RSS

Category Archives: Travels

DISCOVERIES OF THE PAST

DISCOVERIES OF THE PAST

During the month of January, my wife and I traveled through the Southeast U.S. to visit some of the Evangelical Presbyterian Churches to share our World Outreach ministry needs and objectives. In three weeks we drove 3200 miles through 7 states and had meetings in over a dozen cities. Generally when we travel we especially love to take time to visit historical sites, historical districts in old cities and history museums along our route. Sometimes we will even go out-of-our-way to seek historical and informative sites to visit. This trip was no exception.

I LOVE TO VISIT HISTORY

Tonto Ruins 1

Tonto National Monument – Arizona

Over the years our travels have taken us to a variety of places marking Native American dwellings, early settlers to America, Revolutionary War sites, Civil War sites and a number of museums and sites commemorating past events. We’ve been known to stop at every historical marker in Natchez Trace 2route turning a two hour drive into three or four hours! One of our favorite drives is along the Natchez Trace, a 444-mile drive from Nashville, TN to Natchez, MS through exceptional scenery and 10,000 years of North American history. Travels west have taken us to ancient Indian dwellings in Arizona and New Mexico, legendary places like Tombstone (yes, there really is a boot hill cemetery) and abandoned ghost towns in California, Arizona and New Mexico. In Eastern ventures we have loved walking the streets of older cities like Williamsburg, Savannah or Charleston and reading the markers on the notable homes and buildings. We have toured Revolutionary War locations like Kings Mountain, Cowpens and Yorktown. We have visited Civil War sites such as Shiloh, Vicksburg, Kennesaw Mountain, and Appomattox. Even in many small towns across America, we have often parked in the town square and simply walked around the square to read the various signs and markers and discover the unique history of the community. One such small town was Covington, TN where they do indeed still have a statue of the Ten Commandments in front of the courthouse!

JANUARY TRIPBoot Hill Sign

During our January trip, we managed to visit a couple of new places for us:

A visit with Myrtle Grove Presbyterian Church (EPC) took us to Wilmington, NC.

“As pleasant and delectable to behold, as is possible to imagine…” is how Giovanni da Verrazano described the Cape Fear region to the French King Francis I after he reportedly became the first European to explore the region back in 1524.

The port city of Wilmington, NC, located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River, was settled in the 1720s. Wilmington’s commercial importance as a major port afforded it a critical role in opposition to the British in the years leading up to the Revolution. Additionally, the city was home to outspoken political leaders who influenced and led the resistance movement in North Carolina. The foremost of these was Wilmington resident Cornelius Harnett, who served in the General Assembly at the time, where he rallied opposition to the Sugar Act in 1764. When the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act the following year, designed to raise revenue for the King with another tax, Wilmington was the center of a series of demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience against it, ultimately resulting in the repeal of the Stamp Act by Parliament in 1766.

During the Civil War, Wilmington was one of the most important points of entry for supplies for the entire Confederate States. Its port traded cotton and tobacco in exchange for foreign goods, such as munitions, clothing and foodstuffs. These cargoes were transferred to railroad cars and sent from the city throughout the Confederacy. This nourished both the southern states in general and specifically General Robert E. Lee’s forces in Virginia. The trade was dependent on the British smugglers and their blockade runner ships, called so because they had to avoid the Union’s imposed maritime barricade. After three small engagements (see Fort Anderson below) along the Cape Fear River, Wilmington was captured by Union forces in the Battle of Wilmington in February 1865, cutting off a valuable resource for Confederate supplies.

WilmingtonWilmington is also the permanent home of the WWII battleship USS North Carolina. We could see her birthed across the river from our motel room. Just outside the motel back door, we could access the one-mile long Riverwalk that runs along the river with lots of historical markers, eateries and the Coast Guard port for the USCGC cutter Diligence. One block off the river was the historic downtown area where we saw a number of old homes, enjoyed a couple of adult beverages and ate dinner.

Before leaving the Wilmington area we stopped for a short visit at the old Brunswick Town Historical District.

St Phillips Church Ruins

St. Philip’s Church: Construction began in 1754, but was not completed until 1768. It took only one day to be destroyed by the British army.

The Brunswick Town Historic District contains the ruins of 18th-century commercial and residential colonial homes, the St. Philip’s Church Ruins, Fort Anderson, and Russellborough, the former governor’s mansion. Brunswick Town, settled in 1726, was a major pre-Revolutionary port razed by British troops in 1776 and never rebuilt.

