Churches in Classis Minnkota (regional assembly) of the Christian Reformed Church in North America collected $10,000 in offerings in support of the Christian Reformed Church in Cuba this spring after hearing of ongoing difficulties there. Contributing churches included Volga (S.D.); Chandler (Minn.) CRC; Second CRC of Kalamazoo, Mich.; Holland (Minn.) CRC; and First CRC of Edgerton, Minn.
Josh Cristoffels, pastor of Chandler CRC, brought the concern to the March meeting of classis through an overture (formal request) from Chandler’s council. “The church in Cuba is asking for financial help for the churches so that they can buy food for vulnerable families, support pastors, missionaries, and leaders, and continue their programs such as reaching out to the youth,” the overture said. Classis agreed to designate Palm Sunday or another Sunday this spring to spend time in prayer for the Cuban churches and take up the special offering.
Cristoffels said Chandler had a particular connection to the CRC in Cuba because of past trips organized by previous pastor, Raidel Leon. The church kept in touch with Pastor Yordanys Diaz Ortega from Havana, who described in emails the issues that the Cuban church is facing. Struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic and having to lay off ministry staff because of economic policy changes in the country have made the situation dire.
“The mission work they do of serving food and running nursing homes has had to be drastically cut because of a lack of finances and many employees have been let go. Even pastors and missionaries have not been able to continue their work because no one can afford to pay them,” Chandler CRC’s overture said.
Support for the CRC in Cuba extends beyond Classis Minnkota. Classis Alberta North has taken recent offerings for the Cuban churches as well, also sending $10,000 since December. Alberta North has been promoting ongoing support through the Cuba Connection Committee active for decades. Committee chair John Strikwerda said he has been “touched” by the hospitality shown to him and visiting groups on past trips. “What little they have they share in abundance. Their church services are boisterous and full of joy,” Strikwerda said.
In a 2019 trip to Cuba members of the Cuba Connection committee visited with Pastor Diaz, president of the CRC in Cuba, discussing ways to further develop ties between congregations of the CRCNA and the CRC in Cuba. “Unfortunately, the pandemic put a hold on the committee’s ability to meet and pursue these endeavors,” said a recent update from the Cuba Connection.
Also on that 2019 trip were members of LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich. That congregation’s connection to the Cuban churches is the oldest in the CRCNA, said Resonate Global Mission Mexico and Caribbean team leader Luis Pellecer. It goes back to before Christian Reformed World Missions (now part of Resonate) established a mission field in Cuba in 1958. “But that new outreach to Cuba was short-lived,” reads a LaGrave Avenue history of Cuba involvement. “With the appearance of Fidel Castro and the Communist government in 1959, communication and direct support with Cuba ended. But the Cuban Christian Reformed Church survived.”
The history goes on to say that in 1995, when the Cuban government once again allowed contact, “members of LaGrave discovered that in spite of religious suppression during those 35 years the small group of Christian Reformed churches not only survived in the face of religious persecution but had prospered.” Today LaGrave maintains its support reestablished in the 90s, noting in the history that “in spite of dire economic conditions, the CCRC has taken on a new spirit of evangelism.”
Pellecer said the financial assistance sent from CRCNA partners will help with relief “of the precarious situation in Cuba, including shortages of food and medicine.” He said Resonate has worked in collaboration with the contributing churches “making it possible for resources to be sent to our brothers and sisters in Cuba.”
In Chandler, Cristoffels said his congregation hopes to offer more than just financial support when travel is again possible. “We do hope to send workgroups to Cuba in the future after the pandemic is over. There is talk of helping with the youth in the future and assisting with their summer camps,” he said.