Today, Sunday the 6th, churches around the world will celebrate the World Day of Prayer, officially designated as the first Friday in March. The movement began in the 19th century, led by lay women in the United States. Today more than 170 nations participate.
But Americans may be surprised at the official program this year.
Two years ago the country of focus was Egypt, and I was able to contribute an article to Presbyterian Today. The choice of nation was made four earlier in 2010, before the onset of the Arab Spring, leading many to remark the selection was prophetic.
One might say the same about this year, with a focus on Cuba. At that time relations with the United States were still frozen; now a new light is dawning.
I am not certain when the program was written, but it contains nothing of the thaw. Instead, worshipers were asked to pray this prayer:
Forgive us when we have not created a genuine space for dialogue among those who differ from us; when we have not lifted our voices sufficiently to denounce an injustice like the economic blockade affecting the Cubans for so many years…
In Cuba, we pray that you transform the walls erected by the economic blockade into wide open doors that are ready to receive.
Perhaps this prayer has now been answered.
The Cuban World Day of Prayer committee did make reference to oblique ‘detention centers’ for undocumented migrants , and in the opening skit one elderly Cuban woman said, ‘My generation has kept the Faith despite much discrimination.’ But a Cuban child praised her school which also teaches her the Bible.
As Americans, we are used to thinking of the Cuban blockade as an essentially just aspect of our foreign policy. It began to stem the tide of communism, and continued to check a human-rights violating dictator.
Certainly the reality is more complicated, on both sides. But it is worth noting that Cuban brothers and sisters in Christ chose to frame the issue as one of injustice.
Today, therefore, let us praise God with them that doors have been opened. Politics is messy; issues are rarely black and white; there is ample room to disagree with the shift in American policy.
But as the Cubans chose to pray, let us join them:
Forgive us … when we have built up walls that have prevented us from giving reason for our faith and hope… Enable each of us to do our part in providing help for the suffering world around us.
Lord, hear our prayer.
As a postscript, the 2017 World Day of Prayer will focus on the Philippines. Will the choice again prove to be prophetic?
Then again, the 2015 nation was the Bahamas. Perhaps it skips a year. Take care Suriname.