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Cuban Facebook friend shares joys, struggles


By Alicia Almanza-Leyva

Social media is excellent for witnessing to others and for being blessed by others.My friendship with the Rev. Onay López Díaz began about three months ago on Facebook. One of my duties as the administrative assistant for the Río Grande Conference is to keep the Facebook page updated and ongoing.

Social media, I have discovered, is a great way to minister. Every day I go on Facebook and add Scriptures, events and pictures. I converse with people in the conference and beyond, make new friends and share videos. Social media is excellent for witnessing to others and for being blessed by others. I am blessed every day. This may be my favorite job duty!

One day when I was on Facebook, Onay, a Methodist minister in Cuba, asked to be friends with us. He was led to be our friend after he searched for other United Methodists. Thus, our friendship started.

I want to share his story with other United Methodists and spread the word that we need to pray for each other, no matter where we are. In fact, next time you use social media (such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and YouTube), remember: Christ is calling you.

Odaisy, Gabriela and Rev. Onay López Díaz

Onay, 35, was born in Matanzas Cuba. Married since 2003, he and his wife, Odaisy, have a daughter, Gabriela, 6. He describes Odaisy as "a great woman of God." He admits that marriage made a positive change to his ministry. Odaisy, a nurse, has worked in community clinics.

He is pastor of Consolación del Sur Cuba in Pinar del Río Province in western Cuba.

Onay became a Christian in 1995 when he was in the military. Soon after becoming a Christian, he served as a missionary for five years. He received a license as local pastor and graduated from the Institute for Candidates to the Pastoral Ministry of the Methodist Church of Cuba in 2001. The congregation of 19 met in a member's living room.

Onay understood that they needed to have their own house to use as a church. In Cuba, 60 percent of the congregations meet in homes because since 1959, the Cuban government has not allowed new places of worship.

In 2002, the congregation had enough money to purchase a small house in a bad location of town. However, they believed God would provide them with something better. Once they had their own house, which doubled as a parsonage, their first item on their agenda was to evangelize.

"We begin to open cell groups in town," Onay recalled, "and we sent missionaries to open small churches that we called 'missions' in the near villages. At the same time, I began to train the leadership of the church (in) how to evangelize and plant new churches."

In 2005, because of the constant growth of their congregation, it was time to build a new church. With the help of a Florida congregation, they purchased property in a good location and began constructing their new building.

Today, Consolación del Sur Cuba is one of the main churches of Pinar del Rio District. Attendance at their Sunday services is 85. They have five missions and seven cell groups. About 200 people are connected to the church, including missions and cell groups. Many do not attend Sunday services, but they meet in homes during the week. They have strong leadership.

In December 2009, they consecrated their new building, which also serves as the pastor's home. "I thank our God and Father," Onay said, "for my wife, the leaders, and brothers and sisters of our church because without their help, these achievements would not have been possible."

He added, "To be a pastor in Cuba is a great challenge, but I can testify that God has been faithful and has sustained us. God has never abandoned us. He has always sent the early and late rain. In the fights and the tests, we have seen the hand of God moving powerfully."

Asked about the challenges of ministry in Cuba, he replied, "There are two big challenges for the Cuban church. (The first is) to do the work of God in spite of the restrictions and limitations that the Cuban government imposes on us."

Even though the government does not allow congregations to build or buy buildings for worship, Onay said, "We have to continue opening new churches because we should obey God and his word."

Rev. Onay López Díaz, (front row, holding daughter, Gabriela) and the congregation of Consolación del Sur Cuba in Pinar del Río Province

The second great challenge, he noted, is to do God's work "in a country where the basic salary is $10 per month. The people (who) attend our churches have very low incomes, which means the incomes of our churches are very low. This means that as a church, we can develop very few projects in favor of the society and the church."

The biggest challenge of the Cuban family, Onay said, is to buy food, clothing and shoes. The Cuban woman's greatest concern is to make food for her family. "One could say," he continued, "that every month, God performs a miracle to help the families make it to another month."

I thank Rev. Onay for his ministry and pray that the people of the Rio Grande Conference also get to know Rev. Onay and the congregations of the Methodist churches in Cuba. We both serve our mighty God.

Even though San Antonio is approximately 1,600 miles from Cuba, our brothers and sisters there are only a mouse click away. If you are already friends on Facebook with the Rio Grande Conference, you can find Onay at Consolación Methodist Church. The wonders and the ministry of social media connect us to each other immediately. May God bless our United Methodist brothers and sisters in Cuba.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
--Matthew 28:19-20, NRSV

--Alicia Almanza-Leyva, Administrative Assistant, Río Grande Conference

el Intérprete Online, enero-febrero, 2011