Our minister, Rev. James Murray preaches from a prepared text each week. (He says it keeps him from rambling on too long!) We are pleased to offer for your inspiration these messages. If they are cited or shared, please be sure to include credit where credit is due.
“Letting all lights shine.”Text: Matthew 5:13-20
Preached by Rev. James Murray at Dominion-Chalmers United Church, Feb. 5 2017
This morning I'd like to share with you a bit of the story of Josiah Henson. Josiah Henson is perhaps one of the most famous black preachers in all of Canadian history. Josiah Henson was a slave who was born in Charles County, Maryland in 1789. When he was a child he was taken from his parents and sold to another farm. At the age of 18 Josiah Henson heard his first sermon, and he gave his heart to Christ on that day. At the age of twenty-two Henson married a fellow slave. Sadly, we do not know her name. We do know they had twelve children together. Henson rose to the rank of superintendent of the farm.
Even though he worked all day running the farm, Henson's heart belonged to God. His owner allowed him to become a preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church. When Josiah Henson attempted to buy his freedom, the owner cheated him and made plans to sell him south. Henson found out about this plan and he did not want to be separated from his family. So Josiah Henson fled north with his wife and children in the summer of 1830. They fled to Canada because Canada had abolished slavery in 1793. Canada was the first country in the world to abolish slavery.
Henson and his family followed the underground railroad north and eventually they settled in Dresden, Ontario. Dresden is a small farming town between Windsor and Sarnia in southwestern Ontario. Josiah Henson became a preacher and a leader in the Afro-Canadian community. He traveled back into the United States several times to help other slaves escape. In 1842 Henson founded an Afro-Canadian community and industrial school which was a refuge for escaped slaves.
In 1849 Henson published his autobiography which he called “The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada.” That book was a best seller in its day. He became so famous that when he visited England, Queen Victoria invited him to Buckingham Palace.
His autobiography is significant because of what it says about slavery. It is also important because of who read it. One person who read Josiah Henson's biography was Harriet Beecher Stowe. Harriet Beecher Stowe was a writer and an abolitionist. She used Henson's life story as the basis for her most famous novel. Her novel is called “Uncle Tom's Cabin”. Uncle Tom's Cabin was a huge bestseller. It was also hugely controversial. Her book detailed the suffering of people under slavery. The book broke all records for sales. It sparked a massive public debate. It generated a lot of support for the abolition of slavery. When Harriet Beecher Stowe met President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said to her "so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”
Josiah Henson died in Dresden in 1883. He lived long enough to see Lincoln pass the Emancipation Proclamation. If you visit Dresden today you will find his home is now a museum. You can visit the church he built. There are reminders of the Masonic Lodge and the schools he also founded.
My wife Christine grew up in Dresden in the 1960's and 70's. She remembers it as a racially mixed town. The descendents of those free slaves still live in the community. Many of them are farmers. Now my father in law has a very different memory of what it was like to grow up in Dresden. My father in law remembers Dresden back in the 1940's and 50's. In those days Dresden was a segregated community. Dresden was one of many communities in Canada that had segregation laws. Every restaurant in Dresden advertised themselves as being 'for whites only'. A number of the black residents of Dresden complained to the Premier of Ontario. After a decade of lobbying the government, in 1954 Ontario introduced the Fair Accommodation Practices Act . The act made it "a statutory offence to discriminate in public places on grounds of race, creed, colour, nationality, ancestry or place of origin". Even though the law changed, Dresden did not. In fact the Province refused to lay a charge under the new law. Dresden refused to stop discriminating on the basis of colour. It took two more years of lobbying and protesting before the courts would actually uphold the law in 1956.
Within a decade Dresden was transformed. The Josiah Henson museum was opened to remember this important chapter in the life of Canada. Today Dresden is a fully integrated community. And the Reverend Josiah Henson is the symbol of the life the people of Dresden have built together.
