Religion in Cuba: Hiding in Plain Sight

Cuba Religion

The history of religion in Cuba can be said to be “hiding in plain sight.”  While between 40 and 60% of the population is Catholic, other denominations exist, including Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Pentecostals, and Quakers.  However, according to the US State Department 80% of the population consult with practitioners of syncretic religions such as Santeria.

Santeria

Santeria is an example of a religion hiding in plain sight.  It is the Yoruba religion of the African slaves combined with Catholicism and Native aboriginal elements.  The mask of Catholicism is no longer a separate part of the religion and is now an integral part of their ritual and belief system. This helped to keep alive the native African and aboriginal religions by hiding them in plain sight.  By pairing the gods of the Yoruba religion with saints of Catholicism, slaves kept alive their gods despite the imposition of another religion – Christianity.

slavery

Jesus

A few weeks before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, a 66-foot-tall, 320-ton statute of Jesus Christ was erected overlooking Havana.  It still remains there to this day, hiding in plain sight.  While Jesus looks over Havana, locals can see Him from many viewpoints in the city.  It was recently restored and blessed by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the head of the Catholic Church on the island.

Jesus Christ

Discrimination Ended

In 1992 discrimination based on religious beliefs was banned; this took Cuba from an atheist society to a secular one.  After decades of not being fêted, Christmas and Easter are now celebrated in this island country. Evangelistic Christianity seems to remain very tempered in this nation still wrestling with its revolutionary past and present.

In recent years the government has allowed for the building of large worship and training centers under the auspices of the Methodist church in Cuba.  The further easing of restrictions may allow for more opportunities for proselytization in the future.  For now, the Church is a partner in social programs like hurricane relief and education, helping to draw in more and more members by not only caring for the soul but the body as well. Here, no longer do Christians have to hide; they can just be seen in plain sight.

Cuba Methodist
Frank Fernandez (left) and Jorge Luiz Espinosa mix concrete for a sidewalk at Camp Canaan, a Methodist retreat center near Santa Clara, Cuba. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

If you would like to visit Cuba and its churches, take Educational Opportunities cruises to the island nation with their partner Celestyal Crystal Cruises.

Other Articles about the UMC and Cuba

http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/for-methodists-in-cuba-these-are-good-times

http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/New-World-Outlook-Magazine/New-World-Outlook-Archives/2015/May/June/0616cubasvibrantchurch

http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/solidarity-and-service-in-cuba

Make giving a cheerful experience for your congregation

Cheerful giver

A guest blog from Vanco Payments Solutions

Jan Jasmin, SVP, Charitable Giving Evangelist

We often hear or say that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Many of us draw satisfaction from simply making a gift, but others are looking for a deeper understanding of what their gifts help the church accomplish. Is there more that church leaders can do to make giving an experience that your congregation goes about cheerfully?

A good place to start is looking at giving from the givers’ perspective. It’s important to them to understand why you need their gifts, and that they can give them in a way that’s familiar and convenient to them. Answering both of those needs can help your members give more often and more generously.

Here are a few simple steps you can take to update your giving program and make it a cheerful experience for your congregation:

Talk openly about money.

You won’t surprise your congregation or make them feel uncomfortable by talking about money. Quite the opposite is true ¾ they want to know how you use their pledges and offerings to make a positive impact through your ministry, and they want to know how much you’ll need so they can plan their giving budgets to help.

Encourage generosity by showing how your church has changed lives.

Let your congregation know what your outreach ministries are doing to help the community. Share their successes and let your members know how much their financial help brought them to fruition.

Summarize your plans for making a positive impact on your community.

It’s not enough to tell your congregation what you’ve done. You also need to share your plans for the future. Your strategy for keeping your church active in the community may be the thing that excites your congregation and leads them to cheerfully contribute.

Do everything you can to make it easy to give.

Your congregation needs multiple ways to respond when you ask them to give. Some members will only give when the plate is passed. A steadily growing number of others almost never carry cash or a checkbook, but always have debit and credit cards and a smartphone. A mix of electronic giving options like online, mobile, text and kiosk will help them respond when they want with the method or methods that they prefer.

Watch what happens next.

Take these steps and keep a close eye on your outcomes. You may be surprised at how cheerfully your congregation responds and by the increase in funding your ministry receives when you empower their generosity.

