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Experience from the mission to Cuba: related to together towards life.


The mission that God has given is one of proclamation, liturgy, deaconry, education, and stewardship. This is why it is necessary to develop new models for mission based on national work, where we review our biblical and theological discourse, our ecclesiolog?, the structures that limit our missionary' activity, the models of theological education, our traditions and creation of liturgy, and our conceptual models and practice in ministry. Considering this, the World Council of Churches' document Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes offers interesting guidelines for teaching and practicing mission, which the author analyses in the ecumenical Cuban context, and in particular in that of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas, Cuba.

For this conference in Matanzas, I want to point out that Protestant and Evangelical churches in Cuba, especially those connected to the Evangelical Theological Seminan' of Matanzas, have been very preoccupied with the development of the ethical missionary for the 21st century.

Up until today, many conferences have been held on mission work, but three of the most relevant have been the following. The Protestant churches held a consultation concerning the missionary heritage in Matanzas in 1984. In 1988, the council of churches in Cuba, the United States, and Canada, and various ecumenical movements, held a missiological dialogue in Toronto, Canada, with the theme "Cuba, the United States of America and Canada, United in Mission." If the emphasis of the first meeting was an evaluation of the past, this second event considered the sharing of the present mission, with a perspective toward the future. The third missionary conference was held in 1999. The topic chosen for the debate was "Missionary Ethics for the 21st century." Some of the key aspects included in the final document for this event have served as a guide for the development of mission in Cuba. For example, all missionary work should be centred on the dynamic elements of economy, ecology', and ecumenism. We understand economy as the ordering and administration of strategies that organize processes for producing, accumulating, and distributing materials and spiritual resources that make the creativity and sustainability of life possible. These are altered for the new economic tendencies of globalization and neo-liberal politics within the international environment. Ecology, just like the world economy, highlights vital relationships with respect and cooperation between human beings and nature. Ecumenism should be concerned with the union whose goal is to develop projects for justice, the defense of human rights, and common testimony for the defense of life. The mission God has given is one of proclamation, liturgy, deaconry, education, and stewardship. This is why it is necessary to develop new models for the mission based on national work, where we review our biblical and theological discourse, our ecclesiology, the structures that limit our missionary activity, the models of theological education, our traditions and creation of liturgy, and our conceptual models and practice in ministry.

I am speaking here as a professor from the Evangelical Theological Seminary (ETS), an ecumenical theological institution that collaborates on the training of leaders for churches.

Ecumenical Affirmation on Mission

The phrase from the introduction of the World Council of Churches' (WCC) document "Mission and Evangelism: An Ecumenical Affirmation" has been central to our teaching. In the words of the late theologian David J. Bosch, "In the same way that the church stops being a church if it is not a missionary, theology stops being theology if it loses its missionary character. ... Theology requires a missiological agenda instead of a simple theological agenda for mission." (1) To this we add that theology stops being theology if it loses its ecumenical dimension.

Since it was founded in 1946, ETS has taught an ecumenical theology, which has led to the conclusion that the mission also has to have an ecumenical and missiological emphasis.

Participation from various denominations has helped us, since the beginning, to work together in the training of leaders: Presbyterians, Methodists, and Episcopals. Today in the Seminary, there will be leaders who come from the Los Amigos Church (Quakers), from the Fraternity of Baptist Churches in Cuba, and from Episcopal, Presbyterian-Reformed, Lutheran, and Seventh-Day Adventists. ETS has also worked with Pentecostal churches through intensive courses on theological training, and we have had students from the United States, Mexico, Panama, Brazil, Colombia, Haiti, Jamaica, Switzerland, Angola, and Mozambique.

Recently, we have enjoyed having students from the Presbyterian Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky (US), and the theological community from Mexico at conferences on mission in context.

