Presbyterians Today

SEP-OCT 2016

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COURTESY OF BARBARA D'ANDREA H ope for reconciliation between the United States and Cuba reached a peak when Barack Obama became the first sitting president in 88 years to visit the island nation. People lined the streets of Havana, chanting for the American president—an act that could have sent them to jail in another era. Barbara D'Andrea, chair of the Cuba work group of the Presbytery of Long Island, has been going to Cuba every year since 1994 and happened to be there for the historic event. "When we first started going to Cuba, governments on both sides were telling us how wrong we were to do so and how dangerous the other side was," D'Andrea says. "That was a barrier that we had to overcome in our church-to-church relationship. We had to learn to trust each other." Francisco Llano, a 96-year-old Cuban lawyer and a member of the Güines Reformed-Presbyterian Church of Cuba, told D'Andrea he never thought he would see the day when the two nations could move beyond the Cold War. The friction between the two coun- tries was reflected in the relation- ships between Cubans who stayed in Cuba and those who immigrated to the United States for political and economic reasons. Friends and family divided over whether it was better to stay or to leave. It was a difficult decision to make, but after the revolution many Presbyterian ministers and members of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba left the country, many for the United States. This left a feeling of mistrust that has lasted for many years. But the human spirit and the Holy Spirit have been quietly working toward reconciliation through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba. And today a growing desire for reconciliation exists not just between the two denominations, but within the Presbyterian Cuban community both in the United States and Cuba. Attempts at mending relationships have involved intentionally develop- ing ties between churches. Since its formation in 2000, the Cuba Partners Network has helped congregations in the United States and Cuba do mission work together across broken country ties. D'Andrea says the relationships between members of the Long Island presbytery and Güines church grew despite the political division between the countries. "The mission partners have become like family despite the political tensions," she says. She hopes the new relations between the two countries can allow the mission partnership to deepen even further. While the relationship between the Long Island Presbytery and Güines church has gone well, the relation- ships between Cuban families and friends who have divided can still be a challenge. The road to reconcili- ation between Cubans who stayed and those who left is long and still includes some rough stretches. There are no easy answers. "This is probably the Cuban church's greatest desire and perhaps the most complicated to achieve," says Patrice Hartley, executive presbyter of Tampa Bay Presbytery. "Resentment remains toward those who left—some say abandoned— Cuba. People who have settled in the US are sometimes suspicious of the Cubans who remain in Cuba, as if they are pawns of the communist government." BRIEF CUBAN PRESBYTERIAN HISTORY 4th century BC This 745-mile-long island, located just 90 miles off the tip of Florida, is inhabited by Ciboney and Taino nations. 15th century AD Columbus claims Cuba for Spain, paving the way for Europeans to colonize the island. 16th century AD Africans are brought to the island to work as slaves on sugar cane plantations. 1890 Cuban layman Evaristo Collazo asks the Presbyterian Church, U.S., Board of Foreign Missions for assistance with a school and worship services. Pastor Antonio Graybill organizes the congregation, baptizes 40 adults, and ordains and installs Collazo as the pastor. 1895 Church work is suspended when Collazo joins José Martí in the Second War for Independence, the only clergy- man to serve in that struggle. 1900 Presbyterians set up congregations in Havana and Cardenas, building on Collazo's work. A system of schools and clinics flourish under the guidance of Presbyterian mis- sionaries, many of them women. Mission partners from the Presbytery of Long Island and Güines Church in Cuba offer a blessing before they share a meal at the manse of the Cuban church.

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