By Harry Groce
In July 2019, I had the incredible opportunity to complete my third trip to the island nation in the context of my Episcopalian faith. For the past year, I have had the pleasure of working under the auspices of The Rev. Dr. Donna Mote, Missioner for Engagement and Innovation in the Diocese of Atlanta, and with The Rev. Juan Carlos Diez Moreira of the Diocese of Cuba. Juan Carlos is rector of the three churches of the Los Arabos circuit in Matanzas Province, which encompasses the area around the towns of Los Arabos, Cuatro Esquinas, and Zorilla.
All three of these parishes are integral parts of their communities. Each church has a water filtration system that provides clean drinking water to the public. Cristo Rey (Christ the King) Church in Cuatro Esquinas provides a weekly breakfast for retirees and seniors, giving them a place to socialize and a guaranteed meal. Trinity Church in Los Arabos hosts an after-school program that educates children in the arts, from music and dance to painting and sculpting.
Thanks to the support of an Innovations in Ministry Grant from the Diocese of Atlanta, Trinity will soon lay claim to the only recording studio within 75 miles where religious music can be recorded at a reasonable cost.
At the root of all of this community engagement is the Granito de Mostaza (Mustard Seed) Dairy Farm. The Cuban government owns all of the land on the island, but the Diocese of Cuba has a leasehold in the dairy farm operation itself. Administered by Father Juan Carlos, the farm has a contract to sell its milk to the government. This income is one of the few sources of revenue that the Diocese of Cuba has for program support and delivery. The income pays for almost all of the community programing for the Los Arabos area. The dairy operation employs several cowboys and houses them and their families, and the government resells some of the milk within the surrounding communities. When I first encountered Granito de Mostaza during the summer of 2018, the farm was facing grave financial difficulties due to poor land quality and an infestation of marabú, an invasive shrub overwhelming many parts of Cuba that can grow up to 23 feet tall. The marabú is covered in thorns, which renders land useless for grazing and cultivation.
In 2018 when the 79th General Convention in Austin voted to approve the return of the Diocese of Cuba to the Episcopal Church I was inspired to take action. So, on behalf of Reverend Juan Carlos and with the support of the Middle Georgia Convocation, I proposed a $25,000 grant from the sustainable development funds overseen by the Ministry Innovations Task Force. This past winter the grant was awarded.
Granito de Mostaza negotiated with the Cuban government to exchange its original property leasehold for a new leasehold on a better plot of land that is more accessible to transportation. With the sustainable development goals funds from the Diocese of Atlanta, church members have been able to rent equipment to clear the marabú that infested the land. The new parcel offers better conditions for workers, most notably electricity, which the old location lacked, and a better infrastructure for raising cattle. The new land also offers an opportunity to expand the farm’s scope to include raising pigs and growing food. The partnership between the Diocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Cuba and offers a wonderful opportunity to deepen the connections between our two dioceses while simultaneously sharing the love of Jesus.
I encourage everyone in our diocese to prayerfully consider how God may be calling them to strengthen those connections and become involved in this exciting work of partnership and reconciliation.
Gracias a Dios! Thanks be to God!
Member, Global Missions Commission, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta
University of Georgia Master of International Policy Program C’20
University of the South C’18