History is usually written by those with power. The only power Josiah Henson had was the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There were many books written in those years that praised life under slavery. Henson's one little book told the truth and that helped to set people free. It set free the slaves, and it also helped to free the white people who were being forced to support that unjust system. He used the power of that gospel message to raise his people up through education. He used the power of that gospel message to shape a beloved community where everyone found a home regardless of race. Because Josiah Henson let his light shine, we can all see the issue of race better.
At the beginning of the Gospel of John we hear the announcement that Jesus is the light of the world. He is the truth of God shining in out in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out. Today we hear Jesus telling us that we are the light of the world and he wants us to shine. He wants us to shine against the darkness that we face in our world today.
How we let our light shine may not be recorded in any history books. That does not mean that it won't make any difference. Political power is often gained by the use of force and by promoting fear. The Christian faith teaches us to build up our community by treating everyone without distinction. In Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. We are all one in Christ Jesus. In Christ the old distinctions lose their power to divide us. This does not mean that we will be all the same. The goal is not for us to become some sort of clone army. It does mean that in Christ we are free to share our particular gifts for the good of all. In Christ the many become one. And when one more is added to the many, we all become something more.
This past week I saw the power that comes when the many become one and we let our light shine. Last Sunday evening a gunman entered a mosque in Quebec City and opened fire. Six worshippers were murdered while they were praying. The gunman proudly identifies himself as a Christian. To even have to say that just breaks my heart. A Christian murdered six Muslims while they were praying. Nineteen others were wounded by his bullets. On Monday evening a vigil was held on Parliament Hill. Over a thousand people gathered around the Eternal Flame. The Governor General David Johnston was there and he addressed the crowd. Several cabinet ministers also spoke. MPs from all the parties were present. Standing next to me were several MPs from Quebec who were obviously shaken by what had happened. To my left was a group of young Muslim women in their traditional head scarves. There were several imams and Christian clergy also present. We all huddled close to the Eternal Flame to stay warm together. We all lit candles as a testimony against the darkness of hate that we were confronting. Speeches and prayers were made in English, French and in Arabic. When it was all over, rather than leaving, the crowd spontaneously started singing “O Canada”. It was the best possible expression of who we are as a people and what we all seek to uphold in our life together. On that bitterly cold Canadian winter's night, we let our light shine for all to see.
“The life and teachings of Jesus”Text: Matthew 5:21-37
Preached by Rev. James Murray at Dominion-Chalmers United Church. Feb. 11 2017
A famous television evangelist was asked to speak at the funeral of a long time supporter of his ministry. The evangelist had a busy schedule, so he said he would have to travel there by private jet, which the family would have to pay for. The evangelist also asked for a ten thousand dollar donation to the ministry in exchange for his appearance. The family agreed because they knew what a great honour it was to have him speak at the funeral. They had to prepare a special room at the church for the evangelist and his entourage. The room had to be stocked with a very specific list of food and beverages and flowers. The church staff spent several days getting everything ready. Finally the hour of the service was at hand. The local minister led the service, and the minister read the carefully worded introduction that the evangelist's entourage had prepared. The evangelist got up in the pulpit and proceeded to preach on how the deceased was a humble man who enjoyed the simple things in life.
The family was so thrilled to have the honour of this great evangelist speak at the funeral that they missed the irony of his message. I guess that evangelist never heard of Marshall McLuhan. Back in the 1960's the great Canadian theorist Marshall McLuhan created the important phrase “The medium is the message.” How we say something has to match what we say. If you are screaming “I Love You” at the top of your lungs, that is not a message of love. What we do and what we say have to be in harmony if our message is to have any real impact.
When we hear Jesus speak words of judgement, all too often we think that they don’t really apply to us. As good, upstanding middle class Canadians, we don’t think we are really bad sinners. We think Jesus’ harsh words are meant for someone who is less respectable than us. As a result there is often a gap between what we say about Jesus and what we actually do believe about him. Sometimes it takes a dark moment to realize Jesus does mean it, and he is talking to us.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that God is with us even when we are sat upon, spat upon and ratted on. God blesses us, even when the rest of the world is ostracizing us. Jesus tells us that since he is with us, we can have the courage to be a light which shines in times of darkness. Forgiveness, reconciliation and grace do have the power to change the world. But then Jesus goes on to tell us that these noble truths are to be accomplished by living by a new, even more strict moral code.
