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Of pencils and people


Jeanette Seiling gives Pastor Alexander Reyna a "Heart in Hand" pieced quilt  block.  “I told him that it is God's hand, holding the church of Cuba. After seeing many signs with a clenched fist, I thought that this held special significance - an open hand of welcome, a hand to hold on to. All of the tour group signed the back as a reminder to him and the churches that he supervises that we are praying for them.”

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Children of Cienfuegos Church.  The congregation of Cienfuegos Church received a gift package that included MSCU pencils.  This congregation shared a meal with Learning Tour participants that was purchased with “shoe money” – money the pastor and his wife had been saving to buy shoes for their son.

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March 14, 2008
-Jeanette Seiling

Cienfuegos, Cuba — When my husband and I joined a Mennonite Church Canada Witness Learning Tour to Cuba during the first week of February, we packed a box of Mennonite Savings Credit Union pencils in our suitcase.

Visiting four of the Cuban churches partnered with MC Canada gave us the opportunity to experience Cuba “up close and personal.” We were able to interact with Cubans in their daily lives and worship settings, and to connect with what God is doing in another part of the world.  Our tour leaders, Jack and Irene Suderman, encouraged us to “take off our shoes” as we met Cubans and their culture, to come not with ideas of how to change things but with an attitude of learning.

We saw and heard and felt God bringing healing and hope into the lives of the people we met. We experienced joy as we worshipped with them and listened to  beautiful Cuban music. We heard the stories of men reclaiming their lives from alcoholism and drug addiction, and of a teenage mother who had come close to ending her life but was redeemed and nurtured by the enveloping love and acceptance of the church.

We talked with people about their lives.  We asked them how it felt to see us travelling in an air-conditioned bus when they cannot afford air conditioning, or to watch us eat beef when eating beef is illegal for them. One woman responded to the latter question by saying, "You have the beef and we will eat the bones," –  which prompted laughter from the group. We later questioned their pastor about why they laughed.  He said that they receive from the laughter what they cannot receive from eating beef.   

The Cubans we met told us why they value the teachings of Anabaptism.  They shared how the concept of living the kingdom life in the here and now is new to them, and how they wrestle with what it means to be a peace church in Cuba where military training is compulsory.  They spoke about living in anticipation of a better future.  For them, revolution is not an event but an ongoing project. They challenged us to remember that we have the resources to transform the world and to be instruments of God in the process of restoring God’s dream for the church.

We joined the congregation of Cienfuegos Church in worship, singing together “How Great Thou Art”.  After the service we shared a meal that they had prepared for us. Later we learned that the pastor and his wife had paid for that meal with money they had been saving for six months to buy a pair of shoes for their son.  Although we knew that they were reimbursed, their generosity was humbling.

In Cuba it is said that there are no homeless, that everyone has health care and free education, but the reality is that many people have very few material resources.  So at each church we visited, we left gifts – a bundle of clothing, towels, toiletries, Tylenol, pens, and, of course, MSCU pencils. 

What is the value of an MSCU pencil? Priceless!

Jeanette Seiling and her husband Ron, who also participated in the Learning Tour, live on a farm just outside of Elora, Ontario.  Jeanette works at the MSCU as an investment advisor.