Our first full day of the Cuba course was Sun., June 5. That morning, the Ebeneezer Baptist Church celebrated ecology in a lively church service full of music, dance, and drama, reflecting on Christian's responsibility for "taking care of God's creation." Throughout the service, the children's choir sang songs and acted out biblical passages pointing towards responsibility towards nature.
That same morning, the students in the Cuba course and I had a formal meeting with Rev. Raul Saurez, who served as the pastor of Ebeneezer Baptist church for many years and who is the founder and director of the Martin Luther King Center in Havana, which hosted our trip. Rev. Saurez, who is an inspirational speaker, shared with us his deep faith in God, as well as his admiration for what he sees as the triumphs of the Cuban revolution: universal, free education and health care, and enough food to survive on for all. While he acknowledged that Cuba continues to be a poor country, he emphasized the notion that no one goes hungry or dies from lack of medical treatment in Cuba.
While lack of religious freedom has often been cited as one of the many reasons for U.S. opposition to the Cubangovernment ever since the 1959 revolution, which placed Fidel Castro in power, Rev. Suarez points out that he and other people of faith from diverse religious traditions worship freely. In fact, despite initial dificulties with the governmnet immediately after the triumph of the revolution, Rev. Suarez states that the government came to understand that people of faith were not necessarily opposed to the ideals of the revolution, and in turn, many Christians and people of other faith traditions, concluded that they could worship freely and even work in collaboration on social projects.
As a result, Rev. Suarez has been elected to the Asamblea Nacional de Poder Popular (the Cuban Congress) three times, and is currently serving as a representative. Rev. Suarez said that he wants to tell people in the United States that "Cuba is not the Kingdom of God, but it is also not Hell, as many in the U.S. think." He appeals to U.S. citizens to ask our Congress to end the embargo and open up trade with Cuba, as the U.S. has done with China and Vietnam. Rev. Saurez says, "Our faith is in God, and our hope is in the North American people. We never lose hope."
Have you visited churches or religious groups in Cuba? If so, what has been your expeirence? And what are your opinions of the ongoing U.S. trade embargo against Cuba in light of the fact that the U.S. now has strong trading relations with China? We'd love to hear from you!