It’s not enough to not commit murder, now you can’t even think about it. In that case, I am so sunk. I don’t believe Jesus is asking us to be super righteous to the point that we will never harbour another dark thought. Instead Jesus is showing us another way to deal with the dark thoughts. When we are hurt, it is normal to want revenge. We want payback. And until we get it, we rehearse our grievance, our hurt, our rage. Jesus is telling us to stop playing that tape over and over again. He is telling us that approach will lead us nowhere.
Do you ever notice when you are replaying those thoughts of anger, hurt and resentment, that your body gets all excited? Your body is living out the adrenaline of those moments. As a result we get so wound up, that you can’t eat or sleep. You start getting sick. Carrying around these burdens does make us sick. Jesus offers us a different way to cope. Instead of rehearsing the rage one more time, why not replay the forgiving love of God instead? Why not act as if you’ve got the heart of God’s kingdom in you?
God’s laws seek to build a world where there is justice, respect and fairness for all people. As we have learned in the good land of Canada, the act of not breaking those laws does not automatically make you into a good person. We need to recognize how God’s laws are the path of righteousness, but they are not the source of our righteousness.
Have you ever noticed on the news when someone gets charged with murder the mother of the accused will say “Oh he's not like that. He's a good boy.” Despite what most people may claim in court, our actions do reveal the depths of what is in our hearts. We do mean what we say and do. Our behaviour does matter. But we can’t change people's behaviour simply by changing the laws. In order for there to be real change, we need to go deeper. We need to get to the heart of the matter. We need to learn how to get a kingdom heart.
It is a kingdom heart that shows us how to be truly good. Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is at hand. He wants us to take the Kingdom of God into our heart. A kingdom heart understands that anger and contempt are merely symptoms of an ego that has been bruised. If our sense of self importance is challenged, anger is the response. Contempt is the way we put the other person down so we can lift ourselves back up again. To call the other person names is to deny the other person their essential humanity.
In the face of such dehumanizing forces, the kingdom heart invites us to respond in a different way. Jesus is saying that healing our relationships with our brothers and sisters is more important than the most important thing you can imagine. Jesus is telling us this is so important that you should leave your work if you must, because the money you make there won’t be worth anything to you if you don’t first reconcile your broken relationships.
When we look at Jesus, there is an amazing consistency between his life and his teachings. Jesus lives what he preaches. Who he is, is summed up in his preaching. The medium is the message. The word is made flesh. And Jesus believes his words can make a difference in how you live your life.
So what difference can Jesus' words make in your life?
Are you tired of the anger, the resentment, and the hurts that you have been carrying for far too long?
Jesus is showing you a way to be free of those burdens.
Does your heart long for reconciliation? Healing? Peace?
Jesus is showing you a way to build God's Kingdom in your life.
If you seek the heart of Jesus, all these things are possible for you.
If you seek to live with a heart open to the kingdom of God,
all these doors can be opened for you.
The first step, is to open your heart to Jesus.
Second Sunday of Lent, March 12 2017. Text: John 3:1-20
Preached by Rev. James Murray at Dominion-Chalmers United Church.
A friend of mine is going through a tough time with his elderly parents. His parents did not retire well. When they retired they bought a dream home. The mortgage payments on this monster house took up a lot of their retirement income. Being retired, they wanted to travel and go south in the winter. Being retired, they liked to golf every day in the summer. This active lifestyle has now come at a cost. Their debts have gotten out of control. They have lost their dream home. My friend is in his mid fifties and he needs to be planning for his own retirement. Instead of adding to his RRSPs, he has had to rent an apartment for his parents to live in. He is worried they won't take this financial wake up call to heart. He is afraid his parents do not want to turn over a new leaf. He is afraid of what will happen to them all if they are not willing to begin again.
