The noise level is deafening on a Tuesday afternoon at Ezequiel Torres Presbyterian Church here. People of all ages pack the tiny sanctuary and spill into adjoining rooms, which are still under construction.
There are no pews, and what’s going on is not exactly a worship service. The pastor, Joel Dopico, calls it community outreach.
Backed by a large wooden cross at the front of the sanctuary, two men play lively Cuban music on a guitar and what looks like a type of saxophone.
Lines of people, conversing at full volume, wait to have their photos taken and to try on pairs of glasses spread out across a nearby table. Children batting balloons scurry through openings in the crowd.
Running the enterprise is a visiting group of Korean Presbyterians from Canada. Their bright green and orange T-shirts say, “Dios te ama” (God loves you).
Dopico divides his time between this church and a larger congregation in the nearby beach-resort town of Varadero, one of the centers of Cuba’s burgeoning tourist industry. He is also president of the Cuban Council of Churches.
Ezequiel Torres Church closed shortly after the Cuban revolution in 1959 and the building had fallen into almost total ruin until the Varadero Church decided a few years ago to restart ministry in Guásimas. It is a “ripe mission field,” Dopico says, because people are moving into the community as Varadero’s resort industry grows.
He proudly shows visitors a recent addition to the Guásimas church facility. Piles of building materials indicate a work in progress — what some might call an “extreme makeover.
Chickens wander across the grounds behind the church, where bunches of bananas are ripening on trees high overhead. The congregation will sell the fruit to help fund its mission, Dopico says.
Back inside the sanctuary, several of the visiting Koreans are applying make-up to the faces of Cuban women who have waited eagerly in yet another line for this unaccustomed bit of pampering.
“I thought the make-up was a stupid idea at first,” says Dopico. “But the women love it, and we tell them about Jesus.”
Eva Stimson, former editor of Presbyterians Today magazine, is a freelance writer and editor.