November 2, 2009

Winchester Friends, IN

Speaker: Katie Terrell

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. 

That was the theme for the centenary celebration in Puerto Padre, Cuba, in 2004. My father and I were invited to the 100-year celebration because of our family ties to Puerto Padre.

 To give you a little history, on January 3, 1904, Emma Phillips Martinez of Indiana, and her husband, Juan Francisco Martinez of Mexico, began evangelizing in Puerto Padre. Two days later they were joined by Eva Terrell of Wilmington Yearly Meeting, and six days after that opened a school with 18 pupils. Emma Martinez focused her energy on evangelizing while Juan Martinez and Eva Terrell taught the school children. Meetings for both the school and church were held in a small, nearby home. In 1907, Eva was joined by her brother, Clayton Terrell, who supervised the construction of a meetinghouse and adjoining school. The Wilmington School opened on January 7, 1908, and the meetinghouse was completed in 1910. 

You probably recognized my family name, Terrell. Clayton was my dad’s grandfather, thus my great-grandfather. Eva, as Clayton’s sister, was my dad’s great-aunt.  

In December 2003 and January 2004, my father and I, as well as 11 others from Wilmington Yearly Meeting in Ohio, joined Cuban Friends in a celebration marking 100 years since evangelism had entered Puerto Padre. The celebration included skits performed by youth and young adults who re-enacted the history of Puerto Padre Friends. It included singing: Cuban Friends serenaded us in Spanish and we returned the joyful noise in English. Puerto Padre has ready access to sugarcane plantations, so the celebration was filled with sweets, cake and cookies and extra sweet coffee. We took a trip to the beach and ate coconuts right off the trees. Every day and every night was spent in church but it was clear that this wasn’t out of the ordinary; this wasn’t in response to the centenary, but a way of life. Puerto Padre Friends Church is located on one corner of town square, a natural meeting place. It’s no wonder that Quakerism spread so quickly in this small town. 

I never met my great-grandfather or his sister Eva, but Clayton built the house I grew up in, in Ohio, so I had always felt a connection to him in walls and ceilings and floor plans. Sitting in the Puerto Padre meetinghouse, looking up at the ceiling and its exposed beam supports, feeling a soft ocean breeze come in through the un-glassed windows, that connection was deepened. 

Friends United Meeting’s connection to Friends in Cuba formally began in 1900 when the American Friends Board of Missions announced its decision to establish a mission in Cuba. The American Friends Board of Missions later became Five Years Meeting which later became Friends United Meeting. Interestingly enough the first man appointed to go to Cuba, Zenas Martin, was from my mother’s tiny hometown of Hubbard, Iowa. Hubbard has a population of around 800. Zenas visited Puerto Padre and recommended that Wilmington Yearly Meeting support this tiny port town. A pastor from Wilmington visited and agreed, and in 1904 after graduating from nursing school, Eva went to Cuba to be a missionary school teacher. Eva returned to the States in 1910, but the ties between my family, Wilmington Yearly Meeting, and Friends in Puerto Padre, Cuba, remain strong, as evidenced by the centenary celebration. 

Cuba was not the first mission established by the organization that would later become Friends United Meeting, but Cuba Yearly Meeting was the first yearly meeting outside the United States to join FUM, which was at the time called Five Years Meeting. Cuba Yearly Meeting joined the organization in the late 1920s. Five Years Meeting stopped sending missionaries to Cuba in the late 1940s, but the number of Cuban Quakers continued to grow. 

The Scripture that Puerto Padre Friends chose for their centennial celebration, 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love,” symbolizes 100 years of struggle, 100 years of courage, and 100 years of love that emanates from the people of Cuba. 

In these verses, Paul warns the Corinthians to be on their guard, to be alert to the influences of the world. Cuban Friends have undergone wars, Castro’s regime, and most recently a devastating hurricane.  

Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians to stand firm in their faith. Stand firm. Your faith will be challenged. You will be tested. But stand firm. For God is with you always. Days after the hurricane hit, Ramon Gonzalez, clerk of Cuba Yearly Meeting, reported that everyone was in good spirits. He made jokes on the phone; he praised God that no one was hurt; and he thanked us, you and me, for our prayers.  

Be courageous, Paul said to the Corinthians. Be strong. I remember sitting on the front steps of the pastoral house at Puerto Padre with my friend Norge. If you have seen the photos of the damage to Puerto Padre meetinghouse you can imagine that I was sitting right where that tree landed. Norge and I were sitting mostly in silence because my Spanish isn’t great and neither was his English. All of a sudden, the electricity in the entire town went out. I glanced around and said to Norge, “la luz?” The lights? He explained that the government shuts them off sometimes. “Por que?” I asked. Why? “Porque pueden.” He said. Because they can. Norge held my hand as he showed me the drop shelter, a deep hole in the ground hidden beneath a manhole cover, where they were supposed to hide if the Americans attacked. I made him repeat that twice to be sure I understood. And yet he stood firm. Strong. Unafraid. Content to hold my hand, to pray with me, and to worship in Spirit and in Truth. 

In verse 14 Paul says, “Let all that you do be done in love.” God is love and I have no doubts that there is that of God in Cuban Friends. My dad and I flew in to Gibara from Miami, arriving after midnight, and yet we were met by all the church people, our host families, and a multitude of very tired children. Our host families sacrificed for us that week, shifting kids around so that I could have my own bed, walking me to the church each morning so that I wouldn’t get lost, boiling water so I wouldn’t have to take a cold shower, and frying a chicken for me when I couldn’t bring myself to eat “el porko,” the family pig who brushed against my legs when I washed my face in the courtyard in the morning. The hospitality that they showed, the sacrifice, was done in love.   

