Grand Island celebrates the World Day of Prayer

Note:  This year, Grand Island celebrated the World Day of Prayer at Island Presbyterian Church on Friday, March 4th.
The World Day of Prayer had its roots in the nineteenth century, when women from Canada and the United States got together to support women participating in missions, both at home and overseas, and to pray.

The first National Day of Prayer was held both in Canada and in the United States in 1920. These were separate events. By 1926, the prayer service was distributed to many countries around the world, and, a year later, the first World Day of Prayer was held. The World Day of Prayer is held annually, and the theme and the programs are designed by the women of a country chosen for this task. This year, the women of Cuba chose the theme and wrote the program. 

This year’s theme for the World Day of Prayer was “Receive Children. Receive Me.” Jesus received the small children joyfully, but the disciples were not thrilled with that. At the time, small children were not valued, probably because they were too young to work. In the program, people from different generations expressed their hopes and their dreams and their experiences of life.

Through the stories of the young, the middle aged, and the elders, we learn about the history of Cuba. We hear about what daily life is like and we hear about the joys and sorrows of the people of Cuba. Above, Eloise Booker of Island Presbyterian Church shares the story of a Cuban woman.

Raida Pimienta is one of two guest speakers who shared their stories at the World Day of Prayer. She works as a Spanish teacher/translator in Buffalo.

Raida shared her personal story. She was born in Cuba in 1959. She said that she came from a family that valued education. Her grandfather played the violin, and her mother wanted to be a pianist. Her father appreciated silence and wanted his daughter to enjoy reading.

In Cuba, the new government was also focused on education. It enforced a literacy campaign to “make sure that all Cubans could read or write,” Raida said. One way to do that was to send teenagers to the countryside to teach people to read and write. Today, the literacy rate in Cuba is 97 percent.

With literacy also came increased opportunities. In the past, Raida said, women were either housekeepers or maids. “Women had the opportunity to read, write, and get new skills.”

School is not optional in Cuba, as it is not optional in the United States. In Cuba, kindergarten through ninth grades are mandatory. Kids who failed to show up for school had trouble getting away with their truancy. “If the kids are not in school, the teacher comes to the house and asks the parent, ‘Why is your kid not in school?'”

Kids were encouraged, not just to show up for school, but to behave appropriately. “I was a very talkative person. The teacher suggested, ‘I am going to call Maria!'” Raida said that she was terrified about being penalized by both the teacher and her mother.

In Cuba, education is free through the university level. After ninth grade, some students go to technical schools and other students take an entrance exam to go to high school to prepare for the university. After graduation, people go to the country side and do two to three years of community service, using their newly developed skills.

Health care in Cuba is also free. The infant mortality rate is very low. Doctors go to homes to give prenatal care to expectant mothers. “The doctor is in your neighborhood. The Cuban system is unique. Every 29 families is assigned to a medical doctor.”

Cuban doctors are well known for their skills and they travel overseas to help take care of people. Five years ago, when I was in language school in Ecuador, I met a few of those doctors.

Cuba is not a tropical paradise, though. At one time, it was illegal to attend church, and there were no religious weddings. Cuba has since eased up on its anti-religion policies. The most dominant faith in Cuba is Catholicism. There are African influences on Cuba’s religious practices. For more information, check out the Wikipedia article. Pope Francis visited Cuba in September 2015.

There are some serious problems in Cuba, many caused by the United States’ 56-year-long embargo.

“Cubans are good and hard working people. The embargo has caused suffering. It’s been in place for 56 years. The Castros are still in power. Many people died. They were in the ICU on life supporting machines. The power goes out. This is caused by the embargo.”

“Divorce rates are extremely high. Several generations are living in one house. Daily living is challenging.” Many people have to share one bathroom. Everything is rationed. Domestic violence is also an issue in Cuba. It is difficult for domestic violence victims to get help. Cell phones are expensive and access to a telephone in an emergency is challenging. Raida said that hard living situations do not justify domestic violence. “There is no excuse to mistreat any one,” she said.

Raida now lives in the United States. She says that she enjoys living here but that “people don’t value what they have.”

It is now easier for Americans to travel to Cuba since President Barack Obama normalized relations between the United States and Cuba.

“I invite you to go to Cuba,” Raida said.

The second speaker was Santiago Masferrer, the owner of El Buen Amigo, a fair trade store in the Buffalo’s Allentown neighborhood. It specializes in clothing and jewelry and other things made by Latin American artisans. El Buen Amigo also offers Spanish lessons and it holds art shows and does much more.

Santiago is originally from Chile. After the September 11th, 1973, coup d’etat that resulted in Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, Santiago, then a university student and a civilian employee of the national police, was accused of hiding weapons and was held in a police precinct. There he was kept in solitary confinement for six months. Conditions in the prison, both in and out of solitary confinement, were horrific. In 1975, Santiago was freed from prison, and he applied for political asylum in the United States. He and his family soon moved to Buffalo.

Santiago is a survivor. Despite the trauma that occurred to him, his faith has not been shaken. He said, “We are Christian. We must have integrity to what we believe. Respect others. Be fair. Be Christian. I am not seeing that in politics. We hear, ‘wall, kill, remove from our society.'”

Responding to anti-immigrant comments from candidates for political office and others, Santiago said, “Everyone in this room comes from a foreign society.”

Santiago said that he lives his Christian values in the store that he owns.

“The foundation of El Buen Amigo is to be fair,” Santiago said. He talked about Jesus sharing bread and wine and multiplying the fish for the multitudes. “I believe that. I share my time so that I can give people who are in need money for their handiwork.”

There are approximately 60 groups that provide the stock for Santiago’s store. They come from the Caribbean and Central and South America. They work on looms, they carve wood, they make pottery, jewelry, and clothing, among other things.

The store is about “values, principles, and faith in humanity,” Santiago said. 

After the service was over, everyone was invited to taste delicious Cuban foods. Here is a bunch of recipes to be downloaded.

The next World Day of Prayer is scheduled for March 3rd, 2017. The theme is “Am I being unfair to you?” The women of the Philippines are preparing the service.

1 thought on “Grand Island celebrates the World Day of Prayer”

  1. Thank you-so interesting. I saw a recent Anthony Bourdain program on CNN. Showed so much run down buildings and beat up cars from the 1950's. The embargo should have been lifted years ago.

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