To begin again is a difficult challenge. We like what we have. It is comfortable. Familiar. It may be imperfect, but it is ours. The idea of downsizing is difficult for most people to accept. My parents went from a three bedroom house to a two bedroom apartment and they were naturally reluctant to let go of their things. There were precious memories attached to every object in their home. It was a challenge to let some things go since they couldn't take it all with them.
Sometimes, though, when we begin again, we do have to let some things go. For the early Christians, they had to let go of a lot of things. Just three decades after the death of Jesus, the early Christians saw the Temple in Jerusalem be destroyed. The centre of their religious life was burned to the ground. They saw the holy city of Jerusalem be turned into rubble. Even the name Jerusalem was erased off of the map. They were expelled from the synagogues. Christians didn't set out to start a new religion. They were forced to start a new religion when they had to leave everything they knew behind. They were forced to begin again, with nothing.
This morning we shared the story of Jesus teaching Nicodemus of how challenging it is to begin again. Nicodemus knows his religious tradition. He knows the scriptures. And Nicodemus knows God. But Nicodemus sees something in Jesus that he has never seen before. Nicodemus is seeing God at work in a new way that he never imagined possible. And in order to understand this new thing, Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born again. He must start all over from the beginning. He must start again with nothing. All of his education experience and status mean nothing now. He must begin again, with nothing but God to guide him.
Here at Dominion-Chalmers we are facing the prospect of having to begin again. We have been living beyond our means for several decades. Our reserve funds will all be exhausted by the end of next year. We tried ignoring the problem, but it did not go away. We looked at ways of increasing rentals and even redeveloping the parking lot, but nothing will generate the kind of money we need to keep this church going. We are now in conversations to sell the building to Carleton University. A deal with Carleton would allow us to continue to worship in this building. Right now it is our only viable option. If it fails to go forward, there is a strong possibility that we will be looking at having to close the doors. If it does go forward, we will have to learn how to live within our means. We will need to learn how to do our ministry with fewer resources than we have enjoyed in the past. We will be doing less with less. This is a hard situation for us. We are used to enjoying the comforts this large building affords. We enjoy the programming our large budget provides. But we can no longer afford to live beyond our means. We must learn how to begin again, with nothing but God to guide us. We need to learn how to be born again.
When Jesus speaks about the need to be born again, he does not consider it a hardship or a loss. Jesus recognizes that it does come with a lot of uncertainty that we will have to embrace. Jesus reminds us that the wind unpredictably blows where it will, and that is part of life. The good news Jesus is sharing is that God has busted out of the Temple. God is active in the world. God is doing something new and people like Nicodemus are trying to figure how they can catch up to God. Like Nicodemus, we want to be part of this new thing God is doing in the world.
Now Nicodemus looked for certain signs and wonders before he approached Jesus. He wanted certain proofs that God was at work in Jesus before he would seek to get closer. Jesus responds to his request by pointing to the mysterious qualities of the spirit, which blows like the wind. Jesus uses the same word for the wind and the holy spirit. Nicodemus was confused by this, for he was taught to seek facts. Proofs. Certainty. He didn’t know how to be someone born of the wind, let alone be born of the spirit.
So Jesus persists, trying to open Nicodemus up. Jesus points Nicodemus to that which is essential in life. He tries to evoke an awareness of what is of eternal significance in life. He wants Nicodemus to be freed from those rigid beliefs which blind him to the true realities of this world. Jesus comes to set us free from all that kills the Spirit. His time in the wilderness helps him to let go of all the temptations which prevents a person from reaching their fullest potential. He rejects the lure of money, power and fame. These are the things which can thwart our deepest desires. In his wilderness journey he discovers the depths of his connection to God, which transcends all the beliefs he was taught as a child. God is bigger than his original understanding. Much bigger. And now Jesus has caught a glimpse of just how big God is. And so Jesus begins to live his life, demonstrating in a convincing way what a difference it can make when you live your life answering to the Spirit.
