When Cuban pastor Edelberto Valdes read the January/February issue of Presbyterians Today, about 1,001 new worshiping communities in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), he was thrilled. “I want to say how happy I was to read about these new points of view about the way to be church,” he wrote in an email. “In Cuba we had to do this many years ago, when it was difficult to be a Christian; we had to find new ways.” Valdes said he wanted to be in contact with these communities to “give them our experiences” and “maybe to help them in their ministries.” He finished the email saying, “Thanks to God for the changes in the PC(U.S.A.), and go ahead!!!”
I was deeply intrigued by Valdez’s comments, and his background. He is a pastor in the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba and also serves as executive secretary in the Central Presbytery and as director of the department of Programs and mission in their synod. So we began an email conversation. I sent him five questions; his replies below speak of what the church in Cuba learned as it found new ways to be Christ’s church amid a difficult time in Cuban society.
What did you do in Cuba when it became difficult to be a Christian?
First we did everything we could to give our churches tools to help them live our faith in the world and be willing to pay a price to be a Christian. We produced many theological documents about how to live in a socialist society, trying to have our church be strong in its faith in the here and now, rather than thinking about life in heaven. We discovered that if you want to be a Christian, you have to live it by actions, instead of just talking about it.
What did you feel as you read about the 1,001 new worshiping communities, which you refer to as “signs of hope”?
I felt that the Presbyterian Church isn’t wasting time, resources, and life discussing items that aren’t important. It’s as if the church decided to be an alive church, instead of a comfortable one that waits for people to come. It is good to hear of these communities that are involved with people, searching for them, walking with them and the problems they have. To me that is a sign of hope. I visited PC(USA) churches five times. Often I found buildings with lots of stuff, nice conditions to work with, but without passion for people. I could feel that.
What would you like to say to these new worshiping communities?
Be encouraged, continue on! I share with you my strength and hope, that you are becoming like Jesus, who walked on the roads many times, being close to people’s problems, giving them holistic healing.
What kind of experiences would you talk to them about?
The experiences we had here when we couldn’t talk openly about our Christians faith in our schools, jobs, or even in our families because it could be the beginning of serious problems. But we survived as a church because we decided to serve Jesus by serving the people. Not with good speeches, but with actions that declare the Christian faith is more than words.
Tell me more about the meaning of your last words “go ahead” and the exclamation points?
In the Old Testament, when Moses was with the people in front of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army behind them, God told him, “Tell my people to walk!” It sounds like a crazy phrase, but if you think about it, many times life paralyzes us. It is so good to know that God is pushing us to continue struggling even when we are surrounded by bad situations. Isn’t that the meaning of resurrection?