CASSELBERRY — Attendees at Tuskawilla United Methodist Church in Casselberry got a surprise this past Sunday as retired Methodist district supervisor, Rev. Aldo Martin, delivered a report on the congregation’s sister church in Cuba.
That the little church in Cuba is doing well was not the surprise. The surprise was that Tuskawilla even has a Cuban connection.
The relationship was officially established about five years ago, under the direction of former Tuskawilla Pastor Charley Reeb. However the relationship lay dormant, and most of the parishioners in the congregation were not even aware of its existence.
Now Martin, with the full cooperation of current Tuskawilla Pastor Rev. Molly Warren, figures it’s time to let the secret out.
The little sister church is La Lima de Fray Benito, in the central part of Holguin District – the district where Christopher Columbus is believed to have first set foot on the New World. According to Fray Benito Pastor Webster Penas Vega, the church has 20 members, with eight more expected to join at the end of the year, with an average attendance of 35, and two ‘home missions’ – private homes where the government has given permission for the church to hold meetings. Short-term goals for the little church include building a well for the church so they can share water with the community, and holding a Christmas party for the church and community.
As Rev. Martin said, “Remember, for many years Cuba was forbidden this celebration.”
Speaking a few days after giving his report, Martin said, “When I left the church on Sunday morning, some members came to me very enthusiastically motivated. I really believe we need to seize this moment.”
The last time Martin addressed the congregation was on Oct. 3, 2010, when he was guest preacher. A native of Cuba, Martin told how, as a young preacher in Cuba, he was imprisoned in a field for several years with other political prisoners, held communion in the open, in the field, for himself and the other prisoners.
Cuba is close to his heart.
Speaking of the sister church relationship, Tuskawilla Pastor Molly Warren said, “Activating the sister relationship with La Lima de Fray Benito church in Cuba allows us to actively take part in the Methodist global connectional system. Our churches will be praying for one another, affirming our oneness in Christ. As we nurture this relationship, TUMC will learn the needs of La Lima de Fray Benito, and find ways to support our sister church … Tuskawilla United Methodist Church is a church with a heart for others.”
Tuskawilla is probably best known in the Casselberry area for its active Friday food bank. At this point, the food bank is servicing about 250 families a week.
The Methodist Church in Cuba started out as a mission of the Methodist Church in Florida (now known as the United Methodist Church) and was administered under the umbrella of the Methodist Florida conference. That relationship was severed with the establishment of the communist government in Cuba. In 1997 in an effort to re-establish the historic ties, the Methodist bishop of Florida and the Methodist bishop of Cuba established the Cuba/Florida Covenant. Districts in Cuba were paired with districts in Florida, and the work went about to see that as many of the Cuban churches as possible would have sister churches in Florida.
According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2009 report on International Religious Freedom, “The Constitution (of Cuba) recognizes the right of citizens to profess and practice any religious belief within the framework of respect for the law; however, in law and in practice, the Government places restrictions on freedom of religion.”
At the same time, the document reports that “various religious groups reported fewer restrictions on politically sensitive expression, the ability to hold religious activities even for organizations without official recognition, increased capacity to conduct charitable and community service projects, fewer import and travel restrictions, permission to repair buildings, and significant increases in membership.”
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