The ecumenical dimension has opened up even more with the presence of eight religions in Cuba, and the Seminary has created a Superior Ecumenical Institute for Religious Sciences (ISECRF.) in Havana, where people from different faiths and ideologies (Jews, Bahaists, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Yorubas, Marxists, and people without a religion) participate. This implies that we have been moving in the direction of an ecumenism that is open to different religions and anthropological faiths, responding to the contextual situation of a country heading towards socialism and secularism. This is the practice of oikoumene: all land being inhabited, having a big and open house, a guesthouse. We also work with the Cuban Inter-religious Platform.

Affirmation of the Lives of People: Quality of Life

Diaconal praxis has always been at the core of ecumenical theology. We remember the method of Latin American theology for liberation: "see, judge, and act." This action implies a personal, ecclesiastical, and social transformation.

It is true that the best way to define missio Dei is the constant invitation of the triune God to cross borders, build bridges, and make the church responsible throughout history, in culture, in the lives of those human beings and of creation, where God constantly lives.

Part of this land, where the seminary is located, has its beginnings as a Christian centre for childcare, founded in 1926. This property belonging to a women's organization from the Central Methodist Church of Matanzas was generously handed over to create the ETS. In other words, it is a land that has been blessed with humanitarian aid.

After the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, the Seminar)' focused on the task of creating a presence and participation in the new socialist society. The theology that inspired us was a theology of incarnation, founded on the text The Mission of the Church in a Socialist Society, by the late Cuban theologian Sergio Arce Martinez, pastor of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church of Cuba and dean of this seminary.

During the 1970s and '80s, the seminary practiced radical hospitality, hosting leaders who were committed to human rights and the fight against the oppressive and dictatorial governments of Latin America at the Camilo Torres Conferences, international theology and social science conferences, and other international activities of a different nature, such as those backed by the Christian Conference for Peace.

During this same period, as students and professors, we worked together with farmers and workers in the fields to cut sugar cane and do anything necessary for social transformation. Productive projects were carried out occasionally over 10 consecutive years. A new furniture factory was built in the city, and a baseball field was constructed.

The emphasis on mission and deaconry has been essential for the seminary. There has been a constant intersection in civil society, which has facilitated the construction of the Abraham Lincoln Community Culture Center, the development of the community that neighbours the seminary, a children's park in one of the most deprived areas, the support of old state homes, and home support for boys and girls who have no family protection.

In the same way, a deaconry school has been organized in collaboration with the Dr Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial Center to support the local development of a service from churches to the most deprived communities.

The North American association Living Waters has been working with the seminary since 2009 to provide water-filtering equipment and ozone equipment to obtain safe drinking water and offer it to communities. Up until today, 35 pieces of equipment have been installed in various churches and institutions on the island.

This is why missio Dei, as a divine affirmation of life, leads to the embrace of excluded people, the loving practice of forgiveness and reconciliation, and the salvation of a life that has been reduced by the powers of destruction and neoliberal economic projects, imperial manifestations against those who have been impoverished by the international economic system, destructive economic blockades, wars, violence, and the constant oversight of care for creation.

Mission from the Neighbourhoods

The WCC document Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes includes a key aspect for developing the missiological emphasis in Cuba: "Mission from the local community and the need to recognize the wisdom of the local population."

The favoured representative for this dialogue, regarding structures of theological education known for their patriarchal concepts, has been the academy. From there, a theology that is a base for university studies has been created. Today, however, "the time has come that theologians are more and more ... starting to give their hearts and pay attention to the right half of their brains just as much as they have done with the left." (2) In other words, paraphrasing the philosophy of Adela Cortina, who proposed a cordis ethic (ethic of reason), (3) we need a cordis theology (ethic of theology) that is caring and compassionate. "We know the truth, not only from reason, but in our hearts," Pascal said. (4) We have to get thought and feeling to integrate--a holistic education. Today, the voices of the community of faith question us to be sure that this dialogue refers to what the people of God and its communities do.

Two pressing problems in theological education have been these: Who is creating theology today? What is and should be the approach for creating theology today?

First, we can say that the entire people of God are the receivers of God's promise regarding those who will see visions and dream dreams (Joel 3:28). In other words, they will receive the ability to understand God's design for the world, and they will receive all the theological visions that create the future God desires for humanity.

