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Introduction

The CRCNA has advocated on behalf of the Cuban Christian Reformed Church for over a decade to end the U.S.'s embargo of Cuba. Our denomination has a strong relationship with the Cuban CRC, which has continued to grow and flourish despite restrictions on civil society and religious freedom by the Castro Regime.

The CRCNA has advocated to end the U.S.'s embargo of Cuba, because it hurts our ministry in that country. The U.S. government restricts the ability its citizens to fulfill the great commission of Matthew 28 by denying them the freedom to visit and give financial support to Cuban churches. The embargo also hurts the people of the Cuban CRC, and they have urged us to advocate for reform. Read more about the embargo's effects on the CRC ministry in Cuba in the section below titled U.S. Embargo of Cuba Hurts CRC Ministry.

"Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." - Matthew 28

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The Church Speaks

The CRCNA's ministry in Cuba began in 1941 with the work of a single missionary: Bessie Vander Valk of Bethel CRC in Paterson, NJ. The Cuban mission soon established one congregation, which grew to twelve by 1958 under the leadership of Vander Valk and her husband Rev. Angel Vicente Izquierdo. LaGrave CRC in Grand Rapids, MI was the primary sponsor the growing ministry in Cuba until Synod approved official CRCNA support for the mission in 1959.

The Castro-led revolution and ensuing U.S. embargo prevented Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM) from maintaining a missionary presence in Cuba after 1960. However, World Renew and congregations such as LaGrave CRC continued to support the Cuban CRC through periodic visits, financial grants, and prayer. The CRC was instrumental in resettling a number of Cuban families who fled to North America after the communist revolution. 

 

The CRCNA and the U.S. Embargo of Cuba

For more than a decade, the CRCNA advocated on behalf of the Cuban CRC for an end to the U.S.’s unilateral embargo of Cuba. In 1998, the CRCNA recevied a request from the Synod of the Cuban CRC for assistance in communicating to the U.S. government how the embargo hurt the Cuban people. The request read as follows:

"Economic Embargo. As a Church, the feeling of the majority is that this is an injustice that causes suffering for the very weakest people. For this reason, we condemn it and pray to God that it disappears very soon. We understand that nothing is gained from this and, on the contrary, we all lose. We request that our Churches in Holland, the United States, and in Canada use their good relations with the government of the United States to let it know our desire. It is inadmissible that such a noble and giving nation, where there are so many Christians, could allow a law that greatly harms the children, the elderly, the sick and the most weak. We saturate this need with our prayers and our actions. Ethically, the situation is intolerable and as Christians it is inconceivable."

After prayerful consideration, this request was approved by the CRWRC and CRWM boards, and the CRCNA Board of Trustees (BOT), acting on behalf of Synod. The 1998 Synod also gave its approval for the actions of the BOT by accepting the BOT's report without objection.

In close consultation with the Cuban CRC and our denomination's Cuban members in South Florida, church leaders began advocating for U.S. officials to end the embargo. In addition to the numerous letters sent by individual CRC members, the CRCNA sent an official letter to President Clinton and to members of Congress communicating the request of the Cuban CRC. The letter reads as follows:

"The Board of Trustees, on behalf of the Christian Reform Church in North America, asked you to do all in your power to remove the economic embargo on Cuba because it punishes the poor, the weak, and the powerless. This request is based on our Christian moral convictions and our sense of justice. Furthermore, we have heard clearly the cries of our Cuban neighbors...And so, giving voice to the prayers and wishes of our brothers and sisters in the Christian Reformed Church in Cuba, we urge you to take strong action now to end the embargo."

Over a decade later these efforts continue, as the U.S. government reconsiders its policy towards Cuba. The Office of Social Justice is currently encouraging CRC members to advocate for the removal of restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens as a first step in ending the embargo. Although Canadian members can engage in ministry in Cuba without restriction, the U.S. government denies its citizens the freedom to visit and give financial support to Cuban churches. Cuba is the only country that missionaries face criminal prosecution by the U.S. government for visiting without a permit. The embargo has thus restricted the ability of CRC members to fulfill the great commission of Matthew 28.

 

U.S. Embargo of Cuba Hurts CRC Ministry

For more than half a century, our denomination has maintained a close bond with the CRC of Cuba. As highlighted in the February Banner, the Cuban churches have grown and flourished through God's faithfulness despite years of oppression by the Castro regime. But an important addition to this story is how the U.S. embargo has continued to hurt the Christian ministry in Cuba.

The U.S. has maintained a unilateral economic embargo on Cuba since the communist revolution. To starve the Castro government of financial resources, the U.S. restricts American citizens' travel to and financial transactions with Cuba.

Although the CRC almost never takes official stances on specific policy reforms, the denominational leadership began advocating to end the embargo in 1998, believing it to be detrimental to ministry of the church in two ways.

First, the embargo has been a significant obstacle to our ministry, because it restricts the ability of U.S. members to fulfill the great commission of Matthew 28.

Although Canadian members can engage in ministry in Cuba without restriction, the U.S. government denies its citizens the freedom to visit and give financial support to Cuban churches. Cuba is the only country that missionaries face criminal prosecution by the U.S. government for visiting without a permit.

CRWM and U.S. congregations must apply for annual travel permits from the Treasury Department, in a process plagued by bureaucratic inefficiencies and a lack of transparency.

As a result, numerous trips by missionaries and church groups had to be canceled when permits were denied or came through months too late. And in 2004, the Treasury increased restrictions on religious organizations and denied CRWM a travel license altogether.

Although the permit was regained after substantial lobbying, the Treasury whittled down CRWM's license to a only handful of predetermined names.

The second reason ending the embargo is integral to our ministry is that it hurts the people of the Cuban CRC, and they have urged us to advocate for reform. Even though our brothers and sisters have suffered under Castro for decades, they do not believe that the U.S. embargo is a just means by which to attack the communist regime, because the policy most hurts the weak and vulnerable.

So great is their concern that the Synod of the Cuban CRC formally requested the assistance of our denomination in advocating for reform.

The request reads:

"Economic Embargo. As a Church, the feeling of the majority is that this is an injustice that causes suffering for the very weakest people. For this reason, we condemn it and pray to God that it disappears very soon. We understand that nothing is gained from this and, on the contrary, we all lose. We request that our Churches in Holland, the United States, and in Canada use their good relations with the government of the United States to let it know our desire. It is inadmissible that such a noble and giving nation, where there are so many Christians, could allow a law that greatly harms the children, the elderly, the sick and the most weak."

After prayerful consideration, this powerful request was approved in 1998 by the CRWRC and CRWM boards, and the CRCNA Board of Trustees, acting on behalf of Synod. In close consultation with the Cuban CRC and our denomination's Cuban members in South Florida, church leaders began advocating for U.S. officials to end the embargo. Over a decade later these efforts continue, as the U.S. government reconsiders its policy towards Cuba.

God calls us to spread the gospel, to nurture Christ's church, and to work for the removal of barriers that prevent the fulfillment of this mission mandate. The U.S. embargo of Cuba is one such barrier. We must continue to pursue that calling in faithfulness by supporting ongoing efforts to end to the embargo.