During the Civil War, Fort Anderson was constructed atop the old town site, and served as part of the Cape Fear River defenses below Wilmington. An anonymous artilleryman of Company E, 36th North Carolina Regiment gave the following report for The Wilmington Journal on May28, 1863:

“We have at length, by the sweat of our brows, and the power of our Fort Andersonbone and muscle, completed one of the most formidable batteries in the Southern Confederacy. Guided and sustained by the energy and perseverance of Major [John J.] Hedrick, commanding (who is a good commander and a gentleman to boot), we have put up a work which will compare favorably with any work of its kind in the county, and now only want certain additions to our armament to feel confident of being able to defy all Yankeedom to reach Wilmington by this route. We have, up to this time, done our full duty in building fortifications for the defense of Wilmington, as well as for the protection of our homes and firesides, our wives and children, and of most of all near and dear to us. If the enemy should ever approach us here, we intend to give him a warm reception. With the help of God, we intend to stand by our guns until the last man falls, or gain the victory.”

Well, after all that confidence, in February 1865, Union forces positioned to attack Fort Anderson. Federals attacked from the land and river. After three days of fighting, the Confederates evacuated the fort in the cover of night. The union forces attacked the next day to find the fort abandoned. So much for all the “until the last man falls” bragging!

During our January trip we also had the chance to revisit Savannah, GA, Charleston, SC, Corinth, MS and Vicksburg, MS. It’s always a treat to visit these historic cities where we seem to always discover something interesting every time we are there.

A HISTORICAL CHURCH TOUR WAS UNEXPECTED

What we did not anticipate on this trip was the number of churches that we visited that turned out to be historical testimonials as well as the home of our EPC congregations. While many of the churches we visited have colorful histories, I particularly want to share the stories of five of the churches.Rockville 08

Now I am NOT a historian in any fashion but I do like to share stories. Over the next weeks or so, I will add to Reflections several individual stories of EPC churches in or near Charleston, SC; Charlotte, NC; Huntsville, AL; Corinth, MS; and Vicksburg, MS. I found the accounts of these churches fascinating for not only the historical content but also for the resolve and devotion of the churches. Most of the church history is from the church websites sprinkled with some area history that I have researched and blended into the telling. I will also include photos that I have taken as well as some historical images. I hope you will come back to Reflections and read along and learn not just about the church’s history but also a little about the area where they reside. some of the stories will be on the longer side. In fact, one of them will be in two parts. They will be laced with links to interesting sites and stories that I hope you will want to follow to get deeper into the stories. If you are part of the EPC I think you will enjoy learning about other churches in our denomination. If you are not a part of the EPC, I hope you will enjoy simply learning about history and the life and times of people of the past.

Advertisements
 
3 Comments

Posted by on March 11, 2015 in Historical Places, Travels

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

REFLECTIONS FROM CUBA – Part 2

Continued from 2/4/2013

The logo displayed on the wall of the Methodist Seminary of Cuba

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 SEM Buildingago 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 iDr. Alfredo Caballero Marreronstant 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.

Staff and guestsFor 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.

Blessings

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Mission, Travels, World Christianity

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

REFLECTIONS FROM CUBA – Part 1

TRAVEL SUMMARY

I just had an opportunity to spend a week in Cuba during the last days of January. Although just a short trip, I did have busy days with opportunities to visit Havana and some of the countryside around the city.  I also spent a day in each of several smaller communities including Minas (a town that once was a thriving copper mining town), Matanzas City and Santa Clara.  This travel encompassed a narrow portion of the western half of the island within a three hour drive east of Havana and three hours west of Havana. I wish I could have seen more but time did not allow for further adventures.  But, what I did see delighted me with beautiful mountain scenery, coastal views of the Gulf of Mexico and even a short boat ride through a cave.  The people I met were loving and very much in hope of a brighter future for their lives in spite of sometimes difficult living conditions and little income.

Map of Cuba showing my paths of travel

Map of Cuba showing my paths of travel

Allowing for a full day each way for travel between Houston and Havana, I had six days on the ground to meet people, see the sites and explore the culture. My first three days were shared with two friends from The Woodlands UMC, Rev. John Hull, Mission Pastor, and Jennifer Sims, Small Group Director.  We spent three days together while visiting the Evangelical Methodist Seminary in Havana.  After John and Jennifer went home, I spent the following three days traveling with hosts from the New Pines Seminary, a theologically reformed seminary that is non-denominational. I will say more about the seminaries in later posts.