Second, we have to say that in the outlook of the current theological task, we must consider the experience of the vast majority of people, for whom poverty and a decline of living standards, injustice and the fight for injustice, human indignity and aspirations for a dignified humanity, emptiness and a yearning for a full life, oppression, and the desire for freedom make up the crude reality of their daily lives. God, in support of the poor and those who suffer, sets out a goal for our traditional style of creating theology and for the direction theological education has been taking.

The phrase from the book that grabs my attention is "Mission is not a project of church expansion, but the project of the church to embody God's salvation in this world." (5)

I think that a good part of the mission in the neighbourhoods of Cuba has been carried out through what is called "houses of worship," which uses this approach. It is not expansion, but bringing the concept of the salvation of God to every neighbourhood. Today, there are around 5,000 houses of worship in Cuba; some use liturgy, whereas others are simply houses of prayer and biblical study. The model of houses of worship is a significant ecclesiastical component from the theological-pastoral point of view. To start the work of evangelism in the houses of worship, it was necessary to break down the traditional concept that a church building is indispensable for a church to exist.

We agree on our ecclesiastic practice with this phrase from the document: "Local congregations are borders and fundamental agents of the mission." (6)

Also, through the Cuban Prison Chaplains initiative by Baptist pastor Francisco Rodes, a professor at HTS, around 300 chaplains (men and women) have been trained to carry out this ministry of visitation and pastoral accompaniment.

Likewise, the following phrase is extraordinary: "Evangelizing is sharing our faith and convictions with other people, inviting them to be disciples of Christ, even it they adhere to other religious traditions." (7) I think that this is the true sense of evangelism that should be taught and practised today. This deals with overcoming preaching and the exclusive fundamentalist focus.

Also in Cuba, since 1970 and with the participation of young people from the Christian Student Movement, a popular Bible reading or community reading of the Bible has been practiced. This is inspired by the pedagogy of Paulo Freire, from the community church movement based in Brazil, and by Evangelism in Solentiname, the work of the Nicaraguan priest F.rnesto Cardenal. The Mardn Luther King Jr Memorial Center has been converted into a place where there has been a constant promotion of the popular reading of the Bible, training leaders from churches and the secular environment, bringing this methodology for how to study the Bible to neighbourhoods, communities, and local congregations.

Mission and Ecology

We should always define missio Dei as the sending of God on a two-way street; this sending does not have an anthropocentric focus, but a biocentric one.

We need to emphasize the theology of creation, because we have been greatly affected by the continuous emphasis on a theology of sin and redemption. It is necessary, therefore, to have an ecological conversation: participating together with all creation in the celebration of the work of the Creator, who leads us to practice eco-justice.

The Seminary has decided to transform a portion of its land into an organopbnicos (Cuban organic vegetable garden), that today serves ETS and the neighbourhood, selling produce at reasonable prices and delivering fresh vegetables to hospitals and educational centres.

We have also been participating in the Oikotree Movement, which held one of its conferences at the seminary in 2015, inspired by the Ubuntu (relationships with worldly humans in the community and in harmony with all creation) from Africa, the sumak kawsay (a good life, complete quality of life for all) from the Andean indigenous communities, and the sang saeng (sharing with the community and the economy that allows us to flourish together) from Asia.

Mission as the Key for Justice and Inclusion

The document also talks about "radical hospitality." (8) The seminary has been open to this hospitality. Today, the practical theology department includes training courses with people with disabilities. There is everything that a pastor would need.

Now there is a biblical project with the profoundly deaf, led by the renowned Bible scholar Elsa Tamez and the Bible Commission for the Council of Churches in Cuba. The seminary offers rooms and hospitality for this project, which includes a filming of the gospel according to Luke in sign language, to be used to train Bible translators and for congregations who have members who are deaf.

This radical hospitality is practised in our society. For example, during hurricane season, families offer their homes to welcome those who have fragile homes that are close to the sea; the seminary' has offered to hold provisions for those families that need refuge.

