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How Cubans Influenced the CRC

This is the last installment in a short series. You can see the previous blog posts on this topic here. 

In the U.S., Cubans faced difficult questions of how to integrate into a church body that worked very differently from what they were accustomed to. In his interview with Marilyn Bierling for her interview project, interviewee Rey described how he wondered how to fit in: “How do we not lose anything of our heritage? How do we keep part of this rich part of our heritage, but also move forward? And how do we continue to also reach out to the new immigrants? We don’t want to let go of any part of who we are. But we also want to grab onto that next generation. But as other people come in, and so forth, we want to also be there to be that shelter for them, to be that first hand that they get when they arrive in the community, like it was for our past members, for our founders.” (Rey). 

Today, there are first, second, third generation Cuban refugees in the CRC. The memories of what was lost and what was left behind in Cuba are often still painful. Many have never been reunited with the loved ones they parted with when they left Cuba, or been able to return to Cuba at all, due to political complications. You can listen to an interview with Cristina Aguilera, who fled to the United States with her family when she was 10, at our “Immigration Is Our Story Audio Series” page. You can read another story from Ileana Lamberts, who came to the U.S. when she was 6 with her family, on World Renew’s page.

We have that same opportunity to show love and compassion now. 

Reflecting on the many interviews she conducted with Cubans, Marilyn described why so many Cubans became interested in the CRC denomination and continued to stay with the denomination: “In interview after interview, they [Cubans] talked about the love and compassion shown by the church. They talked about meeting their physical needs in their time of greatest need. And the Christian Reformed Church was willing to meet their physical needs, and was interested in their lives now, not just in the future…I think that one of the reasons why they were interested in our church”

The CRCNA was forever changed by welcoming Cubans into their churches. “The church was changed because this was the first time we actually accepted and integrated to some extent a large cultural group that was different from the Dutch majority of the church at that time. So I think that was a phenomenal way in which the church was changed, so that the hegemony of the church at that time was challenged and people were forced to open their minds to people of other cultures and other languages” (Marilyn Bierling). 

For the CRC, welcoming Cuban refugees inspired the CRC to continue welcoming other refugee populations. In later decades, the denomination would go on to welcome refugees from countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, West African countries, Guatemala, El Salvador, and more. We have that same opportunity to show love and compassion now. 

Here’s 3 great ways to get involved:

  1. Afghan evacuees need continued safety in the United States beyond the year or two that humanitarian parole currently allows them. An Afghan Adjustment Act would ensure a path to legal permanent residence for Afghan evacuees, acknowledging their unique circumstances and the safety they deserve. Urge your Members of Congress to pass an Afghan Adjustment Act today!

  2. You can also take action by welcoming refugee families who have recently arrived in the U.S. You can find out which refugee resettlement organizations are near you using RCUSA’s interactive map

  3. Tune in to our upcoming panel discussion on welcoming refugees on May 25 at 7:00 pm EST. While the event will take place in West MI, we’ll be live-streaming the event as well! 

Note: In Cuba, even after all these years, it’s still hard to be a Christian in modern Cuba. However, the CRC denomination in Cuba has persisted, and the president of the CRC in Cuba visited last year to share with U.S. churches how the denomination has managed to thrive despite the challenges.

Watch this video interview with Marilyn Bierling.

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