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Better Together

A Letter from Josey Saez and David Cortes, serving in Cuba

June 2019

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Did you know that many Cuban congregations have flourishing, life-giving partnerships with congregations and Church-related organizations like Living Waters for the World (LWW), Days for Girls and many others? Because of these partnerships, Cuban and U.S. congregations of many denominations continue to bless each other with long-lasting friendships and care. It seems that the news heard these days regarding Cuba revolves around economic inefficiencies and the political tit-for-tat that has gone on for 60 years now. Yet there is so much more to Cuba than just these ongoing realties.

Through presbyteries, local congregations, seminaries and organizations like LWW, the PC(USA) has had long, impactful relationships with a number of Cuban congregations. For the past 10 years, LWW in Cuba has continued to develop partnerships with local churches and religious institutions. In June 2019, the LWW Water System at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas, Cuba, will celebrate its tenth year of ongoing complimentary service to the seminary, the surrounding communities and the nearby children’s hospital. According to the LWW website, 53 fully operational systems offer thousands of gallons of clean, healthy water to communities throughout the Island. We are grateful for the efforts of the many sisters and brothers who have contributed financially and given of their time and talents to make a difference in our little corner of Cuba. And how thankful pastors, congregations and communities in Matanzas and La Habana are to have clean water.

Living Waters for the World teams from Lafayette, Louisiana, and Sabanilla, Matanzas.

Just last month, First Presbyterian Church in Lafayette, Louisiana, and the Reformed-Presbyterian Church Resurrecciòn in Sabanilla, a very small town within the Provence of Matanzas, worked together to make their joint dream come true. Their partnership has given an entire town the opportunity to contribute via LWW to the health and well-being of their community. The Lafayette LWW team comprised of Nell Hahn, Rev. Zach Sasser and Megan Romer arrived May 16. The team’s engineers and technical experts were George and Michael Strain from University Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The session moderator of the Sabanilla congregation, Rev. Beidy Casas Aragon, and church members played important roles in making for smooth sailing during that work-filled week. Each phase of the system installation moved right along with little to no trouble. Thanks to the team work, quick thinking and ingenuity of our Cuban partners, small issues were resolved.

LWW Health Educator Megan Romer and I were thrilled with the attendance of several Cuban church members who came to be trained as local LWW community health educators. These congregants were trained to teach the ABC’s of why and how to use the purified water. Among these faithful men and women were housewives, retired teachers, a community nurse, an accountant, an electrician, a biology professor and one ecumenical representative from the local Roman Catholic congregation. All took to heart what they learned, demonstrating ownership and eagerness to reach their community with the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the giver of Living Waters for the World. The work under the hot Caribbean sun was grueling at times, yet delightful laughter, yahoos and congrats were heard periodically. Small daily celebrations of successes gave us encouragement that the system would be running on its due date of May 23. The small daily celebrations gave way to a communal celebration with over 90 neighbors present, including children. The LWW team and the Sabanilla Reformed-Presbyterian Church welcomed and celebrated with the community. Everyone left feeling that good and holy work had been accomplished, eager to continue developing stronger relationships between the Sabanilla church, their community and First Presbyterian Church Lafayette. The living waters of the Spirit of God flowed as the first drink of purified water was taken by those present, who lifted up thanksgiving and praise to God mixed with tears of joy. Partnership, relationship and agape are stronger than scarcities, political rhetoric and language barriers in bringing change and hope for a better future. This is news that is worth sharing — we are always better together, always.

Days for Girls gathering at the Evangelical Theological Seminary, Matanzas, Cuba.

Moreover, life-giving partnerships are taking hold in several Cuban churches with the organization Days for Girls, a program providing reusable feminine hygiene kits along with health and reproductive education. I was introduced to this project by Melissa Johnson, a PC(USA) mission co-worker in Zambia. Then I met Sahily Muñiz, a Pentecostal pastor and nurse currently studying at the Matanzas Seminary, who introduced me to her Days for Girls contact Michelle Belanger. Michelle is a member of a Methodist church in Jacksonville, FL, who came to establish a Days for Girls project with Sahily’s congregation in Jovellanos, Matanzas. Talk about being an ecumenical Matthew 25 church in Cuba! The need for feminine hygiene products is great here. There is much talk about the scarcity of chicken, oil and other food staples, but not about this critical need that affects women specifically. I am so grateful to Sahily for including me in her efforts to educate women on the use and care of the feminine hygiene kits and on reproductive health. Although most Cubans are well-educated on these matters, there are still many taboos and much misinformation.

Sahily was sent several kits gifted by Days for Girls for use in our local community. A well-received evening presentation of Days for Girls was provided for seminary students, their teenage daughters and seminary students’ wives. Participants who lived through what is known as the “Special Period” during the 1990s were especially grateful. During this time of unprecedented economic collapse, everyone had to make do with what was found. Some of the women at the gathering shared that they and other women had found themselves resorting to using towels, cotton gauze and other strips of cotton fabrics to take care of their sanitary needs. Each of the more “mature” women kept stating, “What a difference these kits would have made then.” The younger generations present on that evening were a little taken aback by the stories told by these “mature” women. All were appreciative of the products they were given, for too often feminine hygiene products are either too expensive to purchase or unavailable for several months at a time. Each presentation of Days for Girls gives women an alternative that they did not have before. Again, we are always better together, always.

As another academic year comes to a close here at the Evangelical Theological Seminary, David and I thank the many who have left the comforts of home to come partner with the Cuban church and its people. These relationships have thrived and grown into mutual love for one another. David and I are thankful for your continued prayers for our family and ministry. We are thankful for so many who continue to open their hearts and homes to us as we visit our Presbyterian siblings throughout the U.S. And we are thankful for the grace given to us through your financial support that reassures us that indeed we are better together. Muchas gracias. We leave you with this scripture that speaks to us and pray it will speak to you as well: “God’s Kingdom is the place of abundance where every generous act overflows its original bounds and becomes part of the unbounded grace of God at work in the world.”

2 Cor. 9:10-15.

Josey and David

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