Jean Vanier is a Canadian theologian who has learned how to trust in the unpredictable nature of the Holy Spirit. Jean Vanier is the founder of the the L'Arche Community which makes a home for people with disabilities. Jean Vanier once said “There are moments in our lives when we do not reason things out. We just know in our hearts that this or that is the right thing to do.” Vanier says “There is such a thing as intuition. We feel or sense things. They are not planned.” He says “that is where the Spirit intervenes, inspiring us to say or do things we had not planned.” When we enter into a relationship with Jesus we receive the spirit which was in him. We can be born into a new heart. As we grow in friendship with Jesus we too can learn to recognize the eternal life, the essential life, which is within us. As this wind of change blows over us, we can become less affected by the idols of money or power. We begin to see people as Jesus sees them. We can begin to love others the way God loves us. As the winds of the Spirit begins to blow through us, we become transformed. The winds of the Spirit lifts us up, inspirits us, so we can learn to do things we could never do on our own. Wonderful things like loving our enemies. Forgiving others. Caring for the small, the weak, the poor. To be compassionate as God is compassionate.
We need to remind ourselves of this good news, because we live in such uncertain times. We do not know what the future holds. We can embrace this time of uncertainty, because we do know God's Holy Spirit is with us. The unpredictable winds of God are blowing through us to open us up to all that is possible with God. The future we are being invited to create with God will not look like the past we have shared together. It is a future God is working hard to create with us, because God continues to love this world. God still wants to save this world. God is still lifting Jesus up, because God still wants this world to experience eternal life. God wants you to be born again. God wants to begin again with you.
This sermon is in the toilet.
First Sunday of Lent. Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Preached by Rev. James Murray at Dominion-Chalmers United Church, March 5 2017.
It is good to be back with you this Sunday. It is very rare for me to be away two Sundays in a row. I was on a Study trip to Cuba with a group from Emmanuel United Church, which is where my wife Christine is serving as a supply minister this year. There were seven people who were part of this pilgrimage to Cardenas Cuba. I do say pilgrimage rather than vacation. A tourist on vacation expects to enjoy all the pleasures their money will buy. A pilgrim expects to be changed by their experience. A tourist will complain when the comforts of home are denied to them. A pilgrim will reflect on why these differences exist. And that is why this sermon is in the toilet.
One of the biggest learnings from my trip to Cuba is that the average Cuban does not own a toilet seat. And that is a very fitting description of life in Cuba today. They have toilets and they have running water, but they don't have toilet seats. Now I am old enough to remember using an outhouse, so I am used to roughing it. But even most of the outhouses I have ever visited had a toilet seat installed. Having to use a porcelain toilet with out a toilet seat is not a comfortable experience by anyone's standards. It is a lesson in humility. Thankfully none of our group ended up in the toilet. We learned toilet seats are a comfort, but they are not a necessity.
Now the fancy hotels in Varadero that cater to the tourist trade all have toilet seats. But most public toilets and most Cuban homes do not. The resort area of Varadero is visited by two million tourists each year. Our pilgrimage group stayed in the nearby city of Cardenas, which is where the hotel workers live. Tourists rarely visit Cardenas because there is little there of interest to outsiders. Cardenas is a city of 110,000 people. Cardenas is a very densely packed city, with few green spaces. The tourist trade in Varadero is now the major employer. The sugar cane factory which was the major employer now sits abandoned. Because they are poor, the bicycle is the most common form of transportation. In Cardenas, most of the people do not own a car. In fact there are more horse drawn taxis in Cardenas than there are automobiles. It was odd being in a city where there are thousands of horses on the streets. There are very few stores in Cardenas and everything in them is very expensive since it is imported. There is poverty in Cardenas, but no one is homeless or starving. They all have toilets, but no toilet seats.
