Episcopal Church of Cuba works with communities to transform lives

Photo: Ang All
Published July 19, 2017

The Anglican Alliance has been on a fact-finding mission to the Episcopal Diocese of Cuba to learn more about its mission and development programme. In every part of the Communion, the Anglican Alliance seeks to understand local models of holistic mission which can be shared for mutual inspiration and learning. In this article, the Rev. Rachel Carnegie, co-executive director, and Dr. Paulo Ueti, regional facilitator from Latin America, reflect on their visit:

Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio’s eyes light up as she remembers a turning point in her ministry many years ago in her former parish, Santa Maria Virgen de Itabo. She describes an elderly lady, Claribel, in the community. The church helped her with seeds and encouragement to grow her own tomatoes.

“The neighbours then asked if they could share Claribel’s tomatoes,” Bishop Griselda recalls. “Claribel called them to learn how to seed and cultivate their own tomatoes. This spread out across the community. They started to transform the land and learned new things. When they had surplus, they learned how to preserve and sell. The next step was to build a seed bank to achieve self-sustainability.

“This is an example of how to work with people to transform their lives, their way of thinking and to plan their future. They learned about things which they did not know they had. For me, this is actually the Gospel—to open the doors [of the church] and transform minds, land and spirit,” Bishop Griselda added.

Bishop Griselda later brought this vision of community transformation to the diocese and developed a new programme of mission and development. This sits within the wider vision for the Episcopal Diocese of Cuba, which states: “We seek to become a church that, united in diversity, celebrates, evangelises, teaches, serves and shares God’s love.”

The diocese’s mission seeks “to serve Christ in all people by proclaiming, teaching and living the Gospel, hoping to achieve human and spiritual growth; focusing on the needs of the Cuban family.”

A key part of the diocese’s missional expression is its Integral (Missionary) Development Programme, which was inaugurated in 2013. Its focus is on training and equipping local leaders for integral community development.

Jose (Pepe) Bringas, programme co-ordinator, explained that the first trainings challenged people to consider their context and their needs and how they could bring about changes. This form of asset-based community development sees the Church moving beyond models of charitable assistance into empowerment and sustainable development.

“Our vision for the future is to transform the lives of people through sustainable development, empowering people to become proactive actors in their own development, because they had overcome welfare-based models,” Pepe explains. “The people showed new attitudes and behaviours which had empowered them as inter-dependent and responsible entities. Therefore we see our programme focusing to renew the church as a light for the entire community, to strengthen its spirituality, human development, economic development…while caring for the sacred creation of God. We are moving from dependence to inter-dependence and we hope this will have an impact on other communities and churches.”

Since 2013, the programme co-ordinated by Pepe has trained 239 people for local leadership. Mostly lay and nearly 50% women, these people have been trained in community development and management of economic initiatives. Afterwards the participants are invited to present a plan for local transformation through a micro-venture. The programme supports the viable plans. This is followed by a process of monitoring all levels which guarantees transparent and responsible use of the grants.

The initiatives are diverse, linked to food security, food preservation, access to potable water and use of clean energy. There are also initiatives caring for children and elderly people. The programme has been developed in partnership with Episcopal Relief & Development and the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.

In the past years, a new programme has been introduced to train savings groups, to create economic opportunities for vulnerable communities.

The programme team shared several real-life examples to illustrate their impact. One story was about Pavel, who had worked all his life as an electrician. Recently he had heart surgery, which meant he could no longer do this strenuous work. He participated in training session and designed a project. This enabled Pavel and his wife to start a small family business, making and selling sweets and cakes.

The diocesan development programme has also introduced community savings groups. The first enterprise resulting from these groups is investing in a shoe-making business. Another member of the church, called Edit, who has also attended the training, said: “It’s amazing how, through its programme of integral mission, the church and the wider community are intertwined and mutually benefiting each other. Many people now are starting to meet each other and participate in the projects co-ordinated by the church.”

Daliana, who works at the diocesan centre, said: “I participated in the 2015 training and designed a project which has been approved. This is to grow a permaculture garden, to cultivate vegetables, medicinal plants and spices. Working with the local community, the aim is to supply spices and vegetables for the kitchen at the diocesan centre [where the church feeds 100 people daily] and also raise vegetable production to help others in the community.”

Reflecting on what she valued about this programme, Daliana said: “We seek to help people. We don’t ask who they are or where they are from.” Daliana gave an example of the programme’s impact…[through] a water purification project which currently benefits 1,000 people a month. “I have a disabled friend who has no access to water at home,” Daliana said. “This water project was like light coming to the house. The water is not only for drinking but also to clean her pressure sores. Each day someone comes from her house to collect the water and they receive something which previously would have been unthinkable.”

The diocese’s Integral Missionary Development Programme is working hard to monitor its outcomes and impact, tracking changes in communities in relation to key Sustainable Development Goals. Its recent evaluation revealed that in the past three years, 48 local initiatives have been supported, benefiting 30 communities with 3572 direct beneficiaries (52% women).

Bishop Griselda Delgado concluded: “We have been working in recent years on discerning what our mission is as church in this society and in this context. First of all, I have to say that mission belongs to God. God gives us the possibilities…to preach the Gospel, to serve, to connect to each other, to be a community and also to seek to be a family…Taking into account our diversity but also being a family allows us to work on areas of common concern, issues that are big and pressing in people’s lives.”

The diocese’ scriptural motto expresses the bishop’s vision: “You are members of God’s family, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19b–20).

Reflecting on the visit, Paolo Ueti said: “It is incredible how the development of the community mindset rooted in a strong spirituality is capable to metanoia—conversion, change of path and mentality—that is so deep it produces transformation in the lives of people and in general society. These are important stories to share, to inspire and challenge others in our extended family to get involved in this journey of solidarity.”

Rachel Carnegie added: “It has been profoundly inspiring to see how quickly this approach for transformation has taken root in the churches and local communities through the Episcopal Church of Cuba. We were privileged to learn about their approach to asset-based community development, which sees the local church as an integral and dynamic part of the lives of their communities. There is so much to learn and share from the mission of the Church in Cuba.”


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