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Celebrating With Our Cuban Family

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

April 2019

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It is already spring! It is unbelievable that the first three months of the year flew by so quickly. Christmas and New Year’s are still vivid in my memory. On Christmas Eve, we prepared for the coming of the Christ child with our dear Episcopalian friends Rev. Gilberto Caballero and his wife Maria E. Tirse at their home in Bolondron. We spent the day cooking, visiting and playing Uno. We took strolls into the town, visiting amongst ourselves and others along the way. The sharing of holiday cheer, breaking of bread and companionship were the gifts exchanged on that Christmas Eve. Being received with characteristic Cuban hospitality and grace while exchanging stories of holiday traditions made us feel as though we were back in Puerto Rico visiting with our own family. On Christmas day, we traveled to the Episcopal Church in the city of Coliseo, where Rev. Gilberto Caballero is the pastor. Pastor Gilberto rang the church bells mightily on that Christmas morning. What a privilege to have participated in the liturgy, the proclamation of the Word, and the serving and sharing of the Holy Eucharist with our Episcopalian brothers and sisters on that Christmas morning.

Being far from home during the holidays is hard. Those of us staying at the seminary decided to have a potluck dinner on New Year’s Eve to celebrate together. One of the families we shared the evening with was Jorge Luis, Anaysa and their then-three-month-old daughter Elisabeth. Another seminary couple, Anier and Yuli, joined us as well. Anaysa’s parents arrived from Pinar del Rio, bringing with them food supplies scarce in Matanzas. Even though food shortages were at their peak during the holiday season, we made do with what was found. Our table was filled to the brim with plenty of love. It turned out to be a memorable evening filled with laughter and sharing. We each contributed a dish, making for a delightful Cuban/Puerto Rican feast to remember. We shared what we had, and that was more than enough. David and I were again invited to share at the table and in the lives of new friends with open hearts. Those of us who have lived through the experience of being seminary students understand the gift it is to be together in simplicity and humbleness, especially during the holiday season. At the stroke of midnight, the cider was popped open, and a bucket of water was thrown from the apartment door onto the sidewalk as a symbol of washing away the old and inviting in the hopefulness of a new year. These are memories that will be cherished for years to come. Yes, Christmas and New Year’s are long gone, but we continue springing forth into the vastness of time, making new memories along the way.

With the new year comes the second and last semester of the 2018-2019 academic year. It seems that life at the seminary marches at a quicker pace during the second semester. Students are busy satisfying class demands, attending annual winter/spring lecture series, engaging with visiting groups eager to learn what seminary life is like in a Cuban context, and last but not least, meeting the demands of everyday life. In the midst of it all, the seminary community continues to make time for memory-making. The joyous news of a young seminary couple expecting their first child. The birth of that child who is taken into the seminary community as a “niece or nephew,” meaning that in some measure we too take part in caring for them. The engagement of another young seminary couple, followed by the announcement of their spring wedding at the seminary chapel. The entire seminary community engaged in making their wedding day and the beginning of their new life together one to remember. Even David and I were recruited to help with decorating the seminary gazebo for Fernando and Roxana’s wedding reception on that breezy March 15 spring afternoon. Stepping away from the demands of study and everyday life to delight in the celebration of life, whether that be a birth or marriage, is a blessing.

Students who graduated last June continue to include us in their own memory-making by letting us know that they are well on the road to or have completed their ordination process. Episcopalian candidates Yannel Valdivia and Rodhin Colomar received their diaconal orders, taking them one step closer to full ordination. Dargel Leyva and Tirisay Durán, from the Reformed-Presbyterian Church in Cuba and the Presbytery of La Habana, both passed their ordination exams with flying colors. Dargel was ordained March 23, 2019 at Calabazar de Sagua Reformed-Presbyterian Church in the Presbytery of El Centro, and Tirisay was ordained March 30, 2019 at Nueva Paz Reformed-Presbyterian Church in the Presbytery of La Habana. The Reformed-Presbyterian Church in Cuba has a great need for more ministers, and both Dargel and Tirisay are welcome additions. Yannel, Rodhin, Dargel, and Tirisay bring renewed energy to their respective denominations and their church communities. Nothing has given us more pleasure than witnessing the dedication of these seminary students inside and outside the classroom. We share in their joy!

As mission co-workers, we have been given the responsibility and privilege to see more deeply into the church, personal lives and culture of everyday Cuba. Our time here continues to give us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in everyday life in Cuba, to experience places and events that most will never be able to. We are thankful to you, our partners, for opening up these possibilities through your prayerful and generous financial support. We invite you to visit with us so we can make some memories of our own together. Stop by the seminary to visit with us — we are always delighted to share time with you all. Continue to pray for us, the church in Cuba and its people.

David and Josey

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