Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cuba in 1988


So far as I know there is only one flight from the United States to Cuba and it is run by a Havana travel company flying Cubans back and forth from Miami to visit family. It only flies from 12:30 to 2 a.m. on Tuesday and even though you have made prearrangements you do not know until moments before takeoff if your name is on the manifest and will be permitted into the country.

About one a.m. my named was called and I was boarded into the plane. Then others continued until it was full. Then we were in the air and it seemed only a few minutes that we began our descend to an airstrip whose lights had just come on where we landed and then sat for a few moments when the police and military met us at the end of the runway. We boarded the buses they were on and were driven to the customs building where we waited until our names were called. Aqui, por favor! I replied. (“Here I am thank you.”) I was given my visa and noticed immediately that the signature on the visa was Castro’s direct officer, named Coronado, a man known for his forceful demeanor. Finally, after completing all the entry requirements, I was met by friends from Spain and Panama who were to be in my traveling entourage and serve as translators. It was a joy to see old friends after this frightful beginning.

By now it is about 2:30 a.m. and we boarded into a small Russian car and headed on a 5 hour drive to the western end of the island with 4 others, and our luggage, in an overloaded vehicle. We had been on the highway for about an hour when two state policemen pulled our car over. They asked for the driver to show his license and then ask him about his passengers. Seeing we were not Cuban, they said, “Are they Russians?” To which he replied with, “No, they are Americano!” Stunned they asked for our passports and visas. I could overhear them while they queried each other. “Americano? Coronado? They were having difficulty as they compare Americans with Coronado the chief assigned to Castro. However, they took a brief look at the trunk and suitcases and told us to go on.

Finally, we arrived to the city where we were to address the churches, speak in the seminary, and in a coming annual convention. Everything went well afterwards, but we knew we were watched daily with even government guests in the services. We were advised to not discuss politics in the cafes since they would seat us in designated tables. Once we were even invited to a city meeting at about 11 p.m. where a session was put on for our behalf. I knew it was done for our benefit since they waited for us to get there before they started.

At the convention without thinking I chose to preach one of my favorite sermons where God told Moses to choose 12 men to go to Canaan to spy out the land that He was giving them after 430 years of bondage in Egypt. Little did I think how this could be misunderstood by communist officials attending. It reads, “And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said unto them, Get you up this way southward, and go up into the mountain: And see the land, what it is; and the people that dwells therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many; And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds; And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes.” (Numbers 13:17-20) Afterwards, I was concerned as to their thinking from then on and chose my subjects with more caution.

Since an embargo is held against the country, I was told I could not spend any American dollars, use a visa card, and would be totally at the expense of the Cuban churches where I was visiting. This proved to be hard on the people, but they rejoiced at our presence and many families would send about a cup of beans to help in feeding the other speakers, translators, and me.

I was deeply moved with their compassion because they receive so little to live on. One quarter of a pound of beef a month to eat. One dress, towel or sheet, one pair of shoes a year for the women each year or a pair of pants and a shirt for the men, along with one pair of shoes. Fifteen gallons of gas every three months. And so on.

Each morning my shower consisted of a heated coffee can of water poured over my head and a towel I shared with a missionary friend from Spain who had to bath as I had. We also stayed in a small room together on narrow beds with little room to walk between us.

Our hosts slept on the cement floor in another room.

But one thing over shallowed this, knowing these people even in suppressed condition had a deep belief in God who helped them daily.

The conference choir was filled each night with young people from the many churches whose voices lifted in sounds of praise. I began to notice that the girls had been swapping clothes so one could be dressed differently each night. After the services they would gather around the piano and sing to late at night. The next day you would see them all hand in hand walking around greeting everyone and rejoicing in His goodness.

When I left Cuba I praised God for His blessing on us, but remembered what the Bible says, “To whom much is given, much is required.”

At the American customs in Miami the attendant picked up my large suitcase and immediately realized it was totally empty. His first and only remark was, “I see you had a good trip on the island.” He knew I had given everything away.

Nearly 15 years later I was invited to speak in a large beautiful Cuban church in Miami and had the surprise of my life when I met again the young man who had played in that convention. He introduced me to another who was just a small lad, a minister’s son, who remembered me eating in their home.

Thank the Lord heaven will be a place of free people.

“Wherefore he saith, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.” --Ephesians 4:8

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