White paper: How to Create a Sustainable Ministry

Our white paper, Electronic Giving’s Role in Creating a Sustainable Ministry, has tips about creating a successful fundraising strategy for church leaders who want to help their congregations give cheerfully.

[Download Now]

—————

At Vanco, we’re committed to making a difference for our clients, and those they serve. We strive to listen, be helpful, earn trust and deliver what’s needed in accordance with the values that define us. If you have questions or would like to learn more about Give+,  visit vancopayments.com/giveplus-um,  or call us at 800-675-7430.

 

The United Methodist Connection at Work

EZRA Connection

We each serve a role in the life of our local church.  Every role is important.  We are thankful for each member and visitor – new or old – who contributes to the life and vitality of the church.

Parts of the work of the church require organization.  We work hard to keep up with membership, organizations, activities and functions of the church.  However it is done, organization of our information is a vital part of the ministry of administration.  That is why GCFA developed Ezra, the official database of The United Methodist Church, and provides access to the United Methodist connection with information contained in Ezra.  (Par. 807.16)

EZRA

Ezra is the dynamic, one-stop location for United Methodist data.  It is a robust, interactive, and cost-effective data solution that uses web-based technology to be available in real time.

As an example of its use, the East Ohio conference has used Ezra since 2009. The conference uses the churches, people, leadership and statistics module in the life of its eleven offices.  It has helped to cut down on multiple reporting of changes in vital personal information and allows for the reporting of church data electronically. Submission of data doesn’t involve formatting a spreadsheet!  A local church dashboard allows congregations to input their own leadership information.

For the East Ohio conference, Ezra is the centralized, interactive database accessed from any location at any time via an internet connection helping East Ohio to be more organized from the conference office to the district offices to each member or visitor of a local church.  Work efficiencies are realized and more resources are available to do more ministry at all levels of the conference.

Customization and excellent customer service are two reasons East Ohio is a satisfied customer.  They have made Ezra an application they can use easily across the conference.

Effective deployment of services that help the full range of administrative ministries is at the core of the mission of GCFA.  We want to thank ALL the conferences and local churches that use GCFA Shared Services.  Feel free to contact us if you have questions about any of our Shared Services.

Monday Meditation – Change Is Hard

Changes Ahead

All of us have probably gone through or are going through a change.  Some we hate, some we enjoy, some we fear, others we don’t know what to feel or think about.  It is in these times of change that we see who we are and not just who we say we are. We have a chance to ask some critical questions in the midst of change. Who are you during these times?  What is your attitude?  What are your values?  What is your faith?

The UMC is going through changes.

Has been for a couple of decades.  But that is to be expected.  As new generations come through our doors, they bring their own influences and sensibilities.  A grandmother listens to the preacher, assuming he’s telling the truth to the best of his knowledge.  Her grandson is checking out what the pastor is saying on his tablet or cellphone, making sure of the minister’s accuracy through online resources.  He also maybe looking up opposing arguments.

What is the change we want to see in our denomination?  What does God want to change about us?  What is God already changing in UM churches all over the world?

Jesus knew exactly who he was and went about being the change he wanted to see, the Kingdom of God here among his people. Mark 1:15

He wasn’t like Grumpy Cat in this picture.  “There’s only 2 things I don’t like.  Change and the way things are.” says Grumpy.  Jesus was the change He wanted done on earth as it is in heaven.

Grumpy Cat

Dear God, Show us how to change into what we are to be next.  Help us recognize and live faithfully as nothing stays the same.  Change is inevitable but need not be unenviable.  Turn our hearts toward you and your ministry here on earth. Amen.

Monday Meditation – Touch

Touch

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners, (Isaiah 61:1  NIV)

Jesus healed the sick by touching them and restoring them to their communities. The priests only wanted money for sacrifices to be made in order for one to be allowed to rejoin one’s family and community.  They wanted to be paid in order to make one ritually “pure” again.

Miracles

Big miracles like the virgin birth and the resurrection just don’t happen in my life with too much frequency.  But many miracles Jesus performed every day, like touching someone in need, often those who no one would touch.  I’ve seen such love, I know it can happen.  I just don’t see it enough.  Touch is an incredible miracle.  Because without it none of the others would matter.  Even one’s weak faith did not disqualify you from receiving Jesus’ touch.

A touch.  The compassion of one man willing to break all the rules to touch you at your lowest.  It doesn’t have to be physical, it can be spiritually.  But both together are so powerful.

