The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain (PCOM), with the help of a grant from the Lehigh Presbytery and the Synod of the Trinity, sent a mission team comprised of eight parishioners to Cardenas, Cuba, from May 8 to May 15, 2018. This was the eighth mission trip since 1998 that the PCOM has sent to Cardenas. The team carried with them more than $40,000 worth of medicines that they donated to their sister church in Cardenas, the Juan G. Hall Reformed Presbyterian Church.
The mission began in 1998 when the PCOM decided to donate medicines to Cuba after learning of the shortages there created by the U.S. embargo. A three-member mission team carried medicines, obtained from MAP International, to a church they learned about from a local pastor who had recently visited there. The personal and spiritual relationships that were created during the first visit have grown stronger over the past twenty years. In addition to return to Cardenas seven times since the, the PCOM has brought Cubans to visit the Water Gap church on two occasions. Pastor Alison Infante Zamora of the Juan G. Hall Church visited the PCOM in the summer of 2017.
In addition to approximately $39,000 worth of medicines obtained from MAP International, the 2018 mission team took additional medicines donated by the PCOM congregation and a local physician. They gave those medicines to the church in Cardenas, where two members of the congregation who are physicians will oversee their distribution to local residents. While the team was in Cardenas, they participated in the weekly activities of the church.
Cardenas is a city of 120,000 people. Some elderly parishioners struggle to make it to church on Sunday morning, so smaller worship communities, called Pastorals, meet weekly to serve them. Members of the mission team participated in these worship activities in homes throughout the city. Team members also visited and dined with parishioners in their homes.
One of the team members was the pastor of the PCOM, the Rev. Sherry Blackman. Pastor Blackman took a prominent role in the mission, offering multiple prayers and giving the sermon at the Sunday morning church service. Of the eight team members, four are musicians. Individually and together with Cuban musicians they contributed to the rich musical component of the trip through their performances. Other team members contributed in their own unique way to the success of the trip.
Through daily contact with the Juan G. Hall congregation in their homes and in the church, team members learned of the hardships and challenges faced by Cubans on a daily basis.
Food shortages are endemic. Many homes are crumbling around their owners because of the lack of building supplies or the lack of money with which to buy supplies. (One of their friends has to sit up at night when it rains because the roof leaks on her bed.)
While the Cuban government offers excellent, and free, medical care, medicines, medical supplies, and medical equipment reman difficult to get. Perhaps the most sobering reality for Cubans is the lack of opportunity for young people. There are friends, who, because of Cuba’s free higher education, have degrees in engineering and other professional fields, yet who work in the tourism industry because doing so gives them access to foreign currency through tips. Hope is in short supply.
Yet the members of the Juan G. Hall Church in Cardenas maintain a positive and happy attitude. Of the lessons learned on this trip–perhaps the most important–was that material wealth is not a prerequisite for happiness.