involved in partnerships with Christians in the Caribbean.
You can find out more about her ministry on her profile page, which can be found here.
The Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba (IPRC)
In 1890 Evaristo P. Collazo started churches in Havana and Santa Clara. In the same year he became acquainted with a Presbyterian from the United States, Anthony T. Graybill. By 1918 the friendship of these two men had given birth to a Presbyterian Church in Cuba related to the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.’s National Mission program. The relationship with the U.S. church was so strong that until the time of the Cuban revolution in 1959 Cuba was part of the Synod of New Jersey. In 1967 the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba (IPRC) was established as an autonomous denomination.
While no diplomatic relationships between the United States and Cuba have existed for many years, the two churches have maintained a close relationship. A Mutual Mission Agreement adopted by both General Assemblies celebrates the unity of Christ, a common Reformed tradition, and the sharing in “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.” The Agreement details a commitment to sharing and exchange.
The IPRC has three presbyteries and a synod. New energy is felt all over Cuba as the Cuban people are returning to their Christian roots or are joining the Christian community for the first time.
Although the IPRC has highly trained and skilled leaders and church schoolteachers, there are too few to meet the increasing needs. Theological and Christian education are high priorities for the Cuban church. Each year a curriculum is written and sent to all churches and workshops provide training for new leaders. Throughout the years the women’s organization has given strength and vitality to the church. Women pastors are accepted and valued for their leadership and faithfulness. The church in Cuban society today has become an important place for those who are searching for meaning and spirituality. The IPRC is moving into new areas of pastoral ministry to meet the needs and concerns.
Alliance of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches of Latin America (AIPRAL)
Presbytery of Baltimore
Presbytery of the Cascades
Presbytery of Central Florida
Presbytery of Chicago
Presbytery of Long Island
Presbytery of South Louisiana
Presbytery of Santa Fe
Presbytery of West Jersey
Cuba Partners Network
The Cuba Partners Network is among more than 40 networks that connect Presbyterians who share a common mission interest. Most participants are involved in mission partnerships through congregations, presbyteries or synods. Network members come together to coordinate efforts, share best practices and develop strategies.
For information contact: Glen Dickson, John Potter or Jo Ella Holman.
Visit the website of the Cuba Partners Network.
Jo Ella Holman, regional liaison, joella.holman@pcusa.
Cuba Mission Network
The Cuba Mission Network is among more than 40 networks that connect Presbyterians who share a common mission interest. Most participants are involved in mission partnerships through congregations, presbyteries or synods. Network members come together to coordinate efforts, share best practices and develop strategies.
For information contact: Glen Dickson at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jo Ella Holman at email@example.com.