Wednesday, 12 January 2011

'October - January'

It seems like ages since I last updated this - and indeed it has been 3 months!

Firstly, I was privileged to lead a group visit to our friends in Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba. This Church is the Belonging to the World Church Global Partner of the Synod of Scotland! The group was made up of Church Related Community Workers and also one of the Moderators of General Assembly, Revd Kirsty Thorpe. We were primarily there to learn about how the Cuban Church relates to the local community and about the projects they have set up! We gained much more than that!

Travellers to Cuba!

It was such an amazing journey, both physically and spiritually for the group and we discovered much about the people of Cuba, their life and their faith! We started our journey in Havana visiting Churches in the region before visiting different congregations for Sunday Worship. Due to the visa problems we had encountered I was the only person allowed to preach and so I was able to share with the congregation of Guanabacoa Church which is to the east of Havana. The Pastor there is lead guitarist of a rock band who gave the group our own private concert! He uses music as a way of working with the community around him.

Our Jesus bus!

Our group then travelled (on our 'Jesus' bus!) to Matanzas about 60 miles east of Havana, along the northern Coast of Cuba. We stayed at the Theological Seminary and again were able to visit the churches around the area. One Church is in Varadero, which is a huge tourist resort - attracting visitors from all over the world - it is famous for its white sand beaches! The Church here is again using music and the arts to work with the local community.

With Varadero being a tourist centre, we heard stories of young people giving up their education to work in the hotels. looking for the big dollar tips! The Church has English speaking services in order to try and work with the tourists as well as local communities!
Varadero beach

After a few days in Matanzas we travelled on to Santa Clara for our final few days of visiting Churches. we heard about the church and their projects but we also got to visit the Che Guevara Memorial - which left me with many questions. 

Che Memorial
I think it is fair to say that in Santa Clara we were much more confident in engaging with the congregations and were treated to two evenings of entertainment , laughter and fun! The party games we played at Santa Clara Church took me back to the days of my youth at Church family Christmas parties in my home church! We laughed and mad fools of ourselves and had a really good time!!!

We then moved onto our final visit of the trip. To a church which moved me to tears, tears of joys!

Taguasco Church is an 'open and affirming' church. it proudly displayed its rainbow flag alongside the flag of the church and the Cuban flag! it's minister, the Reverend Miriam Naranjo is breaking the normal rules of both society and church in declaring that God accepts everyone. She and her congregation is working with Gay and Lesbian community to offer a place of welcome and love! I never expected to encounter such a church in Cuba and to hear their story was a delight, and a challenge!

It was an amazing end to a wonderful journey! I will never forget the people of Taguasco Church!

So, that was Cuba, well, brief highlights anyway!

In November I was privileged to travel to Stellenbosch in South Africa to hear about the work of NetACT, the Network of African Theological colleges. They are a pan-African organisation offering the exchange of students and teachers between Reformed Church colleges in places such as Angola and Mozambique. The United Reformed Church sponsored one such student from Angola who has now completed his studies! Stellenbosch is beautiful and surrounded by vineyards but I didn't get the opportunity to sample much! Although the trip was successful, I had my laptop stolen from my hotel room on my final day and it left me frustrated and angry!

From here I travelled up to Mozambique to meet with my dear friends. This was a bridgebuilding visit and I was accompanied by Richard Mortimer, the Deputy General Secretary. You may remember from an earlier blog that we were involved in a security incident in Mozambique in September.

We had a group of young people from Northern Synod in Mozambique on a Global Partners visit. While they were there, there was some civil unrest in Maputo and we took a decision to get them out. This involved sending in a security team from South Africa overland (the airport was closed!) to ensure there safety and take them back to Jo'Burg.

Young people after their return from Mozambique
Although our partner church were understanding of our need to evacuate our young people, it was felt that we had to pay a visit at the earliest opportunity to offer our support!

I LOVE MOZAMBIQUE!!! There is not much more to say! We were looked after extremely well and heard more about their hopes for the future of their church. We heard Children sing as we visited on of the churches, we heard about the women's sewing project and the support they are receiving from Northern Synod! The last question I always get asked in Mozambique is 'When are you coming back?'

The Sewing group (and Bart!)

The rest of the last few months has been back in the office - having cancelled a trip to Myanmar due to the elections.

Looking forward - I am visiting Geneva in February to meet with the President of the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar. We were due to visit Madagascar but as he will be in Geneva that has been postponed! I am also taking the opportunity to visit the World Communion of Reformed Church staff to plan a visit later in the year!

Then it's back to Ghana to look at the future partnership after the ending of the Ghanaian Ministry in London.

So, that's been my few months! Happy New Year!