Dear Lord, Your Son came to touch and heal us.  Let us follow His lead and reach out to those nobody wants to touch.  Grant us courage to do so.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Melting Pot?

Melting Pot

The phrase “melting pot” came into general usage after the presentation of the 1908 play of the same name came out.  It was used as a metaphor to describe the United States.  The US was seen as a fusion of nationalities, cultures and ethnicities, a homogeneous society in spite of its diverse immigration patterns.

But those who know cooking understand that when you put items such as spices, meats, broth etc. into a pot, the food does not “melt” together but mixes with the rest to strike up combinations that are hopefully very tasty!

The oil, ghee, cumin seeds, ginger root, garam masala and tumeric I mix and heat up in a pan, don’t become less than what each began, but instead are enhanced by the other flavors and retains its own to help the other ingredients taste even more delicious.

This is what America has become – a stew pot of all kinds of ingredients. Added together, they season the entire meal with so many different, interesting and tasty flavors.

This is what the church must become.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said the most segregated hour in the US is Sunday morning at church time.  Unfortunately, for most churches this remain true.  Some have managed to overcome segregation environment, but many remain homogenous communities usually within very heterogeneous neighborhoods.

But like the Apostle Paul wrote, the church is made up of all different kinds of parts. (1 Corinthians 12)  If one is missing it stresses the whole body.  The organism can survive and live, perhaps even thrive but at what cost?

Dear God, you created each of us in your own image.  Help us to live as one body with Christ as our head.  Let us see diversity as you do, as a strength and not as a burden.  Help us to cook with all your children in the kitchen, knowing that for once too many cooks can’t spoil the pot!  Amen.

Monday Meditation – A Historical Connection for Building the Kingdom of God

Connectional Giving Blog

In second Corinthians 8:1-5 (NIV), Paul tells us of the extreme generosity of the Macedonian church.  It wasn’t out of abundance and peace that they gave but during strife and poverty they found ways to give financially to the church.

In verses 13-15, we have an understanding of the connection that was built between the Macedonian, Corinthian and Jerusalem churches.

“At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality” (NIV)

When one had plenty they were asked to give to those who needed.  Just as it would be returned to them when the other had plenty.

Now Paul set up some parameters to this giving.

  1. There is a genuine holy need. The Jerusalem church shouldn’t be hoarding the money either but using it toward ministry.  The Jerusalem church, being in a city, had many widows, the elderly, visitors and orphans in need of assistance and who needed care.
  2. Giving is interdependent. The financial support is given by everyone no matter how small a donation it may be.  The Macedonian and Corinthian churches shared in the support of the Jerusalem church.
  3. Giving is reciprocal. Even if the Corinth church was never without funds, the Jerusalem church could give to it once it was able to, in support of the Corinthian ministries.
  4. The gift is given for the furthering of the Kingdom of God.

“We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift.  For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.” (verses 20-21)

Being in connection is relevant to us now as well.

Methodists have a connection.  Each church is connected to another so that when a need arises, all can help lift those who are struggling with the challenges life brings.

We give so that others might be able to share the Kingdom of God with this world.  We give so that those sharing the Kingdom of God have the tools and skills necessary to make disciples of all nations.  We give to improve the lives of our fellow human beings because we have been called by our God to do so.

Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it. (verse 24)

Almighty God, show us your love for each of us so that we might see everyone as our brothers and sisters in Christ, your beloved. Amen.

Seeking Ways to Be in Service to the Global UM Church – The Philippines

global church

1 Corinthians 12:27 – Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

The reach of The United Methodist Church is wide. We are a global denomination focused on making disciples for Jesus Christ wherever we encounter them.  On a recent trip to the Philippines, two GCFA staff members, two professors and sixteen graduate students from Belmont University Massey College of Business learned first-hand what it means to serve in a global denomination.

There are 12 annual conferences in the Philippines – all of whom are actively making disciples of Jesus Christ.  The members of the churches work every day to reach the poor, connect with persons seeking Christ as their Savior and receiving the Love of Christ in their homes and their places to worship.

Work began in earnest for the team on April 1 when we arrived in Manila. Belmont University and the Travel and Meeting Planning Department of GCFA coordinated the 10-day trip.  The purpose was to talk face-to-face with leaders of the Philippines annual conferences about their need for resources to support their ministries and how GCFA shared services can fill those needs.

