The committee came together because members felt "collectively we could be more effective than our working individually," said Bill Port, a member of the committee and of First Presbyterian in Cape Girardeau. Locally, the group helps to fund Habitat for Humanity projects, but their efforts extend beyond America's borders.
As one of its projects, the committee supports a church in Cuba through a partnership with the Church of the Good Shepherd, a Presbyterian Church in Union de Reyes, Matanzas, in the northwestern part of the island nation.
The Church of the Good Shepherd was founded in the early 1900s, and the present sanctuary building was built in 1914. Over the years, it had fallen into disrepair, according to one committee member. Using funds raised at their authentic Cuban Dinners, the 17-member committee has been able to send money to its sister church each year.
The dinner, planned by a Cuban-born member of Westminster Church, will feature ensalada (tossed salad), arroz con pollo (chicken and yellow rice), plantanos fritos (fried plantains) and panetela (yellow cake soaked in Cuban sauce).
The money from the dinners has enabled the church to repair windows, paint, rewire and completely remodel the building. Now that the improvements have been made to the building, funds are used for outreach, retreats and vacation Bible school.
Religious freedom and Christianity have a dynamic history in Cuba. Before the revolution in 1959, 85 percent of the population of Cuba was Catholic. The revolution brought communist ideals that were at odds with religious practice, and many religious practitioners, as well as others targeted by the government, were sent to labor camps for re-education or were executed.
"It boggles my mind why the government considers Christianity a threat, but they do," said the Rev. Grant Gillard of First Presbyterian in Jackson.
"The survival of the Christian Church was in question, but it has survived," Port said.
In 1992, Cuba amended its constitution and became officially known as a secular state, rather than an atheist one, as it had formerly been. Although the Catholic faith remains dominant at 45 percent of the population, many other Christian faiths are represented, including the Presbyterian faith.
"We do this not only to help the church, but for the greater kingdom of God," Gillard said.
This year's Cuban Dinner will be at 12:15 p.m. Oct. 9 at First Presbyterian Church in Cape Girardeau. Cost is $8.50 for adults and $3 for children. Call 335-2579 for reservations.
235 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO