White Rose Ministry

Our congregation has a special affiliation with and affinity for our sister congregaion in Cuba, La Fernanda Presbyterian Church. Each year a group of First Presbyterians goes to Cuba to provide ministry and to learn more about the problems and solutions that the Cubans are experiencing. Pictured on the right is the children's choir of La Fernanda wearing the green stoles that were a gift from First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn.

The White Rose Ministry hosted two special visitors from Cuba on November 17 and 18: Reverend Elmer Lavastida-Alfonso and his wife Reverend Gisela Pérez-Muñiz, joined us to further strengthen the ties between our institutions and our respective countries. Reverend Lavastida-Alfonso preached on Sunday, November 18. In cooperation with our White Rose Ministry, the Reverends Lavastida made a presentation during Fellowship Hour highlighting issues such as their programs in the Santiago area of western Cuba, the impact that hurricane Sandy had on Cuba, and general challenges affecting the island. Hurricane Sandy decimated much of western Cuba on its march northward. Elmer and Gisela have hosted many members of First Church during our visits t Cuba.

Rev. Lavastida-Alfonso and Rev. Pérez-Muñiz visited from Second Baptist Church, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba.  They both graduated from the Baptist Theological Seminary in Santiago de Cuba in 1964. Since then they have served in four Baptist churches in the Eastern region of Cuba—the first two while they were still singles and the last two together. Their present pastorate at El Salvador Church spans 37 years. They have raised two daughters while there, and they now have a number of grandchildren.

The decade of the 90´s ushered in a climate of political and social openness that allowed the churches to resume the social responsibilities that they had historically held, and the churches in Cuba have grown in membership and in a diversity of ministries as a result.

Leaders of several evangelical churches with shared interests have organized so as to benefit both the churches themselves and the Cuban communities surrounding them. The Center was established in 1995, uniting the churches in a holistic mission which includes the study of the Bible, new forms of worship, and Christian testimony on such different areas as family health, ecology, and gender. In addition, the Center promotes social service—or diakonia—through small projects related to agriculture, repairing of houses, and neighborhood ecology, with a focus o water supplies and alternative energy. More than 50 of these homes and farms are functioning now. During the 17 years since the founding of the Center, Rev. Lavastida-Alfonso and Rev. Pérez-Muñiz have shared pastoral and Center responsibilities: Elmer as senior pastor of the church and Gisela as chairperson of the center.

On November 2 the White Rose Ministry hosted a conversation with Normal Guillard, a social psychologist from Santiago, Cuba. She is an activist around the issues of gender, race, sexual orientation as well as issues of diversity and identity in Cuba Professor Guillard brings these issues to the social media field as well as the academic world, and has helped to produce several educational documentaries, including the celebrated film Living to the Limit by leading Cuban director Belkys Vega. Gulliard is also a poet and is widely published.

Guillard participated in the effort in Cuba to reprise playback theater, an original form of improvisational theater in which audience or group members tell stories from their lives and watch them enacted on the spot. This type of theater is used to facilitate discussions about the impact of HIV/AIDS from the personal perspective of HIV positive people and their families. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Havana teaching psychology and gender, and a leader of the Cuban Association of Psychologists. She is also an Adviser to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and to the United Nations Development Program on the issue of gender in the prevention of HIV/AIDS. She is a principal collaborator at the National Center for the Prevention of AIDS and the National Center for Sex Education (known as CENESEX in Cuba), which spearheads work to educate against homophobia and to lobby for civil unions in Cuba. Additionally, she is one of the founders of Oremi, the first organization of lesbian and bisexual women in Cuba.

Ms. Guillard joined the 1961 Cuban Literacy Campaign (the Campaign) when she was 15 years old. A social psychologist from Santiago de Cuba, she is one of the first Cuban women of her generation to call herself a feminist. She primarily works on the issues of gender, race, sexual orientation and issues of diversity and identity in a Cuban and Caribbean context. As a Cuban of African descent, Guillard has contributed much to the lively debates on race and racism in Cuba.

 

 The White Rose Ministry recently went on a 10-day trip to Cuba. They spent time in Havana and our project in Varadero and participated in a dialogue with Cuban women about women's theological and social issues and how Cuba's sustainable development and energy conservation works in everyday lives. If you are interested in future trips contact the Church Office at 718-624-3770 to be connected to the trip coordinator.

 

  

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