From May 27 to June 3, six participants in the HELM Leadership Fellows Program traveled to Cuba to visit Disciples partners and learn about the country’s cultures, history, and religious and political life. This was the first international trip for the Leadership Fellows Program and partner visits included the Martin Luther King Center, the Cuban Council of Churches, the Evangelical Seminary of Theology in Matanzas, and Sunday worship with a local congregation of the Pentecostal Church of Cuba. Cultural visits included the old city of Havana, Revolution Square, the Museum of the Revolution, a conversation with local youth, salsa lessons, an organic farm, and the towns of Los Palos and Varadero.
The group was hosted by the Martin Luther King Center in Havana, an organization involved in contextual theology and popular education. In his conversation with the Fellows, Rev. Raúl Suárez, founder of the MLK Center and a member of the Cuban Parliament, shared that Cuba is in a time of transition. With the recent opening of relations with the United States, many anticipant economic and social changes as contact and inv
estment increases. Rev. Suárez noted that with these changes comes the need for Cubans to insist on an “ethics-based economy” so that a culture of consumption does not begin to erode the values that have guided Cuban society over the years. In a visit to the Cuban Council of Churches, Rev. Joel Ortega Dopico, President of the Council, shared with the Fellows his belief and hope that peace and justice in the future will be due to their generations engagement and leadership in the world.
The Leadership Fellows Program aims to develop leaders through an intentional focus on four major areas. While the first two years focus on Community and Transformation respectively, the third year focuses on Global Awareness and our obligations and responsibilities of faithful leadership in a global and interconnected world, including the call to standin solidarity with those from diverse backgrounds and contexts. This was the inaugural trip for the Leadership Fellowship Program and, going forward, subsequent international trips will be offered for students in the third year of the program. The fourth and final year of the Program focuses on Mentoring.
The Fellows participating in this trip are recent graduates who began the Leadership Fellows Program under a previous model that only had a three-year commitment. They were invited to join this first international experience as part of what would have been their post college participation under the previous model. The six participants were Annaliese Baker (Chapman University), Finley Baldwin (North Carolina State University), Abbi Frings (Culver-Stockton College), Abby Henegar (Texas Christian University), Jonaphine Rae Mata (University of Texas) and Toni Trujillo (Texas Christian University). The students were accompanied on the trip by Chris Dorsey, Rebecca Hale, Ben Bohren, Pam Sparks, and Dawn and Jon Barnes.