Monday, July 11, 2011

Pastors for Peace Cuba Caravan stops in the Bull City

The Caravan arrives in Durham on Tuesday, July 12 at 6pm. That’s less than 24 hours away. Since 1992, The Pastors for Peace Cuba Caravan has sent at least one aid caravan to Cuba each year. This year 140 cities will hold events hosting the caravan. They will stop in Durham at the Shepherd’s House United Methodist Church, 107 N. Driver St. To educate people on how the US embargo of Cuba causes shortages of food, medicine and other important supplies for the 11 million people living in Cuba.

The 14 routes of the caravan will congregate in McAllen, Texas, and take the aid collected on the way across the border into Mexico. Donations will be loaded on ships for transport to Cuba and participants will fly to Havana for a week of educational programs hosted by the Cuban Council of Churches and the Martin Luther King Peace Center.

Pastors for Peace founder Rev. Lucius Walker died in October 2010, making this the first “Friendshipment” since his death. Walker described the caravan as “an expression of the foreign policy of American citizens, opposed to the foreign policy of our government.”

Walker’s life was transformed on August 2, 1988, when he led a delegation on a fact-finding trip to Nicaragua where rebels were fighting the American-backed government. Their riverboat was attacked by government soldiers, and Walker and 29 others were wounded. Two were killed. The event inspired him to start an organization of pastors to fight what he termed American imperialism. That organization is Pastors for Peace.

Of Pastors for Peace’s 40 missions, 21 have been to Cuba, which has been off limits to American trade since 1963. “The Bible says feed the hungry, clothe the poor,” Walker said in an interview with the Washington Post in 1996. “It doesn’t say to starve the Communists.”

“It’s a travesty how much churches have said about social justice and how little they have done,” Walker told The New York Times in 1969.

Walker graduated from Shaw University before earning a divinity degree from Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Wisconsin. He was ordained in 1958.

He was fired from his job as associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches for giving too much money to community organizations back in 1973. He went on to form an umbrella group of civil rights organizations to fight the Ku Klux Klan and another to help prisoners who had been accused of political crimes to obtain bail bonds.

The “Friendshipments” is the progressive faith community’s response to the US economic blockade of Cuba. Like Walker said, feeding the poor is not limited to political ideology. This year’s caravan has meaning beyond previous years. It is the first without Walker who died at 80. It is a celebration of his vision and legacy. Since the first in 1992, when 100 carananistas carried 15 tons of aid-powered milk, medicines, Bibles, bicycles and school supplies to Cuba. Since that first one that had CNN cameras film US treasury officers assaulting a Catholic priest who was carrying Bibles to take to Cuba prompting thousands of calls to Washington from around the US.

Walker is dead, but the work continues. The Caravan stops in Durham, NC, just a few miles down the road from where Walker studies English at Shaw University. It stops in a community rich in progressive theological reflection. Sadly, it’s becoming harder to find people willing to press beyond their politics to see God’s face in countries we’ve been taught to hate.

Blessed are the peacemakers-the Bible tells us. Next year I’m travelling with the Pastors for Peace. I’m headed to Cuba next year. The work of Walker has to continue. One preacher at a time. If not me, who? If not now, when?

Until then, I’ll see you on July 12th at Shepherd’s House United Methodist Church

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