March 7, 2017
By Carrie McGuffin
A delegation of Cooperative Baptists traveled to Havana, Cuba, February 14-19 to explore an official partnership with the Fraternidad de Iglesias Bautistas de Cuba (FIBAC) that would strengthen ties between CBF churches and the Cuban church, as well as encourage the sharing of resources and mutual growth.
“It is like we are two different books with the same bibliography,” said Ernesto Bazan, pastor of a Baptist church in Holguin, Cuba, board member of FIBAC and board member of the Cuban Council of Churches.
The CBF delegation, consisting of CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter and coordinators from four of CBF’s 18 state and regional organizations met with the board of FIBAC to discuss this similarity. Birthed in the same time and out of the same issues, such as the affirmation of women’s ordination, FIBAC and CBF share similar foundations, theology and goals for the future.
With 43 churches in three provinces across Cuba, the organization boasts full inclusion of women in pastoral roles, active and informed laity, an ecumenical desire and authentic Cuban identity in liturgy and music.
The organization exercises this ecumenism through involvement with the Seminary of Matanzas and as part of the Cuban Council of Churches, as well as connection to the Latin America Biblical University in Costa Rica. This commitment to theological education is a particularly exciting point of connection for the Fellowship and FIBAC.
“Within my observations over the last three years,” offered Ray Johnson, coordinator for CBF of Florida, “this is one of the best informed clergy in an organization that I have encountered. They are very well trained theologically.”
Alongside the board of FIBAC, the delegation from CBF had the privilege of meeting with the leaders in the Office of Religious Affairs of the Communist Party, to learn about the history of religious affairs in Cuba and engage in dialogue to clarify connection and commitment to partnership with the Cuban church.
This office, established in 1985 and led by Caridad Diego, serves to create a bridge between the churches of Cuba and the state, and seeks to know organizational international relationships, allowing this space to engage and encourage international partners like CBF to partner in responsible, respectful and meaningful ways with the church in Cuba.
The group also met with the leaders of the Cuban Council of Churches, which is a council of 28 churches and organizations founded in 1941, working to bring churches together to creatively solve socio-economic issues and improve the quality of life for Cubans across the country. Focused on ecumenical work, social justice and spiritual formation, the council connects well with the CBF and FIBAC partnership, offering opportunities to connect with specific ongoing projects as well as future visioning.
After days of establishing deep connection and visioning a future together of mutual learning, growth and resource sharing, FIBAC and CBF leaders had an opportunity to celebrate together during the 26th annual assembly of FIBAC churches, reflecting on the theme “Una Iglesia de Puertas Abiertas” — a church of open doors.
Through generous hospitality and engaging study and worship together, this truly was an event with open doors, open hearts, open eyes and open arms.
“The Holy Spirit has no borders,” Paynter said. “We must be humble to the Spirit in that way, and let the connections that God has provided us be the lead for where we grow together. I think God is a good cultivator—like in the parable of the sower where there is good soil and bad soil. Why put our seeds in bad soil? Let’s put them where there is already compatibility.”
See photos from the week in Havana here.
CBF is a Christian network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.