Training – Masters modules

In the autumn of 2010, the well respected Rector of the Havana Baptist seminary (Seminario Teologico Bautista Rafael Alberto Ocana) shared his concerns over the strength of theological education in Cuba.

Whilst the churches were seeing more and more conversions, churches planted and growth in a whole variety of ways, the depth of quality of training by locally-based Cuban pastors was not growing at the same pace.

His one phrase lodged with us: there were no Cubans in Cuba, he said, who could teach at Masters’ level in doctrine or biblical studies.

His plea was for help in preparing people to a higher standard, not least to enable the Cuban church to address the specific needs of life in Cuba. The Cuban church context is, of course, utterly unique. The country suffered from imperialist domination by the Spanish and then US, until the Revolution in 1959. Since then, whilst fiercely nationalist, there was heavy Soviet influence for three decades. And then in the last quarter of a century, the country has struggled on its own, isolated from the world in a variety of ways.

The picture of the church is similar. The Roman Catholic church dominated public statistics, if not day to day life, until 1959, but was decimated by communism. Meanwhile, there has been a long and strong influence of African religion – an influence which continues to grow, not least through state acceptance and even support.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the church in Cuba has grown by several times, but continues to struggle with sufficient quality leadership. Many pastors had left the country, and continue to do so. The sheer growth of the church has demanded an increasing number of pastors to be appointed, even part time. Cuban law has influenced this, as it has not been possible to build new churches, and the numbers meeting in any one house have been restricted. Given the growth, house churches have therefore divided, and divided again – each needing a leader (who has been trained, usually on the job).

Cuba para Cristo was honoured to hear from Hermes, and immediately sought to suggest something.

We developed what we have called our “Masters programme”, which specifically addresses the needs of the Cuban church, whilst recognising the challenges the church faces.

Here’s what it looks like:

  1. Working with the institutions in Cuba: Havana and Santiago Baptist seminaries.
    1. We had been asked by Havana Baptist seminary to help, but we had good relations with the one in Santiago too. We have always wanted to share what we were doing with those in the East of the island, not least because needs are even greater there.
    2. We therefore brokered an agreement between the two seminaries, whereby each seminary accepts the teaching of the others who take part in this programme.
  2. A simple module to train a team of people.
    1. One thing we wanted to avoid was to invest huge amounts in one person, for instance by selecting someone to train for a PhD. As experience and our Cuban friends told us, that just wasn’t wise. The problem was: how to train people to be able to teach at Masters’ level, if they didn’t have a PhD?
    2. Our proposal was to work with a team of people. Each seminary would initially put forward three people, to teach six different areas of study (three in biblical studies, three in doctrine).
    3. Each person would come to the UK, and be trained under a tutorial system over four months, in one particular subject area.
    4. The student would need to be proposed by their seminary for this course of study, to commit to returning to teach in Cuba, to have an adequate level of English (IELTS 6.0) and to have completed some study in Cuba which showed engagement with a different (more international) way of thinking (we proposed they had studied some MOCLAM courses).
    5. The aim was that after the four months, the person will have prepared and written a Masters’ level course, similar to what might be taught in the UK.
    6. The advantage of the tutorial system is that the course could be tailored to the specific needs of the Cuban context, through discussion with the tutor
    7. Tutors would come from the leading seminaries and theological institutions of the UK (we spoke with people in London, Cambridge, Oxford and Belfast).
    8. The four months’ study would be split in to two trips, to prevent the person from being away from his family (and church) for more than two months at a time.
    9. The student would return, and teach in both Havana and Santiago seminaries, to a group of people studying their respective Masters’ courses.
    10. The accreditation would be given by the seminaries of Havana and Santiago, based on the quality of the material that had been prepared, rather than just the ‘paper title’ the student may have obtained. What was central was quality of teaching, rather than paper qualification.
  3. This ‘programme’ has begun, and been proven successful. Two such pastors have passed through, and others are being prepared.
    1. A key challenge is in having people who have sufficient English: if you know someone who is gifted in teaching English as a foreigner language, and might be being called to serve in Cuba, please get in touch!
    2. We have been encouraged that those returning have not only taught in the agreed seminaries, but also in those of other denominations: yet again, this is an example of what we call ‘the multiplication effect’ – a little invested very well, goes a long way in Cuba, such is the hunger and demand for sound teaching.