Sister Care addresses Cubans’ ‘scarcity of hope’

Cuba is 13th country to host seminar sponsored by Mennonite Women USA

Dec 28, 2015 by

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HAVANA, Cuba — Shortly before presenting the first of two Sister Care seminars, Carolyn Heggen, a psychotherapist specializing in trauma healing, and Rhoda Keener, Sister Care director for Mennonite Women USA, visited an art museum in Old Havana.

From left, Rhoda Keener, Sister Care director; Midiam Lobaina, Cuban Council of Churches host; and Carolyn Heggen, psychotherapist and Sister Care presenter. — Mennonite Women USA

From left, Rhoda Keener, Sister Care director; Midiam Lobaina, Cuban Council of Churches host; and Carolyn Heggen, psychotherapist and Sister Care presenter. — Mennonite Women USA

They talked briefly to the two women in charge. As they left, one women asked, “Do you have any soap?” Heggen, who had been to Cuba before and knew how scarce soap is, did have two small bars of soap and gave them to the women.

On this lush and beautiful island, people’s lack of basic necessities is a stark contrast to Cuba’s outstanding educational system, which is free to all. On four-lane highways, modern buses and Chinese cars travel beside 1940s and ’50s American cars and horse-drawn carts.

The Sister Care seminars held in Camaguey and Havana Nov. 23-28 were hosted by the Cuban Council of Churches. Ninety women participated from 17 denominations, including Meth­odist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Salvation Army and Quaker churches.

Heggen and Keener began each seminar by asking small groups to compile a list of the challenges Cuban women face. Many noted economic difficulties. While each adult receives a monthly financial and food allotment, the amounts do not last for a month. Equally difficult is the scarcity of needed items; Cubans think of the U.S. trade embargo often because it affects their daily lives.

One woman said, “When I can’t find something in the store, I say, ‘It’s because of the blockade.’ ”

Families are often separated due to migration. Many young people have emigrated to the U.S.; there are as many Cubans living in Miami as in Havana. This creates lifelong separation and grief for families.

“There are many scarcities in Cuba, but the most serious is the scarcity of hope,” said Cuban Council of Churches host Midiam Lobaina.

It has been more than 50 years since the revolution, and, for many, economic hope is fading. The government has moved from being an atheist state to accepting churches. Ana Esmende Delisle Grinan, who attended the Sister Care seminar in Camaguey, said the government is now beginning to ask churches for help with problems of addictions, HIV, caring for the elderly and restoring moral values.

Cuba is the 13th country where Sister Care seminars have been shared. The seminars provide tools for personal healing so women can become healers for others.

“While Cubans have been raised to see the U.S. government as the cause of their shortages and problems and to see Americans as their enemies, I was touched by the warm response of the Cuban women to us and our presentations,” Heggen said. “I learned much from them about courage and perseverance in difficult situations and have an increased appreciation for our global faith community.”

The invitation to share Sister Care seminars in Cuba came through Elizabeth Soto Albrecht’s friendship with Raquel Suarez, daughter of Raul Suarez, founder of the Martin Luther King Center in Havana. Suarez advised that the Cuban Council of Churches host the events. Albrecht planned to co-teach but canceled due to illness in her family.

Funding for Mennonite Women USA’s expenses was provided by individual donors and the Mennonite Church USA Sexual Abuse Care and Prevention Fund. Heggen’s book, Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches, was given to the Council of Churches. Many women shared stories of dealing with sexual abuse and violence.

Due to economic issues in Cuba, funding was also needed to pay for lodging, food and travel for the participants in Camaguey and Havana. Mennonite Central Committee and the Latin American Women Theologians, or MTAL, provided these funds.

“Although no Mennonites or Brethren in Christ women attended the seminars, they were invited, and important connections were begun with MCC and MTAL,” Keener said. “We’ve also responded to a request from a Cuban church leader requesting Anabaptist peace literature. This has been an extraordinary opportunity to connect with the worldwide church.”

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