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Friday, April 1, 2011

Remembering the Rev. Omar Maren Turcaz

In our worship service at the March Presbytery meeting, we prayed for the family and friends of the Rev. Omar Maren Turcaz, Pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Santa Clara, Cuba, who died recently in a tragic automobile accident. He was personally known to members of our Cuba Partnership Group, who had visited with him during recent trips to Cuba.

Omar Maren was one of the rising young leaders of the Presbyterian and Reformed Church of Cuba, and will be sorely missed.

Here are two personal reflections on his life: the first from a colleague, Professor Carlos Molina Rodgriguez, and the second by the former Chair of our Cuba Partnership Group, the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo (now Pastor of the Watchung Avenue Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth Presbytery).

Thanks to John Walter of Baltimore Presbytery for translating and posting the first item. John maintains a very informative website on his presbytery's Cuba partnership, which is of great interest to all presbyteries with similar partnerships.

Written by Carlos Molina Rodgriguez
Matanzas, Cuba
March 25, 2011
Translation by John Walter

To Omar Maren, in memory of his life.

"Death opened its wings too early."
- Miguel Hernandez

Ultimately, the month of March has been a painful date for Cuban Presbyterians, and by extension, for the entire church on the island. A year ago on Thursday, March 11, 2010, Isaac Jorge Oropesa, the illustrious and famous teacher died. This year March has carried away one of his dearest disciples, Omar Marén, a natural leader and renowned pastor. His life, consecrated to active leadership in his church in recent years, was inexplicably cut short when it had scarcely borne its first fruits. His sudden death has filled many with dismay both inside and outside Cuba. For years - perhaps decades - the affairs of a young leader didn’t stir the Cuban Church a great deal. Chance has willed that his death take place with circumstances similar to those of Jacobo Reyes, also a young leader and President of the National Union of Christian, who passed away as a result of a tragic accident on the 28th of July, 1935 in the densely populated area of Matanzas called Coliseo.

Born in Guantanamo on the 30th of October 1976, [Omar] moved at an early age with his family to Havana, where he grew up and studied telecommunications engineering at Jose Antonio Echeverria University Center – but he didn’t graduate. Then still in his youth, he came into contact with Presbyterianism; and in the year 2000, as the Presbyterian Youth of Cuba (JUPRECU) was reviving, he was nominated for the presidency of the National Executive Committee. The following year he entered the Evangelical Seminary in Matanzas (SET), where in 2004 he was awarded a degree in theology. On June 25, 2005, he was ordained as Presbyter, and on that same date was installed as pastor in the Presbyterian Church in Santa Clara. During his brief and concentrated ministry he discharged, among other responsibilities, President of the Commission on Ecumenical Policy of the Presbyterian Reformed Church of Cuba (IPRC); member of the General Council; President of the Directing Committee for the National Presbyterian Camp (CANIP); and Executive Secretary of El Centro Presbytery. Therefore, It’s clear that both his denominational leadership and contributions in the ecumenical sphere are irrefutable. At heart, the success of his prolific ministry consisted in knowing how to combine the best of the reformed tradition with the noble lineage of his church, anchored by such exemplary igures as: Evaristo Collazo, Ezequiel Torres, Ferrerol J. Gomez, Edelmira Cuesta, Francisco Garcia, Alfonzo Rodriguez Hidalgo, Carlos Camps Sierra, Elsa Hernandez as well as others. All of them, through their enduring efforts and constancy, dreamed of and succeeded building a better church.

I met Omar in mid 1998 on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Havana. Since then, and up to the time of his death, we maintained an affectionate but not intimate relationship characterized by hopes and dreams, doubts and uncertainties, silences and marked distance. As I appeal to memory, an image of that young man whose intense gaze and unfounded haste - someone who was always disposed to blurt out a guffaw - pops up. I seem to see him arriving at Master Isaac’s office all sweaty, or talking with Hector Mendez, his pastor, or gently placing in my hands the most recent issue of Palabra Nueva (New Word, Roman Catholic magazine). Years later we were classmates in the halls of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas. There, sharing our books, we grew closer in our passion for historical subjects and were united by our devotion to Rafael Cepeda. As a prerequisite for graduation, Omar later wrote an investigative essay about this great man of the church.

Omar impressed me because of his perspicacity and maturity. He was notably more ambitious and resolved than some of the contemporary pastors; and with his determination and creative mentality, he achieved much of what he proposed; however, he was never the archetype of ambition in the church today. I was impressed by his critical thinking, his nonconformity with Cuba’s present state, and the force of his most intimate convictions. For such reasons I alerted him to the ever present danger that hangs over our generation: To repeat the errors of those who preceded us, making concessions in exchange for privileges, and to be accommodating of civil and ecclesiastic power for a handful of promises.

