Manny Sardinas was glad to learn last summer that Cuba and the United States had reached an agreement to fully open diplomatic relations. The Cuban native and Superintendent of the Gateway North District in The United Methodist Church of Greater New Jersey knew that restoring diplomatic relations would allow the church to rebuild relationships with sister churches in Cuba.
The Methodist Church of Cuba had been a part of what is The United Methodist Church today up until 1968. At that time, because of the challenges of travel between the U.S. and Cuba, it became its own denomination, The Methodist Church of Cuba.
Sardinas, Bishop John Schol and 13 others were part of the GNJ contingent to visit Cuba. The team witnessed how a partnership could benefit both The Methodist Church of Cuba and GNJ.
The reasons for the trip were to explore experiences with protestant churches in Cuba and identify connections for future missional possibilities, identify the missional component of the Cuban church in the community and social structure and to learn about the expansion of Cuban churches.
The trip was also served to strengthen the relationship between The Methodist Church of Cuba and GNJ. New Jersey has the second largest Cuban population in the U.S. behind Florida and has several Cuban pastors. The Cuban Methodist Church is also the fastest growing protestant church in Cuba and has more than 2,000 house churches. After a meeting between Bishops Pereira and Schol they emerged to announce a commitment to explore a partnership that will:
- Participate in a pastor cultural exchange
- Have Cuban church leaders teach GNJ how to develop and grow house churches (a growing movement in the U.S. among millennials)
- Establish an exchange of students and professors of Drew School of Theology and the Methodist Seminary in Cuba
- Develop and grow Communities of Hope in Cuba and GNJ
"This is an important time in the church and society of Cuba," Bishop Schol said. "We look forward to learning from and with the people of Cuba and we are blessed to explore a partnership. A partnership with the Cuban church will be transformative."
One refreshing part of the trip for team members was to see how the Cuban people made the most of what they have.
A couple of resource examples included people purchasing a milk cow and using the milk to feed the elderly in their small community and one man using thrown away magnetic strips and attaching them to the back of clay models and selling them to tourists.
"The people there are not waiting for outsiders to come in and begin transformation," Caldwell-Gross said. "When you have less it creates a certain ingenuity and it was refreshing to see."
Jeff Wolfe, Greater New Jersey Annual Conference website
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