For the last several years, a group of musicians from the church that I serve have made an annual trip to Cuba. In addition to bringing hard-to-get instruments, the group spends a week training Cuban church musicians. The benefits, as in all good charitable activity, are mutually beneficial and over the years, a solid relationship has been built not only between the American and Cuban musicians, but also between the Christian Reformed Church of Cuba and our congregation. We regularly pray for each other publicly and keep each other informed of the needs and developments in our congregations.
An exception to the general travel ban to Cuba had been granted under what is known as the “people-to-people” category, which allowed various religious and educational groups to travel to Cuba. Like all good policy, this category not only had the moral benefit of enabling charitable work to go forward, but it also fostered the development of democratic ideals.
This is all about to change, although few people in the United States are aware of it. The regulations that govern travel to Cuba were altered on March 24, 2003, and are set to go into effect at the end of the year. The people-to-people exchange licenses will no longer be granted. What this means is that next year, the group of musicians from our church will no longer be allowed to go. But this is minor compared to the loss of humanitarian aid that is provided for Cuba through the efforts of thousands of Christians.
Church groups now face the morally precarious choice between illegally gaining access through countries that allow travel to Cuba or ignoring the plight of the Cuban people whose average income is around 50 cents a day. Neither option is morally acceptable, although one is more morally defensible.
The travel and trade bans with Cuba are, as Acton Institute president Rev. Robert Sirico has argued, questionable from economic, political, and moral perspectives. But rather than slowly rescinding them, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control is narrowing them. Most troubling of all, perhaps, is that these regulations will automatically go into effect without consideration from Congress.
Rather than listening to me, my hope is that congressional leaders and the administration will carefully weigh the words of Rev. David Lee Chang, president of the Christian Reformed Church in Cuba. His letter, provided below, is not from the heart of someone who is a radical anti-American or a Castro puppet. I have met him several times and know him to be a man of deep and passionate concern for the people that he serves. His call, translated by Dr. Winabelle Gritter, a missionary who has often traveled to Cuba, deserves consideration.
August 9, 2003
Honorable Representatives and Senators
Congress of the United States of America
We greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are attaching a copy of the letter sent to the president of your country, pleading for “not suspending the license granted by the Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control, for travel to Cuba for religious purposes.”
We are praying for your comprehension and support as you decide about the suspension of said license. Our relationship with the Church in the United States dates back more than 50 years, and what began with a personal relationship has been extended and strengthened, providing both spiritual and financial support in such a way that a large part of our annual work and teaching ministries are supported through this relationship. We hope that God will guide you, so that we as a church in Cuba will be able to continue fulfilling the divine commandment, our reason for existing, “to extend the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all creatures.”
We pray that God will guide you in your very complicated task of helping your president direct your country and its foreign policy so that it will always be on the side of justice and reason, and thus be well remembered by posterity, and be blessed by God.
We are very grateful for your friendly attention to this matter, and hope for ample comprehension and support.
May God bless you.
Rev. David Lee Chang, president
The Christian Reformed Church in Cuba