We are all the hands and feet
How MCC is working through the church in Cuba
Eliecer Valdez Suárez is a pastor and a missionary with the Brethren in Christ Church in Cuba (BICCC), but just last year, he was working as a gravedigger. COVID-19 was taking a heavy toll on both Cuban families and Cuban tourism industry, and the already difficult conditions on the island had become even worse. Valdez had many graves to dig. But when a shipment of MCC relief kits and canned meat arrived in Cuba, he stopped digging and started driving containers across the island nation.
“This help arrived in a moment where we didn’t have anything to eat, when we were fighting COVID-19 face-to-face in the streets,” he told a group of MCC staff during a visit to Cuba in February 2023. “It arrived like manna from heaven.”
"This help arrived in a moment where we didn’t have anything to eat, when we were fighting COVID-19 face-to-face in the streets. It arrived like manna from heaven."
Working with the church is a key part of MCC’s relief work in Cuba. Since the beginning of the pandemic, MCC has worked with the BICCC to distribute 3,615 relief kits and 91,006 lbs of canned meat to communities throughout Cuba during the pandemic and accompanying economic crisis. MCC has plans to send more kits in the coming year as conditions in Cuba show little sign of improving.
Many Cubans haven’t eaten meat or eggs in months and struggle to find basics like cooking oil, soap, toilet paper and towels. Even for those with some money, it is nearly impossible to import the everyday items Cubans need to survive.
With an entire nation in crisis and a unique set of challenges to providing humanitarian relief, where does an organization like MCC begin to help?
Brethren in Christ Church brings much-needed relief to communities
Since an initial project that provided funds to rebuild houses after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, MCC has supported the BICCC churches as they grow their capacity to respond to emergencies. The relief distributed through the BICCC goes not just to pastors and church members, but also to neighbors who aren’t part of the church, which has gained them the respect of the communities and even of local government.
Valdez remembers the reactions as a truck loaded with relief kits and canned meat pulled into communities throughout his province.
“The pastors were smiling from ear to ear because they saw that the heavens had opened,” he said. “[The cans of meat] weren’t just those little cans that you would think were tuna! But the buckets too, the towels, all of the personal hygiene products inside — they came at a moment of tremendous crisis, where there was nothing in our country for us to buy.”
Supporting disaster response in Pinar del Río
Another MCC partner, the Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue (CCRD) has also worked through churches in the province of Pinar del Río to send relief kits and roofing materials after Hurricane Ian hit the area in September 2022.
Pastor Imer Cordobés Pérez of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Pinar del Río remembers the day Hurricane Ian struck the region. The house he lived in with another pastor was sturdy, but even so, he heard the door blown off its hinges and the furniture moving around inside. When the eye of the hurricane passed over, providing a temporary calm over Pinar del Río, he could hear his neighbors screaming. “I was afraid many people had died,” he said.
After the hurricane passed, the damage was unmistakable. Homes had been destroyed and the already difficult economic conditions meant there were no resources available to reconstruct them. MCC partnered with CCRD and Kerk in Actie, a social organization of the Dutch Protestant Church, to send relief kits and roofing materials to the people whose houses had been damaged or destroyed, in addition to providing psychosocial support to those traumatized by the events of that night.
As a local congregation, Pérez’s church managed the logistics of the distribution. The church’s emergency committee identified those most in need of assistance and organized a commission to the distribute the relief kits when they arrived in Cuba. Relief kits went to whomever in the community needed them most, whether they were part of the Adventist church or not.
“[When the buckets arrived], all of the kids were happy, there was laughter in the houses,” said Dania Penalva Rodriguez, the coordinator of the emergency committee. “I remember someone said ‘Wow, shampoo! This is so expensive!’ Sometimes you might wonder how important this kind of stuff really is, but then you see how happy someone is when they receive something like shampoo.”