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Presbyterian churches support Cuban youth’s dream of becoming a pastor

Fernando Lopez Machado’s faith reaches across the Caribbean

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Fernando Lopez Machado is a first-year student at the Evangelical Theological Seminary, Mantazas. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

Fernando Lopez Machado is a first-year student at the Evangelical Theological Seminary, Mantazas. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

MATANZAS, Cuba – At the age of 14, Fernando Lopez Machado had a faith so deep it reached across an ocean.

Now 19, Lopez Machado is a first-year student at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas, Cuba, thanks to the love, support and prayers of his home church, the First Presbyterian-Reformed Church of Havana, and three U.S. churches—Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C. and the First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs. All three congregations have mission partnerships with First Havana.

Gretchen Wahl, an elder at Fourth Presbyterian and past co-chair of the church’s Global Mission Committee, has traveled to Havana with her church for the last several years. Recently at the Cuba Partnership Network meeting in Matanzas, Lopez Machado introduced Wahl as his second mother. “We are happy to help Fernando any way we can,” she said, “but what we really do is love him. He is the son of our church, even for those who have never met him.”

Wahl met Lopez Machado four years ago on a bus trip from First Havana to a prayer meeting at a home church about an hour away. She could see his faith radiated from deep within. “His desire to be a pastor has only gotten stronger since I’ve known him,” she said. “I believe he is rock solid in his call. No matter what path he chooses, his faith will be an important part of everything he does. And it will be a great blessing for the world.” Wahl said he could preach with the maturity of an adult since before he was 17.

Fernando Lopez Machado and Gretchen Wahl, his ‘second mom,’ an elder at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. (Photo provided)

Fernando Lopez Machado and Gretchen Wahl, his ‘second mom,’ an elder at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. (Photo provided)

Lopez Machado and his mother have been members of First Havana since he was a child. Long-time pastor Hector Mendez has always been an inspiration to him and has worked to connect Lopez Machado with Presbyterian churches in the U.S. who could help nurture his desire to become a pastor.

Lopez Machado has never been to the U.S. and although he would love to visit someday, his desire is to serve as a pastor in Cuba. Where? He doesn’t care. “It’s wherever God calls me,” he said.

At First Havana, youth lead a service once a month. Active in the youth group (ages 14-26), he volunteered to read the Confession. “I have felt God within me since that day,” he said.

Although his goal to attend seminary has been steadfast, the path leading to Matanzas took a major detour when he turned 18 and was required to put down his Bible and pick up a gun. He was drafted into mandatory military service.

He struggled.

”In the military I was not able to practice my faith or read the Bible,” he said. Still, he found a small group of other young Christian men in the group and they met in secret to pray and read scripture.

It sustained him.

He says learning Hebrew is “very hard,” but Lopez Machado said he is exactly where he wants to be. “I am living my dream,” he said.

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To support the work of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas, Cuba, go to https://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/E862510/.

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Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.