June is graduation time in the Caribbean and an especially happy celebration for our global partner, the Seminario Evangelico Teologico (SET) in Matanzas, Cuba, this year.  On Wednesday, June 11, a record number of 72 men and women graduated in six different degree programs, the largest number since its foundation in 1946!

The graduating class of 2014 includes 38 men and 36 women. Forty-seven bachelor’s degrees were awarded in Theology and 3 in Religious Studies; 3 Licenciado (5-year) degrees in Theology and 14 in Religious Studies. Two master’s degrees in Theology and 3 in Religious Studies were also conferred. The graduates represented the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba, The Episcopal Church, The Society of Friends, the Fraternity of Baptists, and nine other Christian denominations.

This year's large number of graduates is the answer to prayer and the fruit of a vision to provide the church with trained lay and pastoral leadership and Cuban society with citizens educated about religions. This large number enrolled in seminary and graduating is a sign of the dramatic change the Cuban society and people are undergoing.

In the rapidly changing landscape that is Cuban society many people are eager to learn more about Christian faith and about religion in general. The strong interest in religious education and church growth in all denominations in Cuba is part of the changing dynamic within the country.

New openness in the public sphere to discussing racism and gender violence, economic changes allowing for greater opportunities, and social and political reforms are part of the sea of change in process here.

In response to this eagerness, five years ago SET began developing an innovative distance program to take new bachelor's degrees in Christian Education, Theology, and — the newest program — Diaconal work to different parts of the country. More than 500 students were enrolled this year through SET and the Higher Religious Studies program that is connected with the University of Havana for students interested in comparative religious studies. 

Just a few years ago barely 50 students were enrolled at any given time. Also a current Cuban Council of Churches initiative would bring 1 million new Bibles to Cuba.

Cuban and Christian flags

Cuban and Christian flags adorn the graduation celebration. —Jo Ella Holman

The PC(USA) has nearly 90 partnerships between its congregations and presbyteries and counterparts in the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba, some of which are more than 20 years old. These close ties have enabled many U.S. Presbyterians to visit their sister churches and presbyteries and to host return visits.

And what they have seen of the changes in Cuba have prompted some partner presbyteries to sponsor overtures to this year's PC(USA) General Assembly seeking normalizing relationships between our two governments.

In Detroit the General Assembly approved overtures brought forward by presbyteries to petition President Obama to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and to petition the Administration and Congress to end all restrictions on American travel to Cuba and to direct the Office of Public Witness of the PC(USA) to advocate these positions with the U.S. government.

A third overture toward a joint church consultation with our Cuban partners and with the PC(USA)'s Cuba Partners network, World Mission. and the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) was referred to ACSWP and the Cuba Partners network for action, depending on funds.

Our own church has spoken and now the hard work of advocacy with our U.S. government continues.

The Cuba Partners network has been and continues to be a vital witness to the PC(USA) and the U.S. government concerning Cuban-U.S. relations. This advocacy has been the number one request of our partner church over the years. The Cuba Partners network has responded and continues to respond to this request while also celebrating and supporting the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba’s work in evangelism, community outreach, and theological education. 

Thank you for your support of my own ministry as I serve with the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba and other Caribbean partners. Your prayers, encouragement, advocacy on behalf of our partners and your financial support are essential to God’s ministry in this part of the world, and I am deeply grateful for this support.

To visit the web pages of all Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission workers, visit Mission Connections.