By Stan Dotson
Every day for the past eight months, I have spent a big chunk of every day connecting with my family of faith in Cuba through their messaging platform of choice, WhatsApp. We text and share recorded messages and videollamadas on a regular basis with many friends there. We belong to several WhatsApp groups, including the Kairos Center, two churches, and the Fraternity of Baptists’ Hermandad (the pastors’ group). When I first heard friends talking about WhatsApp, the name brought to mind the old Flip Wilson comedy show, and his classic sketch, “The Church of What’s Happening Now.” Flip’s character, Reverend Leroy, would start his sermons by saying, “We don’t tell it like it used to be, or how it’s gonna be in the future; we talk about what’s happening now.” For the Fraternity and many of its churches, WhatsApp has become their medium for being “the church of what’s happening now.” There’s more tragedy than comedy, though, in seeing and hearing what’s happening now in Cuba (although Cubans still find ways to bring humor to the most traumatic of situations). It’s also inspiringly beautiful to see how the church is being the church in that context, being the vanguard of hope in a desperate situation.
Throughout the year, the reality of “what’s happening now” has continued to worsen for our Cuban brothers and sisters. On top of the surge of COVID-19 across the island and the tourist-based economy paralyzed from lack of travel, the Biden administration’s doubling down on President Trump’s hostile measures has contributed to a cascade of daily woes. We regularly hear of people suffering the intense symptoms of the Delta strain with no pain meds or fever reducers. We hear of the growing scarcity of food and supplies and longer and longer lines for what is available. We hear of daily power outages, now up to six hours a day, in the middle of the most intense summer heat.
In this traumatic reality, people of faith in Cuba continue to persevere with a fierce resistance and determination to be the church, the church of what’s happening now. There is little nostalgia for past glory days, nor pie-in-the-sky hopes for all the problems to soon be solved. There is a daily living out of the gospel, a daily commitment to solidarity, to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. On the pastors’ Hermandad site, as one FIBAC pastor after another has come down with COVID, there is a continuing pledge to prayer, a daily outpouring of encouragement, and a network of sharing whatever meds might be available among them. We read about how the seminary and various churches became field hospitals when the primary hospitals overflowed their capacity. Pastors and church leaders are also providing chaplaincy to the suffering and grieving families.
Regarding the food insecurity, there is a beautiful ecumenical ministry led by the Metropolitan Community Church in collaboration with the Martin Luther King Center, with the participation of one of Cuba’s finest chefs, Nereida Horta from First Baptist in Matanzas (who happens to be a professor of culinary arts for the resort hotel chefs). They developed a network of sharing whatever groceries are available, and Nereida leads her team in cooking and delivering a healthy lunch every day to 35 homebound elders. As for the daily power outages, well, they see who can out-do the other with wit and biting humor.
There’s also space for reflections and the creation of new liturgies. Many days we hear new music from a Cuban composer and musician, Jorge Montaña, who will send out his latest Taize-like composition of a verse from the Psalms. Every day I awake to read the morning prayer/poem composed by Wanda Hernández of the Kairos Center, and every night I read her nightly prayer. One night a week (late for us, as they wait for the children to be asleep), pastor Jonathán Etenza leads a reflection on hymnody. Another night, pastor Orestes Roca leads a session on church history. We participate in First Baptist Matanzas’ WhatsApp worship service on Sunday mornings and do the same on Friday evenings with the Metropolitan Church. Every day there is an outpouring stream of encouragement and compassion care.
It’s important for us to know “what’s up” with our brothers and sisters who are suffering, to stay current on what’s happening now. It’s encouraging to hear so many of the Cuban pastors and lay leaders talk about how they are using social networking to stay connected to their partner churches here in the States. As we in the Alliance seek ways to accompany them in the dark night of the soul, may this prayer, one of Wanda’s recent postings, be ours as well:
Let your light come
and wake the earth,
put clarity in our vision
and color to life.
Displace the darkness,
the strong winds,
and restore your people,
to this land of yours,
to all your creation.
Stan Dotson has served for the past three years as Associate Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Matanzas. He and his spouse Kim are currently back in NC on a brief respite, awaiting their next opportunity to return and continue the work. Stan and Kim love their work of building bridges between Alliance and Fraternity of Baptists churches, and they also love engaging in creative ministries of music, drama, and story-telling.