How Artists are Shaping Culture in Cuba

Ariadna and Frank are established artists and budding theologians in Holguín, Cuba, a city in the eastern part of the island nation. As members of Iglesia La Colina de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross Church), they are at the epicenter of a church-planting explosion in Cuba; as leaders of a “Gospel and the Arts” movement in Holguín, they are passionate about making new disciples within their creative community. Thanks to a summer visit from two MTW missionaries, they are more excited than ever about the connection between art and the gospel.

The PCA’s roots in Cuba go back to 1928 with the establishment of a Reformed theological seminary and denomination called Los Pinos Nuevos (The New Pines). In 2010, Allen Thompson, who had led the seminary decades earlier, returned to begin a strategic, church-focused discipleship program.

Among the first participants was Alfredo Forhans from Holguín, now the pastor at Iglesia La Colina de la Cruz. Through Forhans, parishioners like Ariadna and Frank, both now in their third year at Los Pinos Nuevos’ seminary, began to learn more about Reformed theology. Materials from thinkers like Francis Schaeffer and Tim Keller helped them see beyond the false “sacred vs. secular” divide, thrilling them with the idea that their love of the arts could be intrinsically honoring to God, not to mention useful for the kingdom.

A divine partnership
Ariadna, a professor of contemporary art at Holguín’s School of Visual Arts, and Frank, also a visual artist, had already been evangelizing among their group of local artists. Armed with a broader perspective, they now began to envision a network of believing artists throughout Cuba, a land full of people starving for both the beauty and truth of the gospel. “We, the artists, can do a lot with beauty and truth!” they reasoned. Sensing a match, Gary Watanabe, of Redeemer NYC’s City to City church-planting organization, put them in touch with Berenice Rarig, an MTW missionary in Perth, Australia.

Berenice is the founder of the MAKE Collective, an initiative among MTW creatives that helps them become part of international church-planting movements through cultural engagement, creative thinking, and artistic excellence. When she heard about Ariadna, Frank, and the arts movement at Iglesia La Colina de la Cruz, she made the journey halfway around the world to meet them.

Joined by Rebecca Young, now serving with MTW in Monterrey, Mexico, Berenice helped Ariadna and Frank shape a plan for and give language to their overall vision. The group, which also included five other Cuban believers active in the arts movement, discussed a long-term arts ministry strategy, with Berenice and Becky sharing from their experience about pitfalls to avoid.

A shared vision
But as valuable as this planning was, far greater was the benefit of encouragement. For Ariadna and Frank, the MAKE Collective represented everything they hope to do in their own country. They were overjoyed to encounter someone who had already been where they wanted to go, and they are grateful that God made a way for them to experience it directly. Even months later, they continue to communicate with Berenice almost daily, despite the planetary distance between them.

“We started with a dream,” wrote Ariadna to MTW in thanks for sponsoring the trip, “and now we see how our Father is materializing it.” From the glory of the gospel that regenerates everything, to their introduction to Gary Watanabe, and the visit from Berenice and Becky, they see His providence at work. They are blessed to feel connected to it.

Ariadna and Frank have some specific short-term goals for their Gospel and the Arts movement. In August, the group put on an arts festival, an opportunity for several Christian artists to exhibit redeemed beauty and truth to their local contemporaries. Beyond the festival, they hope to inspire believing artists in their community to create works with broader cultural scope, focusing on subjects beyond what they experience within the church itself. In this way, they seek to contribute to the planting of even more churches throughout Cuba and become culture creators. Having now been equipped with advice and encouragement, they are overflowing with enthusiasm.

“Now we do not feel so disoriented!” Ariadna exclaimed. “We know we have support from people who have blessed us with their time and dedication. It is comforting to know that Berenice has so much experience using the arts for the growth of the kingdom, and she is now next to us, guiding and cheering us.” And that is a beautiful thing, indeed.

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READ MORE: Read the companion article, Vultures & Rocking Chairs, for an artist's perspecitve of the Cuba trip by MAKE Collective founder Berenice Rarig. And please pray for Frank, Ariadna, Hennier, Laritza, Yuneisi, Yamil, Rosa, and their pastor, Alfredo, as they love and gospel their expanding, changing world through the arts.

GET INVOLVED: Learn how you can be involved in the arts through giving to, praying for, or serving with The Make Collective. (NOTE: We have currently been offered a $10,000 matching grant so your donation will be doubled until the end of the year.)

Phil Mobley in Cuba on Dec 7, 2015

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