BY JACK SHORT – This is the fourth installment in a series of stories regarding the Boca Grande United Methodist Church mission trip to Cuba in February.
During discussions about Cuba, and especially about help that various organizations provide, it can be all too easy for some to imagine people with their hands out and nothing more. But during our trip to Cuba, I and missionaries from the Boca Grande United and other local Methodist churches saw a tremendously self-reliant, resourceful people who gave time and money to their community and to churches.
One of the biggest events of the missionary trip was a national conference of Methodist preachers, including the Bishop of Cuba, in Marari. But a visit to a church in nearby Preston was every bit as illuminating.
Preston is an old town. Some of the houses there – small, clapboard structures – have stood for more than 100 years. The town was home to a sugar cane refinery and shipping facility before the revolution.
The processing plant still stands at the far edge of town along the main road, and the disused jetty is now empty. Building foundations and scattered bricks peek out from underneath the grass, and remains of the steel rails that used to carry cargo onto ships still teeter on pilings that extend from the tip of the jetty. The jetty itself is lined on one side with rotted ferrocement hulls.
Once-industrial resources have been repurposed. Housing for workers is now decrepit tenements.
Though no cane comes through it, industrial percussion can be heard inside the factory. Rail cars still run along the tracks outside the factory, but they are used as public transport.
The windblown grasses of the point are used by locals to graze goats. Inside what was once a bayside restaurant or resort, where paintings of palm trees and sunsets still adorn the parts of the walls that haven’t fallen away, a family lives in the kitchen. Nearby, at the local Methodist church, a dozen men lend their labor to a reconstruction effort.
A church is being built. A local man had used his house to preach after the government seized the former church, too dilapidated to use, but he later bought a house. After several years, the government granted him use of the adjacent lot to build a new church.
That permission comes piecemeal, however. Though much of the structure is complete, the roof is held up by bare beams as permission to build walls came later. The Boca Grande United Methodist Church purchased the other half of the house and, after a meeting between the local pastor and American pastor Brian Brightly and Dan Christopherson, agreed to fund additional repairs and renovations to both the church and the pastor’s house. The congregation comprises 72 people and includes a Sunday school. The pastor, who has a small salary of 887 CUPs per month, roughly $35, said that when people need help, the community rallies to gather clothes and donations and help one another. Back at the construction site, several local men and women work to repair the pastor’s house and prepare a celebratory meal in anticipation of the missionaries’ arrival. I asked if any of them were being paid anything. The pastor said they were not and that they worked often like this – donating their time to the church. Later, at the meal and service commemorating the missionaries’ visit, people applauded the American visitors and danced and sang.