By Jean Clark
On Thursday, Oct. 11, Elmer Lavastida and his wife, Gisela Perez, co-pastors of Second Baptist Church in Santiago de Cuba, reported on the ecumenical Lavastida Center there. The Pleasant Hill Community Church, United Church of Christ initiated the establishment of a church partnership with Second Baptist Church of Santiago de Cuba at their annual meeting in 1999.
Pastors Lavastida and Perez visited Pleasant Hill Jan. 6-13, 2000. More than 35 people from Pleasant Hill have gone on Cuban seminars led by Ted Braun. Second Baptist and PH Community Church have held mutual book studies in the languages of their respective churches. PH Community Church Pastor Tom Warren and his family spent time in Cuba as part of his sabbatical in 2008.
Lavastida, an accomplished pianist, opened and closed the evening playing hymns. The couple traveled to New Haven, CT, this summer where they are spending three months at the Overseas Ministries Study Center. They received a special scholarship to participate in the center's fall session and were then able to get visas from the state department.
Lavastida is fluent in both Spanish and English with no trace of an accent in either. His parents brought him to Pennsylvania when he was five years old where his father attended college. Returning to Cuba, they sent him to missionary schools with sessions in both languages. He also attended college in Canada.
Perez is the only ordained woman in the eastern Cuba Baptist Church. They have co-pastored the Second Baptist Church of Santiago de Cuba for 17 years. Their latest passion is the B.G. Lavastida Centre for Christian Service and Training named for Lavastida’s father, Bartolomé, a Presbyterian minister and missionary who founded the New Pines Seminary in Eastern Cuba.
The Lavastida Center plans projects in cooperation with local, regional and international institutes in the spheres of environmental education, rural development, family health, theology of women, urban agriculture and the provision of drinking water, among other topics. Perez is the director and described many of the programs depicted in the slide presentation as Lavastida translated. Now that Cuba allows the free selling and buying of houses, the center was given the gift of a very large house built in 1916 with plenty of rooms to house the facilities, but also plenty of renovation needs. The Cuban government also now welcomes the help of the churches to provide social services.
Lavastida preached the sermon in the Community Church Sunday, Oct. 14 before heading back to New Haven. They will return to Pleasant Hill the week of Nov. 19-25 and again in December. They will return home to Cuba in time to greet the members of the PH Community Church's Cuba study group at their own church on the first Sunday in February.
After a seven-year hiatus, the annual Cuba Study Seminar program is resuming Jan. 29 to Feb. 12, 2013. Braun and Pastor Warren will lead visits to Havana, Matanzas, and Santiago de Cuba. The seminar will include special visits in the fields of education (including a school for wheelchair children), health care (family doctors and natural medicine), social services (daycare centers for children and senior citizens, Women’s Federation leaders) and an introduction to the nation’s political structures (neighborhood organizations and church leaders serving in the national parliament). Many evenings will include conversation in local peoples’ homes, with faculty and students at the ecumenical seminary in Matanzas, the leaders of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Havana, and with leaders of the Cuban Council of Churches as well as a visit to their sister church in Santiago de Cuba.
Karen Smith, president of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of East Tennessee (FCAET), will speak about the importance of thinking and planning ahead "before you go" Thursday, Nov. 1, at 10 a.m. in the Pleasant Hill Community House. Decisions that are often difficult to make or to convey to family members include choices among burial, cremation, or body and organ donation, or which funeral home to use. FCAET conducts a price survey every two years of East Tennessee funeral homes, and encourages its members to make decisions and inform their loved ones.