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Despite Hurricane Irma damage, Presbyterian mission at Cuban camp continues

 

By Jerry Van Marter | Office of the General Assembly Communications

CANIP, near Santa Clara, provides a variety of camp and conference activities for the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba. Photo by Randy Hobson

SANTA CLARA, Cuba – The modest little stone chapel sits on a hilltop overlooking Centro de Actividades Nacionale Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada (CANIP) – the national camp and conference center of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba (IPRC). On this day it overlooks a scene of devastation.

CANIP was founded in July 1994, during the “special period” following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had been Cuba’s main political and economic patron since shortly after the Castro revolution in 1959. Since then it has been used to host IPRC meetings and activities, children and youth camps, ecumenical gatherings and international church gatherings.

The chapel that is home to the Presbyterian mission at CANIP was built in 1997 by young adult volunteers from CANACOM (the Caribbean and North America Council for Mission of what is now the World Communion of Reformed Churches).

Building materials are slowly being gathered as the IPRC slowly rebuilds CANIP, which was devastated by Hurricane Irma. Photo by Randy Hobson

Last summer’s Hurricane Irma tore the roofs off most of CANIP’s buildings (dormitories, dining hall, and chapel), toppled many trees and wrecked the water and electrical systems. Sitting on crude benches in the mangled chapel, one can see lots of blue sky where part of the corrugated tin roof used to be.

“CANIP is very damaged, says the Rev. Edelberto Valdes, a pastor in Caibarién and general secretary of the IPRC. “We are trying to change the style of the roofs, because every year we lose more.”

Reconstruction at CANIP is supervised by the Rev. Reile Marrero, pastor of the Presbyterian church in nearby Santa Clara in Cuba’s central highlands. Marrero pastors one other church and two missions (small, informal congregations) in the area, including the CANIP mission.

Reile Marrero (left) talks with Ary-Fernandez (right), moderator of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba outside hurricane-damaged buildings at CANIP. Photo by Randy Hobson

“It is very important to have a mission here, because the people didn’t have a place to meet,” says Marrero. “We have prayer meetings here every Saturday with house church services two other times a week, plus Bible study every week.” Once a month, the mission serves lunch to older adults in the area. “And we are trying to get a Sunday school started,” Marrero adds.

With Marrero stretched so thin, “we are trying to train some new leaders for the mission,” Valdes says, noting that a pastor who previously served the mission has now gone to a nearby church that has languished without a pastor.

Valdes and the Rev. Ary Fernandez, pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Matanzas and moderator of the IPRC, believe the Presbyterian mission at CANIP will flourish once again as soon as repairs have been made and the camp is fully operational. “Everyone will feel better when we have our camp back,” says Fernandez.

In the meantime, the Presbyterian mission at CANIP carries on. “We will be fine,” Marrero says. “God is in control.”

Edelberto Valdes (right) talks with mission leaders at CANIP in their storm-damaged chapel at CANIP. Photo by Randy Hobson

A delegation sponsored by the PC(USA) Office of the General Assembly (OGA) visited Cuba May 3–11. Members of the delegation included the Rev. Jerry Van Marter, interim director of communcations for OGA; Randy Hobson, the OGA’s photographer/videographer; Frederick Tangeman, director of communications and marketing for the Presbyterian Historical Society; and the Rev. Byron Bland, a member of San Jose Presbytery who is an international conflict resolution expert at Stanford University. They were accompanied by the Rev. Jo Ella Holman, regional liaison for the Caribbean (including Cuba) for Presbyterian World Mission; the Rev. Edelberto Valdes, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Caibarién and general secretary of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba (IPRC); and the Rev. Ary Fernandez, pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Matanzas, Cuba, and moderator of the IPRC.


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