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Church Life in Cuba: A Mennonite Church Canada Learning Tour
-story and photos by Dan Dyck
Holguin, Cuba Learning tours are becoming an increasingly popular way for Canadian Mennonites to connect with the ministries the Mennonite Church Canada Witness does on behalf of its area conferences and congregations.
So says Al Rempel, director of resource development for MC Canada. To date, we have conducted and/or facilitated excursions to Colombia, Israel, and Cuba to meet with ministry workers and get a sense of the work and the impact these ministries are having. As the tours become more popular, they get sold out more quickly. The Cuba tour filled up fast. A China tour for fall is being planned now.
Planning Learning Tours is not without its glitches or its blessings. One couple had to cancel their participation in the Cuba trip at the last minute due to health reasons. Instead of using their cancellation insurance, they donated their tickets to two persons who would otherwise have not been able to participate.
For the participants of the Cuba Learning tour, there remains much to process about the trip. The group experienced Cuba in a way that no other tourist would, meeting with local Christians in homes, joining them for worship, and enjoying the hospitality of fellow Christians with few resources in out of the way places. The tour was guided by Jack and Irene Suderman in collaboration with Cuban church leaders Andres Olivares and Madelin Ramos.
Some of the Canadian participants struggled to rationalize the homogeneous, low standard of living (when compared to Canada) with the 98% literacy rate, high functioning free to all public health care system, and opportunity for free university education. Few will forget the passionate singing and prayer, the Bible study, and in particular the keen interest shown by Cuban church leaders in Anabaptist theology.
George Reimer (and others) noted how illuminating the experience was in terms of becoming educated about the political, social, and economic realities of life in Cuba. Depending on who one is listening to, Cuba is governed under either a socialist, communist, or benevolent dictatorship system.
Trudy Federau shared that her faith in God and the church as Gods instrument, have been restored. Beth Ann Lichti spoke of her prior cynicism about the need for international mission, and how her own thinking has been transformed. Anne Harms noted how the experience has helped her make the leap from the mission work of the former Commission on Overseas Mission (COM) to Mennonite Church Canada Witness.
In a follow-up report, Werner and Marlene Ens wrote: [The tour] was enlightening, encouraging, and disturbing. It made us think about our own churches, and we were tempted to compare. We were encouraged to look for the positive and to realize that different is neither better nor worse, but simply another facet of the kingdom of God.
Other surprises for Cuba Learning Tour participants included a new awareness that the ministry in Cuba is just one small slice of what Mennonite Church Canada Witness is doing on behalf of Canadian area conferences and congregations in 39 countries around the world.
In a final debriefing, Jack Suderman noted that last year, the ministry in Cuba cost $6,000 just 0.26 percent of the overall $2,345,127 Witness expense budget a significant multiplier effect given the impact of the ministry in Cuba. The dollar to peso exchange rate in Cuba means that we can do a lot with a little. The high impact is very evident in not only the growth of the Evangelical Missionary church here, but also in the call for leadership training, an indicator that these folks are committed to leading and growing the church from within their own ranks. Limited Anabaptist training material in the Spanish language makes it difficult for local leaders to teach themselves.
When asked, each participant said they would do it all again (though one older participant suggested the pace was a little too hectic). In the end, not one participant could think of any good reason why Witness should not respond to the requests from Cuban leaders for further leadership training.
In the midst of it all is a little church that is starting its own revolution of Christian restoration, looking at the Biblical message within the context of a 45 year old political revolution, using new-to-them teaching methods, and reaching out to neighbours, families, and newcomers. May God bless Cuba, its people, and its church.
The next Mennonite Church Canada learning Tour is being planned for the fall of 2005, departing for Asia. A limited number of openings are still available. Interested individuals should contact Al Rempel at 1-866-888-6785 (local 204-888-6781) or email@example.com. For a comprehensive photo journal on the Cuba Learning Tour, visit www.mennonitechurch.ca/news/releases/2005/02/CLT-Journal.htm.