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BWA official gets Cuban nod to channel aid via Baptists

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Baptist World Alliance is now able to send
humanitarian supplies directly to Baptist bodies in Cuba rather than
through Cuba’s Ecumenical Council which is more closely linked with the
Paul Montacute, director of Baptist World Aid (BWAid), visited
Cuba Dec. 18-22 — just three days before Cubans were allowed to
celebrate their first Christmas in almost 30 years.
In addition to attending the opening of an extension of the Old
People’s Home in Havana, to which BWAid had given $15,000, Montacute
also met with Silverio Platero in Cuba’s Ministry of Religions about
opportunities for help from BWAid and the needs of Baptist churches in
the country.
After much discussion, Montacute reported, Platero gave BWAid
official permission to send medicines and milk to the Baptist
conventions in Cuba. Medicines, however, will have to be distributed in
conjunction with Cuba’s Ministry of Health.
The BWA-affiliated bodies in Cuba are the Baptist Convention of
Western Cuba, the Baptist Convention of Eastern Cuba and the Free
Baptist Convention of Cuba.
Platero, when told of a BWAid plan for a planeload of humanitarian
goods to come in to Cuba, said he would seek permission for the plane to
land in Santiago de Cuba, if the United States government would give
permission for the plane to leave the United States.
In giving permission to allow humanitarian goods to be brought in
to Cuba, Platero emphasized there should be no Bibles or other religious
books in the shipments. Bibles and books come under a different
category. However, he assured Montacute that mini-libraries could be
carried in for each student at the two Baptist seminaries in Cuba.
“Powdered milk is desperately needed,” Montacute said. “This is
generic and not specifically for children. Other needs are children’s
food, roofing materials, agricultural equipment, especially hand tools.”
Concerning church needs, Baptist leaders had reported many
problems in getting permission to repair and rebuild old churches and
build new ones.
While the situation on religious freedom in Cuba has improved
somewhat, a point emphasized by Platero, Baptists have reported great
difficulties in rebuilding and repairing churches that have been damaged
through years of neglect. Every delegation of Baptist World Alliance
leaders for the past eight years has noticed this fact, and raised the
issue with government officials. However, Montacute was unable to draw a
more positive response on this issue.
Many of the churches are in old parts of towns or cities, and
conservation laws are in some ways a barrier to rebuilding. This is
especially the problem with El Cerro Baptist Church in Havana. The
government has said whatever they build has to be within the framework
of the existing building.
The possible planeload of BWAid humanitarian supplies would be
handled by Alan Stanford of Leesburg (Va.) Baptist Church who in 1989
organized an Angel Flight to Moscow and is now planning to take a
mission team to assist in building work at the seminary.
“In each of the churches I visited, there was great anticipation
for Christmas,” Montacute said, “and the churches were decorated and
special services planned. For the first time in nearly 30 years,
services were planned for Christmas Day morning, as this was now a
public holiday. All were hoping that a Christmas Day holiday was now
back for good!”

    About the Author

  • Wendy Ryan