Since the beginning of our relationship I continued both directly and indirectly following the evolution of his ministry. I found him doing about as I had expected: In our own way each of us was suffering the stings of criticisms and reproaches. Through that we became conscious that that is the price paid when one is not indifferent, when one does not live in perennial self-censorship. I was also impressed that , together with the immediacy of his exertion, hat at times his thirst for knowledge, his eagerness to stay informed, and his unlimited capacity to struggle impeded him rom reviewing his pastorate (obra). For such reasons, if it was within my power, I would always delightedly share books and ideas with him.

On occasion I remember expressing to him that it made me uncomfortable that some of our colleagues told lies to obtain truths. We also spoke with bewilderment about Cuba and the church: that they shared aspects of the Yoruba fable in the film Guantanamera “No one dies, the old don’t yield control and the young are being asphyxiated.” He always laughed loudly, spitting out a harangue that I should not and care not to repeat here. On the other hand I have a grateful memory of him which I will carry as long as I’m alive: In these last years Omar knew how to be my family’s selfless and conscientious pastor, whose love and understanding was always evident during the best and worst of times. With his pastorate the church In Santa Clara experienced a renaissance, beginning a new epoch with its spirits renewed. It will be difficult [for the church] to accept his absence; far easier [for us] to remember him.

In these bitter days, those who knew him will remember him as an intimate and courageous friend. Surely we will hold him in our hearts for both his wise deeds as well as for his errors; for his childish capacity for astonishment; for his passing bouts of arrogance; for his sense of ease and contagious laugh, and also for his occasional inappropriate manners. We may not be able to understand this last incident for a long time; we will continue thinking he was simply up to his old tricks and we will be able to console ourselves. Above all, because there still remains so much to do, and because f and despite his death, life will continue, even for him.

- Carlos R. Molina Rodríguez (Santa Clara, Cuba, 1976) is a professor of Church History at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas. His investigatory and editorial activities have centered in historical themes of Cuban Protestantism, especially in missionary work, ecumenical t Theological education, and Protestant thought of the Twentieth Century.


by the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo

The Reverend Omar Maren Turcaz was the Pastor of the Santa Clara Presbyterian Church in Santa Clara, Cuba, right in the middle of the Central Presbytery. Omar was a deeply dedicated, faithful, and fun-loving servant of Jesus Christ and of the Cuban people. He transformed the ministry of the Santa Clara church, developing innovative partnerships with congregations outside of Cuba to help fund the much needed ministries of the local church he served. In Cuba, the oldest members of the Cuban society are among the most impoverished, oftentimes living alone, without family to help them. Many of the elderly in Cuba struggle to maintain basic dignities and services in their homes, and so congregations in Cuba developed "laundry ministries" where they would go to the homes of elderly members of their communities, pick up their laundry, take it to their churches, wash their clothes and return it to them clean and folded, without charge. Omar's congregation had a large and vibrant laundry ministry. The Santa Clara church also has a feeding ministry, a strong presence with the children and youth of its community, and under Omar's leadership was able to expand and grow the physical plant to meet the needs of its growing community. Right in the heart of downtown Santa Clara the church stands as a testimony to the inventiveness of the ministry of Omar, and to the resilience of the Cuban people and their faithful following of the leading of God's Spirit. Thanks to Omar the church was growing, thriving, and offering ministry that touched the lives of the people around it, offering to them the Good News of Jesus Christ where it intersected with their deepest held needs, both physical and spiritual. Omar was one of the best Pastors I have ever encountered.

Omar was only 34 years old, and he was one of the most driven leaders of the church I have ever met. He developed a website for his congregation, to tell its story to the world, even when it was dangerous in Cuba to do so. He was a leader in his Presbytery and church, serving as Moderator. I will never forget a moment nearly three years ago sitting in a room with Omar, other leaders of the church in Cuba, and US partners as we had conversations with some members of the Cuban government. Omar was unflinching in challenging his government and their policies that were hurting the people he served, advocating for their basic needs. I remember sitting in the room listening to his testimony, awestruck by his bravery and prophetic words, and humbled by his dedication with his life to the ministry to which he was called. I am honored that I knew Omar, that I was blessed enough to see his ministry, it has always encouraged me. I am so sad I never got to see him again. We were just a few months apart in age, I feel his loss profoundly. The Cuban church struggles deeply to retain young, innovative, and strong pastoral leadership. The Central Presbytery has suffered a number of these losses over the years, stressing it. The loss of Omar is unimaginable for this Presbytery and their important ministry.

The Cuban church has lost one of its most important leaders, one of its most gifted pastors. May we in these times surround the church with our solidarity and our prayers. May we especially pray for his family, his collegues in ministry who feel his loss in the deepest of ways.

"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord says the Spirit. They rest from their labors, and their works follow them."

- The Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo

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