Teresa Martinez, age 89, died peacefully in her Lakeland home on the early morning of July 11, 2022, of natural causes and surrounded by family.

Teresa was born on September 29, 1932, in Holguin, Cuba, to Iluminado Hidalgo and Juana Ruiz, who taught her to love our Lord Jesus Christ and to be a loving and devoted Christian.

In 1947, Teresa attended the School of Agricultural and Industry located in Preston, Oriente, Cuba. She lived on campus, and a fellow student named Gerardo Martinez would see her daily in classes. It took nine months of asking before Teresa agreed to go out with Gerardo, and they fell in love. After finishing school in 1951, they went to work.

On June 21, 1952, Teresa married Gerardo in the Methodist Church of La Criolla. They celebrated their honeymoon at the Methodist Church Camp of Guaro in Oriente. It was there that they started their ministry as teachers. After seven months, they moved on to pastor the Methodist Church in Guayabo, Mayari, in the province of Oriente. During this time, she gave birth to her three sons.

In 1958 Teresa and Gerardo were sent to Guantanamo, Cuba, in the midst of the revolution to take on a challenging ministry. Communist fighting at the time made it unsafe to leave their home, and Teresa was forced to give birth at home to her last child, a daughter, on December 28, 1958.

After the Cuban communist government came to confiscate the church’s vehicle, the family knew it was time to leave Cuba and seek freedom in the United States. In January 1962, they were given 48 hours notice to leave the country. Arriving at Miami airport with only what they could carry on the plane, Teresa, her husband, and four kids sat thinking about what to do next. At the time, a radio station was broadcasting the names of new arrivals from Cuba. Someone recognized their name and picked them up at the airport.

A Methodist Church in Greyslake, Illinois, sponsored the family, and Teresa took a job at Abbott Laboratories, where she injected rats for cancer research. Gerardo took a job as a custodian. In 1965 the Methodist Church called the family to Hardee County, Florida, to work with the migrant community. Teresa worked hand in hand with her husband and exponentially grew the congregation. In 1971 they became missionaries to Nicaragua and Costa Rica with Alfalit International, which taught people in poor communities how to read and write. Here Teresa taught women home economics.

In 1979 Gerardo was called back to the United United States to lead The Coral Way UMC in Miami, Florida. Teresa will always be remembered as an integral member of the United Methodist Florida Conference Women and a true angel on earth. She leaves a legacy of Christian Faith and Love. During her life, she was well-traveled, visiting Central and South America, the Caribbean, Europe, and the Holy Land. Teresa was the perfect daughter, pastor’s wife, mother, grandmother, and the leader of “Las Damas” of their church; ladies who she taught nutrition, arts and crafts, and how to be faithful servants of Jesus Christ.

Teresa was preceded in death by her husband, Reverend Gerardo Martinez, who died in May 2003. She always appreciated the freedom and opportunities she found in the United States. Incredibly she bought herself a home at the age of 84, where she resided until her passing. Teresa is survived by her four children, Jim (Martha) Martinez, Carlos (Teresa) Martinez, Gerardo Jr. (Ely) Martinez, and Rebeca (Douglas) Scroggin, ten grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

A visitation will be held on Friday, July 15, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Heath Funeral Chapel, 328 S. Ingraham Avenue, in Lakeland. Church services will be held on Saturday, July 16, at College Heights United Methodist Church at 942 South Blvd. Lakeland, Florida, at 10 a.m., followed by the burial. Condolences may be sent to the family at Heath Funeral Chapel.

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