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6/12/97 Florida Baptists forge ties with Cuban Baptist convention

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–A partnership framed in humanitarian relief categories has been established in which Florida Baptists will provide aid to Baptist churches and pastors in Cuba.
The cooperative agreement, which also involves the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board, followed action last fall by messengers to the Florida Baptist State Convention in Lakeland authorizing Florida Baptist officials to explore a relationship with Cuban Baptists.
The agreement spells out terms of the relationship of the Florida convention, the Western Cuba Baptist Convention and the FMB, specifying their autonomy, cooperation, expectations and project coordination.
The partnership follows a 1995 prayer partnership between the Western Cuba convention and the Baptist State Convention of Michigan.
“This is our spiritual child,” Raul Vasquez, director of Florida Baptists’ language missions division, said of Cuban Baptist work, as he outlined to the Florida Baptist state board of missions May 23 details of the historic partnership “hammered out” among the three entities.
Vasquez told board members an “employee of the Florida Baptist Convention first brought the gospel to Cuba and organized the first Baptist church in Cuba. Now, 112 years later, our Cuban brothers and sisters in Christ are coming to Florida Baptists, saying, ‘We are hurting and need some help.'”
In 1885 Florida Baptists appointed Alberto Diaz and his sister as Baptists’ first missionaries to Cuba. A year later, in 1886, the Diazes organized the first Baptist church on the island.
In addition to the agreement, which the board approved May 23 at Lake Yale Baptist Assembly, a plan of action delineating responsibilities Florida Baptists will undertake to assist Cuban Baptists also was approved.
FBC Executive Director-Treasurer John Sullivan told the board ministry needs proposed by Western Cuba convention leaders and jointly considered by Florida and FMB officials fall into a number of humanitarian relief categories, such as ministry to churches, pastors and the Baptist seminary, and opportunities for mission team projects such as evangelism, pastor and church leadership training and construction efforts.
The board approved a plan to help make improvements to the Cuban seminary and provide ministerial relief, pastoral retirement assistance, encampment renovations and operation needs, equipment and literature.
“We’re doing everything legitimately,” Vasquez said, “dotting all our ‘I’s’ and crossing all our ‘T’s.’ We are going to evangelize, train leaders and do ministry — all we’re going to be doing in Cuba is under humanitarian aid.”
Vasquez also told the board of a possibility of sending humanitarian relief to eastern Cuba as well.