By Ken Sehested
In 2010, Rev. Francisco (Paco) Rodés, then pastor of First Baptist Church, Matanzas, Cuba, was alert to the news that the Cuban government was relaxing restrictions on the churches’ contact with prisoners. Visiting prisoners had been part of Paco’s pastoral ministry for decades, but now he realized was a chance to increase those connections.
However, seminaries in Cuba offered no training for this unique pastoral context. So Paco went to the Cuban Council of Churches with a proposal to develop professional training for the many Cuban pastors and lay leaders who were already engaged in this work. A year later, the first such training was begun—a program that requires 60 hours of instruction including theological reflection, pastoral counseling, and conflict transformation instruction over a period of a year, offered in various locations around the country. Three years ago a similar training was developed for hospital chaplains.
The photo (below) is of the most recent training, in the coastal city of Gibara, with volunteer chaplains wearing a specially designed tee-shirt with the program’s name, “Capellaniía Evangélica Cubana” (Evangelical/Protestant Chaplaincy in Cuba), and motto, “Unidos Para Sevir” (United in Service).
Subsidy to support this training (and the tee-shirts) has been provided by Alliance partner congregation Circle of Mercy, in Asheville, N.C.