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Changing U.S.-Cuba Relations

Changing U.S.-Cuba Relations
President Barack Obama brought surprising news on Wednesday as he announced changes in the U.S.'s relationship with Cuba. In addition to a prisoner swap, the two nations will move toward reestablishing diplomatic relations and Obama will lessen travel restrictions. The news sparked lots of chatter in Washington, D.C., Florida, and around the world. 

Baptist News Global ran an article today on various reactions to the news. Since Churchnet's delegation to Cuba just occurred in October, a couple of us who went were asked about the developments in light of our fresh experiences in the island nation. Churchnet Missions Mobilization Team Leader Gary Snowden and myself (as Churchnet Communications & Engagement Leader) are both quoted in the piece

"Because of the Churchnet delegation to Cuba, I understand - and celebrate - the news more than I would have otherwise," I say in the article. "My visit also increases my surprise. Although President Obama campaigned in 2008 on normalizing relations with Cuba, I found in my discussions with Cubans that they feared meaningful changes still remained years or decades away."

"I believe we need to get to know each other," I added as I praised the lessening of travel restrictions. "As Americans visit Cuba and Cubans visit the U.S., we build relationships built on people not propaganda."

Churchnet Missions Mobilization Team Leader Gary Snowden
Cubans and Americans together in Cuba

In addition to experiencing the travel restrictions (which meant some extra hurdles for the trip), we also saw scenes related to other parts of the big news. 

We saw images celebrating the "Cuban Five" throughout the island nation. The continued imprisonment of three of them remained a key political issues and a roadblock to better U.S.-Cuban relations. Similarly, the imprisonment of American Alan Gross stood as an obstacle. The last three of the "Cuban Five" were swapped for an imprisoned American spy, while Gross was also released by Cuba on humanitarian grounds. 

In Cuba we saw the U.S. Interests Section building (formerly the U.S. embassy building). The U.S. Interests Section is a pseudo-diplomatic office established by President Jimmy Carter, the president who made the most significant positive step forward in post-Revolution relations until now. Obama's plans to restore diplomatic relations and reestablish embassies will change the nature of that old building in Havana yet again.

Billboard celebrating "Cuban Five"
U.S. Interests Section building (with lots of flag poles in front)

In the last two months, I have often thought of my new Cuban Baptist friends. They impacted how I view their beautiful nation and the global Christian family. 

As I told the Jefferson City News-Tribune shortly after returning: "Although separated by a physical distance of only 90 miles, the U.S. and Cuba remain worlds apart politically and culturally. We traveled to Cuba to demonstrate we will not allow national borders or politics to divide us from our Cuban brothers and sisters. As the Bible says, we are united with 'one Lord, one faith, one baptism.' We celebrated that the baptismal waters run deeper than national allegiances."

The fact that Pope Francis played a critical role in bringing the change in relations shows that Christians can serve as bridge-builders and peacemakers. I hope Baptists and other Christians will follow that example. I hope Christians in the U.S. will celebrate how the changes will help our brothers and sisters in Cuba. 

Cuban and Christian flags in Cuban church sanctuary
Moment from special worship service in Cuban church

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