The Religious Makeup of Cuba

From what I have read and from personal conversations, I want to first relate what I understand to be the broad religious makeup of the Cuban population of roughly 11,000,000. According to the U.S. Report on International Religious Freedom, an estimated 60 to 70 percent is believed to be Roman Catholic although only 4 to 5 percent regularly attend mass. I was told that it is not uncommon to have a large Catholic Church building with only a handful of people attending on any Sunday.  Membership in Evangelical churches is estimated at 5 percent of the population but that number is growing daily.

Baptists and Pentecostals are estimated to be the largest Evangelical denominations followed by Methodists, Anglicans and Presbyterians.  There are also those that consider themselves strongly Evangelical but non-denominational.

Building in Havana with a distinct Middle Eastern flavor.

Building in Havana with a distinct Middle Eastern flavor.

Non-evangelical groups include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists; Quakers, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). The Jewish community is estimated at 1,500 members, of whom 1,200 reside in Havana. Muslim presence is minor with the majority of the believers from outside Cuba, with only a few actual Cuban Muslims. I did see one building that was a Muslim Community Center but no real evidence of a mosque.  Interestingly though, I did see a number of older buildings that had a distinct Middle Eastern influence.  Other religious groups, in a very small presence, include the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, Buddhists and Baha’is.

In addition, many Cubans (some say as much as 80%) participate in religions with roots in West Africa and the Congo River basin, known as Santeria. Santeria is very similar to the practice of Voodoo that I observed in Haiti. These religious practices are commonly intermingled with Catholicism, and some even require Catholic baptism for full initiation, making it difficult to estimate accurately the total membership of these syncretistic groups.

U.S. Report on International Religious Freedom

On July 30, 2012, the U.S. Department of State released its latest report on the status of religious freedom around the world; the report had many good things to say about religious freedom in Cuba. An expert analysis of the report by Duane W. Krohnke in his blog includes the following comments.

The Cuban “constitution protects religious freedom.” After the 1989 collapse of the U.S.S.R, the Cuban constitution was amended to eliminate “[scientific materialism or] atheism as the state creed” and to declare “the country to be a secular state” with “separation of church and state. The government does not officially favor any particular religion or church.” Moreover, says the U.S., “there were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.”

The Cuban “government’s respect for religious freedom improved” in 2011, declares the report.

“Religious organizations reported significant ability (in 2011) to attract new members without government interference. Many churches reported increased participation in religious instruction for children because government schools no longer scheduled competing activities on Saturdays or Sundays. The majority of religious groups reported little interference from the government in conducting their services and saw improvement in their ability to import religious materials, receive donations from overseas, and travel abroad to attend conferences and religious events. Some religious groups found it easier to bring in foreign religious workers. . . .”

Some religious groups “operated afterschool programs and weekend retreats for primary and secondary students and higher education programs for university graduates. Although not sanctioned by the government, these programs operated without interference.”

“Religious groups reported they were able to continue to provide community service programs with little interference from the government. These programs included providing assistance to the elderly, after school tutoring for children, clean water, and health clinics. “

While these improvements in government cooperation with religion institutions are favorable and appreciated, I did hear of some isolated instances where the atmosphere was not as lenient.  For example, while their programs for seniors seem to be highly accepted, I did hear of one instance where there was still some averseness to allow a church to directly minister to children and young adults. 

Cuba Push CartIn addition to the laws to allow more religious freedoms, there have also been some significant civil law changes in regard to property ownership, the ability to buy and sell property, business and entrepreneurship.  I was told that as of three years ago, one would not have seen a pushcart in the street selling wares to the general public.  Today, there are many such carts of various sizes, modes of pushing/pulling (human and animal) and selling a variety of wares, mostly food.  The freedom to buy and sell property is working in the favor of the church, allowing many pastors to either convert their home to a home-church, or even to buy new property to establish a home-church.  Consequently, there are newly planted churches springing up throughout Cuba. I had a chance to meet three of these new home-churches and see their efforts in community outreach, member care and church growth.  Of course, with church planting comes the need for properly trained church leadership.  Thus, there is a great need for the seminaries to be well equipped and financially stable to be able to meet the demand for educated leadership.  While I was not in Cuba to engage in ministry per se, I was able to fully appreciate the vital role that Overseas Council will serve in the future of the Cuba church through our partnerships with several Cuban seminaries.  If you feel moved to participate in that work, please give a gift of any amount, designated for Cuba.

Well, that’s a general overview of the status of Cuba, although not near complete.  In the next post I will attempt to tell you a bit more about my personal time in Cuba.  I will also describe the particulars of the two seminaries I visited.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Mission, Travels, World Christianity

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,