By Nathan Samayo (any pronouns), Princeton Theological Seminary
In the morning, we boarded the bus from La Habana to Cárdenas. It was a lovely stay at La Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada de Luyanó (First Presbyterian-Reformed Church of Luyanó) that ended with a bitter-sweet departure. First Pres. Luyanó was the location of our first meet-and-greet with the Movimiento Estudiantil Cristiano de Cuba (MEC/SCM-Cuba); our starting point before heading out to Havana to learn more about Fidel Castro, the Revolution, and the subversive witness of the Church; our ending point where we gathered around a nourishing meal, discussed what we learned that day, and pondered how to keep these relations going when the U.S. blockade makes it nearly impossible. This is a THANK YOU to First Pres. Luyanó, our wonderful hosts and now, family.
Before heading to our next temporary residence, we made a stop at the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas (SET). We were greeted with delightful refreshments by the wonderful staff, faculty, and administrators before diving into a panel on the history and origins of SET. Founded in October 1946, the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas offers theological training and formation for Methodist, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and more, for congregational and educational contexts, in Cuba and beyond. SET offers programs from Bachelor of Theology to Doctor of Philosophy including “distance-learning” programs, and their seminary houses a topically-diverse library, online research database, and wonderful bookstore (where I finally bought Delores Williams’ Sisters in the Wilderness). The library and seminary always welcomes gifts and donations through the Matanzas Seminary Book Fund, so please support this wonderful institution.
With that, Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas is very attentive to the critical problems Cuba experiences as a result of the vicious U.S. blockade: food shortages, lack of educational supplies, and blackouts (power outages). Centering these economic and social crises’—again, as a result of the U.S. blockade— SET is committed to training theological and ministerial leaders to use congregational ministry as a means to organize and provide care to those who have been made vulnerable. With that, SET offers on-site resources as well including fresh produce from the campus garden and clean water for the community. No wonder why they have such an honorable presence in the Cuban church scene.
U.S., we must do better!
We then departed to the Iglesia Presbiteriana Reformada “Juan G. Hall” en Cárdenas (Juan G. Hall Presbyterian Church in Cárdenas). Pres. Church in Cárdenas was our temporary residence for the rest of our trip, and upon arrival, they greeted us with a warm meal. After lunch and settling in, we began the Movimiento Estudiantil Cristiano 2023 General Assembly. We began with introductions, and I was so delighted to have met people from across Cuba from La Habana, Matanzas, Santiago, and more. Movimiento Estudiantil Cristiano has a robust history in Cuba, and it was inspiring to see how previous MEC leaders continue to stay engaged with the movement and its leaders (I hope the same for WSCF-US!). We broke into small groups to discuss the question: what can we do about the current political crises between the United States and Cuba? Our group from the United States proposed a long-term organizing group to strategize ways to continue (a) providing aid to Cuban congregations and communities, (b) public education on U.S.-Cuba political relations, and (c) political organizing to end the U.S. blockade. After our first General Assembly session, we sat in the Pres. Church sanctuary for music, prayer, and conversation with the pastors, Alison Infante- and Sarahi Zamora. It was a wonderful Thursday, not only for the warm hospitality we received, or the relationships cultivated—but for a chance to think critically about the ways we can be in community and solidarity with our Cuban counterparts, organizing against the death-dealing blockade made to alienate us from one another and punish the Cuban government for fighting for their freedom.