For our pilgrimage to Cardenas we stayed at the Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue. The Centre exists to bridge the gap between the Christian church and the Cuban State. Cuba is an atheistic Communist country that has no use for the church. The goal of the Centre is to show how the Gospel message can be a blessing to Cuba today. They started the first Meals on Wheels Program to help feed vulnerable seniors who couldn't get by on their government pension. They cook over 50 meals a day, five days a week. They deliver those meals using a cargo bicycle. The program has expanded to include a nurse and a social worker who visit the clients on a regular basis. They have taught many other groups how to run a Meals on Wheels program, and these have spread across the country. When there was a food shortage in the 1990's, the Centre established a farm to grow fruits and vegetables. That farm now produces enough organic produce that they supply several other community groups and hospitals. The concept was so successful that the nearby seminary we visited has developed a farm on their grounds. The Seminary trains Protestant ministers from 30 different denominations. They come from 19 different Latin countries. And every student minister is taught how to start a farm that can feed their community. When there was a fuel shortage, they brought in biofuel technology that converts plant and animal waste into methane gas for cooking. They have taught farmers how to set up over 250 biofuel projects across the country. It has been a lot of humble hard work to serve in a country that doesn't want their help, but so desperately needs it.
It is hard to be humble when there is so much that needs to be done. Perhaps it is for this reason that Jesus is tempted with personal fame and power over others at the start of his ministry. The tempter asks him ‘who are you?” Satan wants to know what Jesus is made of. Even today these are important questions for us. The management guru Peter Drucker believes these are important questions everyone needs to answer. When Drucker is asked to consult with a business, he asks them ‘what is your business?’ He wants to know what are you here to do. He challenges people to be able to explain why do they do it. And these answers need to work in the context we are in. We can't do this all on our own.
When Jesus is put to the test, he has all the right answers. By his words and his deeds Jesus expresses his belief that he exists because God provides all he needs. He doesn't need what Satan is offering because he knows what he is made of. Jesus serves God’s purposes in the world. Jesus knows it is wrong to try to get God to serve his own purposes. For God is not something we are to control for our own purposes. God is not an object we can claim exclusive ownership of.
We can't own God because God is not a thing to be possessed. The great Canadian thinker Buckminster Fuller once said that God is a verb, not a noun. God is a verb because God is doing things in the world. God is actively healing the sick. God is actively freeing the captives. God is actively forgiving sinners. God is still seeking the lost sheep. God never stopped feeding the hungry. God continues to comfort mourners. God won't stop clothing the naked. God is meeting the needs of the world. That is God's mission. We can’t own that or control it for our purposes. We can be a part of it though. Like Jesus, we can serve God’s purposes in the world.
Our pilgrimage group wanted to serve God's purposes, so we took seven large suitcases of clothing, towels, medicine, medical supplies and school supplies with us to Cuba. We did not enter the country as tourists. We entered the country on Religious visas. We were marked as being different before we even landed. Our bags were x-rayed and searched several times. We were questioned longer than any other passenger on our flight. It was a difficult time as we waited to see if we would even be allowed to enter the country. It was a humbling moment to feel so powerless. There was nothing I could do, except pray for strength. Thankfully we were allowed in with our bags. The supplies we brought were put to God's purposes to help God's people in their time of need.
These weeks which lead us to Easter are a time to draw us closer to heart of God. We are each invited to spend time in deliberate prayer and reflection. It is a time to discern who we are. To discern what we are made of. To learn what is our business. What are we here to do? I do need to warn you that this can be a humbling process, as the answers may require us to let go of some of the comforts that we take for granted. Remember that toilet seats are a comfort, but they are not necessary for the task at hand.
It is a humbling step to accept such a change in our thinking. We can find the strength to make such changes, because as people of faith, we are invited to be pilgrims, and not merely tourists. Jesus wants us to journey with him, from the temptation in the desert all the way to Jerusalem and the cross. He wants to share these experiences with us so we may be changed. He wants us to be pilgrims who are seeking to grow in our awareness of who God is. We are invited to be pilgrims who are changed when we meet God in the world around us. We are all invited to be like Jesus, so we too can serve God’s purposes in the world.
