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Jim in Cuba 2My schedule has been hectic over the past several weeks ranging from the NCC’s recent Christian Unity Gathering, meetings of our Governing Board and Convening Tables, participation in the 75th anniversary of the Cuban Council of Churches, and the ongoing United Methodist Church General Conference.

We have now held three Christian Unity Gatherings and have a good idea of what works and does not work well. Evaluations completed by participants strongly affirmed worship and bible study, the Convening Tables, and several other aspects of the Gathering. We know we have to do a better job with logistics and promotion.

More to the point, the questions arise as to whether to hold organizational meetings in conjunction with the Christian Unity Gathering is the best way to proceed. How might we hold a Christian Unity Gathering that includes Christians from beyond the National Council of Churches? How might we ensure significant numbers of youth and young adults are present? How might we best maintain flexibility to respond creatively and in a timely manner to various matters in the world—an American presidential campaign, seemingly daily incidents of racial injustice and intolerance, church-dividing issues, or the Flint water crisis—when it’s necessary to sign contracts for food and lodging and give people ample time to make travel plans?

We’ll continue to perfect, I pray, the Christian Unity Gathering in future years. Someone once told me they felt they had attended a successful conference or convention if they made one new friend, heard one good speaker, and learned of one interesting book to read. Judged by those standards, our Gathering was wildly successful—for me, at least.

Immediately after CUG, I boarded a plane to Cuba. I have now had the opportunity to visit Cuba three times and remain deeply grateful for the solidarity that has existed for decades between the Cuban Council of Churches and the NCC here. The Cuban Council has an amazing and wide-ranging ministry ranging from Christian education to disaster response to active efforts to help the nation prepare for a new era. Some refer to the imminent tsunami of engagement with the United States—tourists, businesses, the Internet, capitalism, etc.—and everyone knows there will be positives and negatives.

One thing is crystal clear right now: the U.S. continues to maintain a blockade against Cuba. Until Congress acts to lift it, the resumption of diplomatic relations is mere window-dressing. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce (not exactly a communist organization) estimates the blockade costs the United States more than $1 billion annually. Imagine, then, how many more billions it costs the Cubans. The restrictions have created enormous hardships for the people of Cuba. The National Council of Churches will continue to push for the lifting of the blockade.

I am thankful for the ecumenical witness of the National Council of Churches and the Cuban Council of Churches. In the midst of giant societal changes, we have remained true to Jesus Christ, continue to share the Good News of the Gospel, and remain committed to justice and peace.