TOYOS, Cuba

You would never know from the joyful exuberance of the dancing children that they live in the midst of grinding poverty.

The Sancti Spiritus Presbyterian Church of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba (IPRC) established a mission in Toyos – one of the poorest neighborhoods in the town of Sancti Spiritus – to provide hope to the barrio’s hopeless.

Performances by the Toyos Mission young people range from traditional to modern popular music.

Performances by the Toyos Mission young people range from traditional to modern popular music. —Photo by Randy Hobson

On this Monday evening about 30 children, from age 4 to age 15, are whirling around the small room that houses the Presbyterian Mission in Toyos, oblivious for the time being to the harsh conditions in which they live.

Jacqueline Valdes, a member of the Sancti Spiritus church and the driving force behind the mission, leads her young singers and dancers through a program of religious and secular musical numbers that delights their audience almost as much as it does the performers. They simply love sharing their talents.

Spanish guitar is one of the musical genres taught in the youth music program at the Toyos Mission.

Spanish guitar is one of the musical genres taught in the youth music program at the Toyos Mission. —Photo by Randy Hobson

And talented they are. Several of Valdes’s charges have performed in local festivals, and they regularly entertain visitors to the mission and its members.

“These children experience and express the joy of Christ through their art,” Valdes says. “They are developing their artistic gifts while learning that those gifts come from God and must be shared as the gospel.”

Valdes says that parents are thankful that the church provides an artistic outlet for their children amidst a hardscrabble existence where spiritual nourishment can be hard to find. “Their parents tell them, ‘In this place you can be anything you want to be.’”

IPRC General Secretary Edelberto Valdes thanks the young people of Toyos Mission for their performance.

IPRC General Secretary Edelberto Valdes thanks the young people of Toyos Mission for their performance. - Photo by Randy Hobson

A delegation sponsored by the PC(USA) Office of the General Assembly (OGA) visited Cuba May 3–11. Members of the delegation included the Rev. Jerry Van Marter, interim director of communcations for OGA; Randy Hobson, the OGA’s photographer/videographer; Frederick Tangeman, director of communications and marketing for the Presbyterian Historical Society; and the Rev. Byron Bland, a member of San Jose Presbytery who is an international conflict resolution expert at Stanford University. They were accompanied by the Rev. Jo Ella Holman, regional liaison for the Caribbean (including Cuba) for Presbyterian World Mission; the Rev. Edelberto Valdes, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Caibarién, Cuba, and general secretary of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba (IPRC); and the Rev. Ary Fernandez, pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Matanzas, Cuba, and moderator of the IPRC.