Church members in Santiago pray in the street shortly after Hurricane Sandy struck.
By Susan Kim*
February 12, 2013—When Dan Christopherson observed the damage in Cuba during Hurricane Sandy's aftermath, he saw widespread devastation to both churches and homes. Parts of Cuba were pummeled by Sandy's high winds. In other areas, he said, “it's not necessarily a strong wind, but it's a weak house.”
The end result was, unfortunately, the same.
Cuba has 357 Methodist churches, the majority of which are “house churches,” meaning that religious gatherings are held in a private residence.
Rebuilding these “house churches” is a complex process in Cuba. Construction of new Methodist churches, as well as enlarging or renovating existing ones, requires government authorization, which is rarely given except to churches belonging to the government-sanctioned Cuban Council of Churches.
Current Cuban government policy allows officially recognized church services only in buildings that were constructed prior to the 1959 revolution.
As chair of Methodists United in Prayer, Christopherson has been on the forefront of Hurricane Sandy recovery in Cuba. Methodists United in Prayer is a ministry that exists through a relationship between the Methodist Church in Cuba and the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. Working with this ministry, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) has been able to send volunteer teams to rebuild homes in Cuba, even before Sandy struck.
In Sandy's aftermath, UMCOR provided a $10,000 emergency grant that was administered through the Methodist Church in Cuba. Working with both Methodists United in Prayer and UMVIM, UMCOR is now planning to provide further funding as long-term recovery continues.
UMCOR's role in rebuilding house churches as well as supporting disaster preparedness training in Cuba is still being worked out, said Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR's assistant general secretary for US Disaster Response.
“I believe we can work most effectively in this recovery through the relationships that already exist, thanks to Methodists United in Prayer,” he said.
Meanwhile, many Cubans are living by faith, observed Renee M. Kincaid, who is from Cuba and also serves with Methodists United in Prayer. “If you've been involved with Cuba for any length of time, you will see the hand of God in all this,” she said. “Cubans live by faith. They will invest time, effort, and money resources in rebuilding the smallest house church.”
UMCOR will continue to reach out to Hurricane Sandy survivors wherever they are. Please donate to Hurricanes 2012, UMCOR Advance #3021787.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.