The Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba (IPRC) is building a growing sense of trust and mutual respect with the Cuban government through a program that seeks to integrate religious, social, family and citizenship values in children and youth.

The program is the brainchild of Nelson Davila ― a Cuban pastor and educator who earned his Master’s Degree from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago and his Ph.D. from the University of Havana.

“My dissertation at the university was on how the church can help children be good family members, community participants and citizens,” Davila told the Presbyterian News Service in a Jan. 30 interview. “It was the first time a church-based thesis was presented because the University of Havana has historically been an atheistic institution.”

The government was impressed with Davila’s research, he said, “because a big problem in our country is how to raise kids with good social and family values ― the government sees a lot of kids being lost, so they are very interested.”

He teaches a course at Evangelico Seminario Teologia (Evangelical Theological Seminary, or SET) here on “The Church and Citizen Formation” and serves in the IPRC’s department of mission.

Davila’s ― and the IRPC’s ― approach is quite simple: “The church cannot be separated from its communities,” he said. “We have to be involved. Religious, family, social and community values are part of the whole human being.”

The Cuban government has warmed to this integrated values-building approach, Davila said, and so have many communities in Cuba. “Sometimes the people don’t understand the church, but they understand that we are all involved in developing healthy individuals and communities.”

The program is built on Bible study that focuses on the real lives of children, Davila said. “We need to teach the whole life ― that they are good Christians and good citizens, that they are good family members and good community members.”

It’s not glamorous work. “We have many churches in Cuba that are just trying to be in the headlines,” Davila said, “but that is not the real gospel. The real gospel is humble and seeks to serve the least, to make them better human beings.

“We should not be seeking recognition,” he continued. “Our only purpose is to serve the Lord.”

The IRPC must do its values-building work primarily on the weekends. “Churches have to be careful with children’s programs because they are very busy.” The program does include visits to museums, artistic and cultural activities and environmental projects.

“We want them to understand,” Davila said, “that everything is part of their spiritual life.”