A Letter from David Cortes and Josey Saez, serving in Cuba
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It seems that time flies by fast. We are already on our summer mission interpretation assignment (IA), telling of our experiences in ministry with our Cuban brothers and sisters, meeting new friends, and celebrating our journey together with the churches in Cuba and the United States.
We have reasons to celebrate and be thankful. We are already halfway through our third year in Cuba, and we continue to be amazed by the resiliency, dedication, faith, and faithfulness of our brothers and sisters. As we prepared for our interpretation assignment, we celebrated the end of the academic year and the graduation of students from the Evangelical-Theological Seminary in Matanzas. As ministry partners with the “Seminario Evangélico de Teología,” we are given the opportunity to engage with a variety of students from different Christian traditions. This year, four Reformed-Presbyterian students received their academic degrees.
Three of them (Yailen Regueiro, Tirisay Durán and Dargel Leyva) finished their License in Theology degrees and are getting ready to join the ranks of ordained ministry. The fourth student (Alexis Córdoba) finished his Bachelor of Theology degree and continues being a leader and engaging in lay ministry with the church. No doubt, these are times for celebration, as the Reformed-Presbyterian Church in Cuba continues to grow in membership, in service to its communities, and in being a beacon of the light of the Gospel to the people of Cuba.
In addition, a group of 25 students received their Certification in Diaconal Studies from the seminary. This program is a lay-oriented training program in collaboration with the Martin Luther King Jr. center in Havana to equip church leaders for ministries of service and empowerment in their communities. It offers courses in biblical interpretation and theological reflection and training in areas of program administration, helping students hone their skills in the development, implementation and administration of ministries of service and empowerment within the communities they serve as church leaders. This is the fifth cycle the seminary has offered this program, and it is preparing for the sixth next academic year. There are at least 10 denominations represented among the students in this program.
Other churches are also celebrating this year’s graduation. For instance, the Episcopal Church in Cuba is celebrating the graduation of two candidates who are also receiving their License in Theology degrees. Both Yannel Valdivia and Rodhin Alonso will join the full-time ministry ranks of the Cuban Episcopal Church with enthusiasm, energy and dedication. We cannot be less than proud of being a part of their theological education, knowing that the Church will be blessed with their ministry.
There are also reasons to celebrate the relationships between the Reformed-Presbyterian Church in Cuba and the Presbyterian Church (USA) as a whole. The mutual partnership in ministry between both churches is growing as many presbyteries and local congregations from the United States continue to visit the congregations and presbyteries in Cuba. Friendship ties are strengthened, and each group is blessed by the experience of knowing one another, praying with one another, and supporting each other’s ministries. Last February, we celebrated that the Synod of the Church in Cuba approved the “Mutual Mission Agreement” document, which updates their previous agreement from 1986. We celebrate the leadership of both the moderator of the synod (Rev. Ary Fernandez) and the co-moderator of the General Assembly at the time (Rev. Tawnya Denise Anderson), who with Rev. Jo Ella Holman were instrumental in supporting this new edition of the mutual mission agreement. We celebrate that during its 2018 General Assembly, the PC(USA) ratified this mutual agreement between the Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada en Cuba and the PC(USA). This agreement thanks God for the unity in Jesus Christ within our common Reformed tradition: we share the One Lord, one faith, and one baptism, and “we are called by the Spirit to be peacemakers. Together we discern issues of inequity and power that foster hostility and division and seek to create paths of reconciliation, friendship and understanding between peoples.”
Summer is a reason to celebrate, as we are visiting congregations that are supporting us in our ministry. We have the opportunity to interpret our role in the mission partnership between the PC(USA), the Reformed-Presbyterian Church in Cuba and the Evangelical Seminary of Theology in Matanzas. In sharing our experiences, we have the opportunity to explain why we do mission in partnership: We work together, following the lead of our inviting partner in mission, acknowledging that we are in Cuba to discern together what the Spirit is leading them to do, engaging as equals in mission, and seeking reconciliation together as brothers and sisters in Christ. This is a time for mutual prayerful discernment about our future and the future of this mission engagement with the seminary and the Church in Cuba.
There is much that the synod, the presbyteries, the congregations, the seminary, and many other ministries can do together to celebrate that the Church in Cuba is alive. The Church is a witness to the transforming power of the Lord; strives to grow in membership, especially among children and youth; celebrates worship with joy and hope; and continues to invite the whole Church to rejoice with them. As we planned our mission interpretation in Florida, North Carolina, and New Mexico this summer, we were amazed how quickly our weekends were completely booked. We hope to visit with those of you we do not have the opportunity to visit this summer when we return to the States.
¡Muchas gracias! Thank you very much to our family, friends and the Presbyterian family who continually pray for us and support us financially. We and our partners in Cuba are truly grateful for our continued partnership, grace and presence with the Cuban Church and its people. Our prayer is that we can all continue in this journey and partnership together. If you have not done so, we prayerfully ask you to consider pledging your support to our ministry in Cuba. To learn how to do so, please see the gray box below.
David and Josey
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