Using one-on-one interviews, surveys and hands-on interaction, the graduate students talked with and learned of needs in the area of financial reporting, data collection, meeting planning, and giving methods in the areas they visited.

belmont students

The students worked on four areas of interest: missional giving, travel and meeting planning, effectively using the Ezra database outside the US, and training and leadership resources. Each small group met with church leadership and got responses in each of the work areas.

Dedication

However, an even bigger impact than talking first-hand with church leaders was the observance of the dedication of the people of the church.  When, in one area, the students learned that pastors and bishops sometimes travel by boat and sometimes even by horse to visit and worship with their congregations, the students saw great examples of faithfulness to the people.

The team was able to visit the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation, Inc. (KKFI) – an organization that works in the community to provide education, meals and skills training for children.  There they observed the impact that people dedicated to serving have in their ministry.

The students, in a report back to GCFA when they returned, shared the impact their experiences had on their lives as they visited people, offices and churches in Manila and Baguio.  The work in this ministry continues as GCFA leadership will review the recommendations of the team and find ways to implement them as we work to serve the global church.

Cheryl Akey, Travel and Meeting Planning Manager, The General Council on Finance and Administration

Many Parts … One Body

Working As One Body

Nowadays it takes a lot of technology to run a church, much as it takes different people to form a congregation to do the ministry of God.  “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ” (I Corinthians 12:12 NIV). The technology available to churches are a few of the many parts – including its members – to support the vision and ministries of the church.  So incorporating helpful technology systems would benefit a church with efficiency and productivity, freeing up resources for its ministries.

Integrated Technology

Shelby Systems, a vetted corporate sponsor of GCFA, is a software company started in 1976 to support churches with integrated technology solutions. Today Shelby Systems continues its vision to serve faith-based customers with a full range of technology tools for ministry including people tracking, website design, content management, and state-of-the-art financial software.

United Methodist churches have benefited from using Shelby to manage several areas of their church:

“I have worked on different accounting systems in the past and Shelby is one of the most user friendly [systems] I have encountered. It is just very easy to work …”

Tina, First United Methodist Church, Montgomery, AL

“We have been with Shelby Systems for about 7 years now.  Although there is always something new and great to learn with Shelby, I find that when I called the support system they are the best.  When I’m finished with them I will know a lot more than I did before I called.”

Cheryl, St. Luke Community United Methodist Church, Dallas, TX

When your church uses resources that aid the ministry of the local church, it is living into the scripture message that there are many parts…and one body.

Power of the Connection – Working with Africa University

AU & GCFA

Last October, a team from GCFA’s Shared Services and IT departments traveled to Africa University (AU) for a week to perform an IT assessment and look for ways to strengthen the Church’s global ministries.  This was all in response to contacts and conversations during the 2016 General Conference.  The power of connection!  AU wanted us to work together on their technology and see how we might be able to collaborate to improve the work done at AU.

Working with AU is an opportunity to bring cost savings and efficiencies to others throughout the connection, regardless of their location.  We are continually looking for  solutions that will serve our church wherever we are or are planning to be. For example, this year, GCFA will employ a Shared Services Manager to focus on the Central Conferences.  The position will be based on the African continent. We are listening to the desires of our church and delegates from the central conferences and are implementing an out-of-the-box approach to seek global solutions.

Competing on a Global Stage

AU is looking to modernize its technology in ways that will help students succeed and show that AU can compete with other schools on the global stage. For GCFA, this is an opportunity to focus on the work within our connection in the central conferences.  We are focusing our efforts in the 2016 quadrennium on ensuring that our work and actions are serving the global church.

During the visit, we met with many wonderful people at the university.  We interacted with the faculty, the students, the Vice Chancellor, and all of his staff.  We spent the most time with Richard Fotsin, the Director of Information Communications Technology and his team.  We learned a lot about how things work in Africa and much about the culture and plans for the future.

AU-GCFA Staff

In addition to the Africa University staff, the GCFA staff included Michael Dunn, Network Engineer, and Stephen Pace, Data Center Engineer, Dale Owens, Application Development Manager, Derek Preston, Director of IT Infrastructure, and Shannon Lavrin, Senior Shared Services Manager.

The thing we love most about Africa, and Zimbabwe and AU specifically, are the people. John Calipari, University of Kentucky’s basketball coach, was recently stated that all of his success comes down to one thing – relationships.  For him, he said, nothing is more important.  We believe that the relationships we have and will continue to build through this partnership, speak to the power of the UMC’s connection.