The inclusion of people with different sexual orientations has also been important. Recently, the seminary opened its doors for a celebration in the Matanzas province for the National Day against Homophobia, with the presence of Dr Mariela Castro, who directs the National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex) in Havana.

Students from the masters program are doing research on black theology and racism in Cuba, and the classes on theology and gender at the seminary, as part of this curriculum, now include new identities.

Mission and Unity Are Inseparable

The statement in the document that the kingdom of God includes the healing of broken relationships is very true.

Immigration has greatly affected pastors and congregations, but the seminary, on various occasions, has worked to reconcile with those people who have stayed and with those who have left the church and the island. While celebrating the 50th anniversary of ETS, pastors and leaders who had abandoned the country during the 1970s were invited to attend. On this occasion, a photo of Dr Alfonso Rodriguez Hidalgo, the first dean of the seminary was unveiled. Today, this photo is a part of the historic legacy of the deans at ETS.

Reconciliation sums up the entire work of salvation. It is God who takes the initiative (Rom. 5:10-11; 2 Cor. 5:18-20; Col. 1:19-20). It is the work of reconciliation and God, who make us ambassadors of this message of grace. This is why reconciliation is not only an aspect of the mission of the church, but the essential task in carrying out mission. In 1999 and 2000, conferences on dialogue and reconciliation were held with professors from Cuba who teach theology in the United States.

The church in Cuba has been working toward achieving a process of transformation in the churches as reconciled and reconciling communities. This means not only announcing the good news of reconciliation and bringing it to everyone--to all Cuban men and women--but being a sacrament of reconciliation, since the mission of the church is inseparable from its being.

The Spirit of Pentecost: Good News for All

How should we react when the Holy Spirit becomes subversive? The Bible is full of examples. We have also had this experience in Cuba:
When they told us the Church was dying, the church was reborn.

When thev declared that the only way out was through exile, a desert
theology inspired us to walk.

When we understood the fall of the socialist bloc in Kastern Europe and
the reversal of history, an absurd theology made us understand, through
Habakkuk and Jeremiah and Psalm 73, that in spite of everything: God.

When we didn't know how to face situations of rejection and
discrimination, the tenderness theology opened up the way for dialogue.

When we lost hope, paths were opened up that were like a threshing,
where the Spirit of God sustained us.

This is how this subversive, mischievous Spirit, who knows how to
release the chains that imprison us, freed us from fears and made us
dance to its liberating rhythm.

I would like to finish with this prayer from the South-South conference in Buenos Aires:
God, yon are the one li ho mores life. God who creates, redeems and
renews, ire want this to he a time of kairos, where your programs and
your initiatives can become ours.

May your Spirit move the entire cosmos in and through us, in a way that
we feel committed to justice and peace, your mercy and your compassion
in all of our relationships with each other and with the Earth.

We stand in your /ruth so that we recognise your presence and your will
in the community of Christ and the Earth.

We want your hope to he our hope and your vision, our vision, in such a
way that destruction becomes restorative and death is defeated by life.

Daniel Montoya Rosales

Daniel Montoya Rosales is a retired pastor from the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba. Currently, he is a professor of ecumenical pastoring and missions and deaconry at the Evangelical Theology Seminary of Matanzas, Cuba.

(1) David J. Bosch: Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 200(1), 600-1.

(2) Matthew Fox, Original Messing: A New Spirituality for the Man of the 21st Century (Barcelona: Obelisco Editions. 2002), 26.

(3) Adela Cortina, Ethics of Reason: Educating the Citizen of the 21 St Century (Oviedo, Spain: Nobel Editions, 2009), 191.

(4) Pascal, Thoughts on Religion and Other Matters, 3rd. ed. (Buenos Aires: Losada Editorial, 1977), 191.

(5) Jooseop Keum, ed., Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing landscapes, 21)12, [section]58 (Geneva: WCC, 2012)

(6) Ibid., [section]73.

(7) Ibid., [section]83.

(8) Ibid., [section]47.
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Author:Rosales, Daniel Montoya
Publication:International Review of Mission
Geographic Code:5CUBA
Date:Jun 1, 2017
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