Pilgrimage to Cuba
Excerpts From Rev. Murray's Personal Journal
The Smells of Cuba:
- old cars burning leaded gasoline spewing lots of black smoke
- flowering shrubs that are a delight to the honey bees
- burning garbage
The Sounds of Cuba:
- live music being played in restaurants
- horses' hooves on the pavement as they pull carts and wagons
- people shouting greetings as they pass on the streets.
- children playing outside after dark
-cement buildings crumbling as the paint peels off in the humidity
- roof tiles black with mold
- sewer system collapsed, leaving water standing on the street.
- abandoned factories slowly collapsing
- piles of garbage by the roadside
- roads crumbling into dust
- the 1959 Revolution is the first time the people of Cuba have ever been free
- Government offers free health care and education, child care, food support
- natural resources are developed for the good of the people, not the rich elite
- they don't have a huge gap between the rich and the poor
- little corruption
- they admit the Revolution did make mistakes along the way
- their sense of identity was forged in resistance to the exploitation of Spanish Colonial Rule
- despite its imperfections, they do love their country.
Sunday, Feb 19. Sunday worship at Dora Valentin Reformed Presbyterian Church in Varadero.
The congregation was founded in 1959, their building constructed in the 1990s. The church seats 150, with about 120 in attendance, including about 20 children. Located right in the resort district, about a dozen Canadian and American visitors from the resorts attended. The gospel reading was the Beatitudes and the sermon spoke of the need for us to be changed by the presence of God's love. The service followed the traditional Reformed order of service, much like DCUC. Their music is contemporary praise band fare, but played with Cuban percussion instruments added. The service was all in Spanish and lasted an hour and 45 minutes. It featured communion and a sharing time for prayer concerns, birthdays and anniversaries. At the end of the service, the benediction is sung as the congregation forms a circle around the church holding hands. Then we all turn, and place our hand on the head of the person to the right. In unison, we bless each other and send each other out to serve Christ in the world.
Monday, Feb. 20. Meeting with Rev. Raimundo Garcia, founding director of the Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue in Cardenas.
Rev. Garcia was ordained by the Baptist Church in 1963. In 1965 the Castro government cracks down on dissidents and undesirables, and opens forced labour concentration camps. Many religious leaders like Rev. Garcia were arrested, along with university radicals and other anti-revolutionary figures such as the homosexuals and the drug addicts. The goal was to re-educate prisoners to conform to socialist ideology, and if that failed they were to be worked to death. After two years he was released. The Baptist Church encouraged him to abandon the ministry and leave Cuba. When he persisted in preaching, he was forced out of the Baptist church and joined the Presbyterians. Raimundo Garcia made it his ministry to show that Christianity does have something to offer even in an atheistic communist state like Cuba. He believes the cross of Jesus reconciles the world, and his ministry is to bring reconciliation to Cuba.
Rev. Garcia convinced the Mayor of Cardanas to sell them an abandoned factory as the site for the Centre. The Mayor was later fired for doing so. For 22 years the Centre was not even recognized by the government. The Centre has been a leading example in teaching mission to congregations as they pioneer programs to serve the needs of the community. They have promoted dialogues that have lead to the recent thawing of relations between Cuba and the USA. They have been supported by your Mission & Service donations for many years.
Tuesday, February 21 Visit to Havana
The Havana Cathedral is a testimony to the power of the Spanish Empire which ruled Cuba for over 400 years. They bled the country dry to build up the power of Spain. They created the Golden Triangle, which brought slaves from Africa to their colonies like Cuba to grow sugar cane. The sugar was then sold in Europe. The profits from the sugar then was used to buy more slaves in Africa. Cuba was the gateway for all the slaves that were sold in Central and South America. There is little in the museums of Havana that speak of the history of slavery that first created this island natio