Cuban Presbyterian mission grows by serving, not talking
July 5, 2018
Abel Perviez says he talked to God and asked for 19 more years to complete his life’s work. He started the Presbyterian mission in a tiny Cuban town dominated by a large sugar mill in January 2015 with just six worshipers. The mission is now up to 30 members and is still growing.
“I told God my dream is to get to 80 people,” he said. Perviez is 81, so 19 more years would get him to 100. “I told God not to call me before then.”
There is no neon sign, no message board with pithy phrases, and no tall steeple with a cross on top to mark the Jatibonico Mission. To locate it, visitors from nearby Sancti Spiritus — home base for the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba (IPRC) congregation that sponsors the Jatibonico Mission — have to use what the Rev. Edelberto Valdes, the IPRC’s general secretary, calls “the Cuban GPS” (asking directions from a string of local residents).
A deeply rutted dirt road off the main highway takes one into a community of simple dwellings and to Perviez’s small house. The mission site is a small patio with a corrugated tin roof that lets in plenty of water when the spring rains arrive. Simple benches are piled up in one corner, to be pulled out and arranged when a service is scheduled or visitors come. There is even a portable pulpit. The mission is permanently inhabited by a flock of scrawny, noisy chickens.
A large sign nailed to a post that helps hold up the roof proclaims the site as an IPRC mission and bears a likeness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seal. “When I was in Miami in 2003, someone there gave me a T-shirt with the Presbyterian seal on it and I liked it, so when we started our mission we made one ourselves,” Perviez said.
The calling of the Jatibonico Mission is simple. “A church that does not serve is nothing,” Perviez said. “Our real theology is feeding the hungry and healing the sick. You don’t educate people by talking, but by doing.”
Perviez went to Miami in 2003 to learn more about smoking meat, which is his livelihood: a large brick oven commands one large corner of the mission. While on that trip, he asked many people why they hate churches. “They said, ‘Churches do nothing; they only talk,’” he recalled. “So, we determined, when we started this mission, that we were going to do things.”
They started by helping a woman in the community replace many of her kitchen goods after a fire destroyed part of her house. They use the fruits of Perviez’s meat-smoking operation to help feed the community. Through the Sancti Spiritus congregation, Perviez has established strong connections with the city’s hospitals to help provide medical care to Jatibonico’s isolated residents.
“We don’t talk so much about God,” said Perviez. “We show [people] God by our action.”
About 20 members of the mission showed up recently to welcome a visiting delegation. Among the visitors were two leaders of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba, who engaged in extensive conversations with the Jatibonico members about how the IPRC could be more supportive.
A young man named Andermi said he was first brought to the Jatibonico Mission by his mother-in-law. “I have attended churches all my life, but this is the first time I have church life,” he said, “because the people here do what the Bible says to do.” Perviez said a Cuban pastor recently asked him how a mission could do so much when “it’s not even a church.” Perviez said he replied: “There is no special mark on the church. It is serving the people that is the special mark we have here.”
Being Presbyterian is important to Perviez and to the members of the mission. “There is a super big difference between Presbyterians and other churches,” Andermi said. “We address spiritual needs, yes, but every other need, too.”
Perviez added, “We are grateful for the spiritual support we receive from the IPRC and because they bring us into contact with visitors from the PC(USA).”
At Jatibonico Mission, a simple typewritten sign tacked to the pulpit reads: “When you feel like you don’t have the strength to stay standing, fall on your knees.” Perviez hopes God will give him those 19 more years, for there is still much to do. “We are here,” he said, “because the Presbyterians must be where the poor live.”
Jerry Van Marter, Interim Director of Communications, Office of the General Assembly
Today’s Focus: Cuban Presbyterian mission
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Gracious God, we thank you that you are a miracle-working God and a multiplier of loaves and fishes. We thank you for your love and for the opportunity to tell and show your love to all. We hold up to you the needs of your children all over the world. Amen.