Building bonds of friendship

Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. – I John 4:21

Cuban farmer Hernan Hernandez owns 300 mango trees on 20 hectares of land in the village of San Miguel de los Banos. Last year, a severe drought decimated most of his crop.  

Hernan says that most years there is plenty of rain, but last year, there was almost none. MCC partner CCRD (Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue) helped Hernan purchase new seeds and seedlings this year and MCC provided an irrigation pump.  

There is a bountiful crop of large, succulent mangos on the trees this year. Unfortunately, the state mandates that farmers sell most of their crops to the government for a low price, but this year, the truck that was supposed to pick up the mangos broke down and wasn’t able to pick up the mangos. Hernan will receive no income.  

After he showed us his crops. Hernan shared a cup of mango juice with 
each of us.
Since the Cuban government also controls the country-wide system for processing mangos, there isn’t much that Hernan can do with his mango crop except sell a few of them if he is able to his neighbors and watch the rest of the crop rot on the trees. 

Hernan seems resigned to knowing there will be another difficult year ahead. 

Just a few miles away, outside of the city of Cardenas, Hector Correa owns 23 hectares of land with his three sons. For 31 years, Hector and his family have combined the work of farming and pottery making. Standing outside his pottery shop, Hector tells us that when either farming or pottery isn’t going well, he always has the other to fall back on.

But last year, the drought was even more than Hector and his family could weather. Like Hernan, Hector also received similar support from CCRD and MCC.  

Hector feels blessed to have three sons who understand that it is possible to live well on the land they own. Hector and his sons grow coffee and green beans and any other product they feel might have a market.

Hector says he mostly sells his pottery and his produce to the large tourist hotels in the beach communities. He makes oversized pots which are hard to dry in his kiln, but these pots are in high demand from the hotels and they will make arrangements to come pick them up. Recently, Hector began growing green beans because he discovered that beans are one crop in short supply in the hotel kitchens.  

Empowering rural communities is only one part of CCRD’s work. The Center responds on behalf of the churches to community emergencies, provides pastoral counseling, trains leaders in conflict resolution and brings the community together to address a multitude of social issues.

It is no small secret, CCRD leaders tell us, that there is a real issue of access to food in Cuba. Thirty percent of Cubans live in poverty and those in poverty are disproportionately located in the rural communities. Almost 70% of arable land is not being used. CCRD believes that training small scale farmers can make a big difference in peoples’ lives.

Pastor Samuel of the Second Baptist Church in Cardenas participates in a pastors’ circle coordinated by CCRD each month. He says that before the circle the community pastors and churches had very little contact with each other. But now, in their peace working table, Samuel say the pastors pray for each other and talk about important issues in the community.

Samuel says the peace working table is a way for the pastors to recognize the work of God in the community, to work together and to build strong bonds of friendship.  

Ron Byler is executive director of MCC U.S.


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