Having a heart for missions is not easy. It requires standing firm. Trusting the call. Being courageous. Being strong. But it’s what Jesus instructed us to do in what is often referred to as the Great Commission. In Matthew we read, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” Mark records Jesus’ words as, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” And Luke says, “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” We know that early Friends followed these instructions. In one of the most famous passages in his Journal, George Fox wrote, “Go unto all the world answering that of God in every one.” George Fox and William Penn and the valiant 60 and many others traveled from city to city, country to country, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and the opportunity for all to have a personal relationship with him. The Great Commission is why the American Friends Board of Missions was established and why Friends went to Cuba, Jamaica, Ramallah, Belize, and Kenya. To meet the needs of the people, both spiritual and physical. The Great Commission was the last recorded instruction from Jesus to his disciples. Because it was his last instruction, many biblical scholars consider it one of the most important passages in the Bible. 

I have done a great deal of traveling in my short lifetime. I’ve been to Cuba, Honduras, Mexico, Ecuador, India, and Japan. I’ve gone to those places because I felt a leading to do so. But I don’t feel that God has placed a call on my life to mission work in the sense of spending years overseas the way your pastors, Ron and Pam, have done. Just the idea makes me homesick. But God has made it clear to me that I can go into the world without actually having to leave my home or my office. I can go by supporting those who are called to live and work in the mission field. I can support them with prayer and with financial donations. 

Missions have always required fundraising. That’s why Zenas asked Wilmington Yearly Meeting to take on Puerto Padre. They needed a meetinghouse. They needed school materials. They needed food. And they needed to hear the love of Jesus. In recent years it has been a challenge to support Friends in Cuba. For years we could not get a money license, so we’ve been holding funds in Richmond, waiting to be able to deliver them to Cuba Yearly Meeting. Finally this year our license was approved. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. There are so many needs in Cuba right now, food, building materials, etc. I want to say thank you for the fundraising you have been doing through your rummage sale and “Bring Change to Cuba.” Terri Johns will be carrying those funds to Cuba in just a few weeks and I wish we could all be there with her to receive the hugs and kisses and love from Cuban Friends.  

In January a work team of 16 people will be going to Cuba to assist in the rebuilding. If you’ll remember, I said that my great-grandfather went to Puerto Padre to supervise the building of the meetinghouse. I emphasize the word supervise. Cuban Friends are perfectly capable of constructing homes and churches and schools. They are used to manual labor, even still plowing their fields with yoked oxen.  

Our work team travels annually to Cuba, but not because Cuban Friends can’t do the work. One of the reasons we send work teams is to carry supplies: computers, school books, pencils, whatever the needs are at the time. Another is to increase awareness. You can’t really know what Cuba is like, what Quakerism in Cuba looks like, until you’ve shared a meal of beans and rice, hauled bricks, and sang “Amazing Grace” in English and Spanish with Cuban Friends. The relationships that develop are irreplaceable. Your Christian witness, as well as their witness, strengthens both parties. Work teams are also an opportunity to test the leadings of the Spirit for individuals as God nudges them toward mission work, or for individuals like me who aren’t called to a lifetime in the field but who want to respond to Jesus’ command in any way that we are led. 

Our job in the Richmond office, the nine of us on staff for Friends United Meeting, is to organize those work teams, to get travel and money licenses, visas, and all the appropriate paperwork. It is our job to find out the needs of Cuba Yearly Meeting and ways to carry those items to Cuba. Often our work teams fly through Canada because they can take more and heavier luggage than flying through Miami. It is our job in the Richmond office to collect donations for Cuba and to find persons to carry those funds when we have the license to do so. It is our job to keep you informed about what’s happening in Cuba. We do that through articles in Quaker Life magazine, news announcements on our Web site, the FOCUS bulletin insert, and quarterly mailings to your pastors. As the editor of those publications, I am able to go into the world through words and pictures and to assist you in going as well. 

Often when we read or hear the Great Commission, we focus on the opening word: go, or even the opening phrase: go into the world. But the tag that Luke records is also very important. If you remember, Luke 24:47 says, “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Beginning from Jerusalem. Jerusalem was where the disciples were living when Jesus spoke this message to them. Jesus asked them to begin their message of forgiveness in their hometown, sharing the message with their neighbors and friends.  

Friends United Meeting was established as an umbrella organization so that we could go to the deepest parts of Africa, so we could go to war-torn Palestine, so we could get around government sanctions and into Cuba. Friends United Meeting was established to do the work that individuals and local meetings found to be too challenging without additional support. But that doesn’t change the fact that each of us are called to go. Even while we support missions in Cuba, Ramallah, Jamaica, Belize, and Kenya, we must also do the work in Jerusalem, in our backyards. 

Friends United Meeting is especially blessed by meetings like Winchester that are actively involved in learning about and supporting our missions and also know the value of being a good neighbor, of supporting local food pantries and educating about hunger, poverty, and other issues that affect our communities and the wider world. We count you among our blessings. 

Ramon Gonzalez, clerk of Cuba Yearly Meeting, during a phone conversation just days after Hurricane Ike devastated homes and meetinghouses, said that the most pressing need for Friends in Cuba was prayer. I ask you to join with me in honoring that request. 

Almighty God, we come before you with love in our hearts. Love for our brothers and sisters in Cuba, our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are so thankful that your Spirit is upon them, helping them to stand firm in their faith in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. We give you praise that your protective hand was upon them and that no injuries were sustained. We ask that you give them courage and strength in the days ahead as they work at rebuilding homes and meetinghouses, that you would energize their bodies and continue to feed them physically and spiritually. Lord I thank you for Friends here at Winchester and for the impact they are making on the world through their love and commitment. It is with love that we seek your will. Help us to do all things in love. Help us to find balance in taking care of our overseas missions and the needs of our local communities. Continue to make our paths straight so that we may come to know you more. Amen.


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