In 2013, after several members of Plymouth United Church of Christ in Des Moines had traveled independently to Cuba, and they reported positive inspiring experiences there. Interest grew at Plymouth in establishing a “sister church” relationship with a congregation in Havana.
The Plymouth travelers had been introduced to the ministerial staff and people of Ebenezer Baptist Church. That church, in the west central part of Havana, was founded in 1947, taking the same name used by Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, which was the home church of the legendary American civil rights leaders, Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. and Jr. That proved to be “providential coincidence,” they say now, for in the early 1970s, Havana’s Ebenezer built a social action and retreat center was built adjacent to the church. They named it the Martin Luther King Center, in admiration for the younger King’s work. It has dormitory-like accommodations, where many small delegations from other nations have stayed – including travelers from Plymouth Church.
From 2012 through 2017, three delegations of Plymouth members made the trip. In 2016, a small delegation of Ebenezer’s congregational leaders visited Plymouth. And in the spring of 2017, a formal sister church agreement was signed between the two congregations.
Ebenezer Baptist is a relatively small church of about 250 members, but it regularly serves several hundred people in its neighborhood with food, water and developmental programming. For 38 years, its pastor was Rev. Raul Suarez, who was also (and still is) a member of Cuba’s National Assembly, or parliament. He is one of the best known religious figures in Cuba, having been among a small group of pastors who in the 1990s convinced Cuba’s President Fidel Castro to end the governmental suppression of religion and let churches re-establish themselves with service to the people. He retired from the pastorate in 2009, but is still an active member at Ebenezer. His daughter, Rev. Raquel Suarez Rodes, served as co-pastor for several years. Now Rev. Maricela Muñis Lamelas serves as co-pastors at Ebenezer with Rev. Amos Lopez Rubio and Rev. Idael Montero Pacheco.
At Plymouth, a “Cuba Partnership Team” was organized to do programming and advocacy that will enhance the sister church relationship. That includes:
- Organizing and hosting additional visiting delegations of Plymouth and Ebenezer members in future years;
- Sharing special church services via video links and recordings; organizing direct people-to-people interactions by correspondence and social media;
- Presenting forums and classes on Cuban history, culture, religion and governmental relations with the United States,
- And, when we are asked and are able, assisting with development and opportunity at Ebenezer Church, in Havana and all of Cuba.
The Cuba Partnership Team generally meets on the first Thursday of each month at 5:30 p.m. at Plymouth Church. There are about a dozen active members and another two or three dozen interested but less-active members.