Continued from 2/4/2013
Evangelical Methodist Seminary of Cuba
To prepare myself for my trip, I read an article from the Methodist Global Ministries by Melissa Hinnen highlighting the Methodist Church in Cuba and the Bishop in Cuba, Bishop Ricardo Pereira Díaz.
As reiterated from the article;
According to Bishop Pereira, recent history in the island nation has produced a generation of atheists who don’t know about God’s love for them. Young people in particular are drawn to a church that embraces Cuban culture and welcomes everyone in the community regardless of their faith or political background.
“We have taught pastors and laity that they can engage their Cuban heritage by praising the Lord, dancing, and raising their voices in worship as they do on the street,” said Bishop Pereira. “This makes the church attractive, especially to young people.” Members are generally 35-45 years old, and the average age of clergy is 30. Since 1999, the church has grown from 8,000 to 36,000 members.
To address the needs created by rapid church growth, five years ago the Methodist Church of Cuba established the Evangelical Methodist Seminary in Havana. “In the midst of so many doctrines,” said Bishop Pereira, it was important to provide a “theological formation that would be eminently Methodist and Wesleyan.”
Today there are more than 350 (Methodist) pastors in Cuba. “At the moment we have about 120 students pursuing their degree in theology,” said Bishop Pereira. The seminary is also extending its training to reach an additional 800 people throughout the country, preparing them for church leadership. The Methodist Church exists in 92 percent of Cuba’s municipalities.
I had the opportunity to visit the Seminario Evangelico Metodista de Cuba (Evangelical Methodist Seminary of Cuba) for a couple of days and spend some time with the president of the Seminary, Dr. Alfredo Caballero Marrero (photo below). The seminary in housed is an old church building (photo above) that is in the area of Havana known as “old town.” It is as older building with classroom space, kitchen, dining room, library, offices and limited dorm rooms. The actual worship center is encompassed within the building structure but is owned by a church that is not a part of the seminary.
Alfredo strikes me as a confident and well respected leader. I took an instant liking of him. Seeing how his staff looks to him for his wisdom and advice and how his family looks to him as the head of the family, I see a prime example of a man that God has called for leading His work in Cuba. He was once a pastor of a church with about 6000 members but was asked by the Methodist Denomination in Cuba to become president of the seminary. He is now a pastor to pastors, a trainer of trainers and a teacher of teachers. He says he misses pastoring a church but states, “What I do today to prepare these students is much more important for the future of the whole church in Cuba.”
The seminary has about 40 students in residence at any one time and another 300 or so students in courses in 24 seminary extensions throughout Cuba. The resident program runs in four rotating groups where each group spends 3 modules of 21 days on campus. The rest of the time the students are working in their local church. While compared to U.S. standards for costs, the cost of educating these students appears to be very little, at about $6000 per year per group of students. But for Cuba, that is a lot of money! Since very few students can afford that amount of education expense, much of their cost is supplied through scholarships. The education cost includes the student tuition and meals and a room while in residence. Books are generally borrowed and returned to the school and the limited supply of computers is shared by the students in allocated time slots. On one occasion I observed a student utilizing the computer at about midnight, his time slot for computer usage. Transportation to and from the school for their 21 day in residence time is the responsibility of the student. Many have to travel for more than 8 to12 hours by bus, hitchhiking or walking to get to and from the school. Some of the students are couples, working together in their common ministry call. All of the teaching is done by pastors and professors as volunteer time.
After graduation, the students are prepared, ready and able to plant home-churches through the island. I visited two of these home-churches planted by Methodist Seminary graduates and they are indeed thriving and Kingdom building churches. I will reflect more on these churches in part 4 of this series of posts.
I was privileged to be able to attend a devotion time and a communion service on Thursday morning with about 40 students and staff (photo left). This morning marked the last day of classes for this particular group to be at the school for this module. The student led music was at first lively and praising the Lord and eventually became slower and more contemplative as the worship moved towards the pinnacle of celebrating the Lord’s Supper. With everything being sung in Spanish, and me not at all fluent in that language, I could not understand the words or join much in the singing. But I certainly felt the passion and devotion in each piece of music. Given a moment to share some comments, I expressed greetings and thanked them for their dedication to become the future leaders of the church in Cuba. I told them that they are the future and hope for their communities and for Cuba.
For the rest of the day on Thursday I spent the time in meeting the school staff (photo right) and learning of the operations, methodologies and needs of the seminary. We were able to talk about the Seminary and the many challenges that they face to train the future leaders of the Methodist church in Cuba. Despite the seeming lack of internet service throughout most of Cuba, the school has managed to build a remarkable intranet system linking the school network together. They use this system for teaching remotely as well as school business communication and video conferencing. The school’s greatest need at this time is a van or mini-bus. Because the school extensions are over the length of the island, it is very difficult to get materials and people sorted to the various locations. I suspect that whatever vehicle they will eventually be able to obtain, will be well utilized! The projected cost of a van is around $21,000 U.S. Other needs include new computers for school as well as student use, a new projector and general equipment and furniture. The estimated cost for this equipment is around $18,800 U.S. Another non-monetary need for the seminary is one of visiting teachers that can come to Cuba for weeks at a time and freely share their knowledge and wisdom with the students. A willing spirit and compassionate love for Biblical teaching is more important than denomination affiliation and polished Spanish language skills.
As you can read, the needs are great but the rewards are greater. Part of the Overseas Council ministry is to not only to provide for student scholarship but to also provide equipment that will help a school function to the greatest capacity. I will provide some more detatil of OC’s overall work in Cuba later in this series. If you feel moved to participate in our work at the Methodist Seminary of Cuba, please give a gift of any amount, designated for Methodist Seminary of Cuba.
On Friday we had a little more meeting time and then a walk in the city. My next post will reflect on the city of Havana and some of the sights, with a number of photos. Stay tuned!