Stories of Hope Reveal the Good News in Action
I arrived in the United States 40 years ago with a change of clothing and a promise in my heart. I came to America sick and malnourished, having lost one-third of my body weight in the granjas and prison camps of Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro. I had been confined fin the camps for the previous four years. My only crime was my refusal to betray my Christian faith. In Cuba, there is but one God: the Socialist Revolution. But, with God's grace and the generosity of the American people, I escaped from Cuba. I left behind my beloved homeland and all that I held dear to save my life and those of my wife and two children.
Within a year of my arrival in the United States, I settled in the beautiful Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, where I, a Cuban minister, had been called to restart a dying congregation of mostly Mexican immigrants. Within 10 years, and with lots of hard work and God's magnificent blessing, we had grown the church from 10 members to 425 members--the largest Hispanic congregation at the time of my denomination--and built modern facilities to accommodate all of us.
But, God had other plans for me. While I had tasted the success of the American dream first-hand, God placed on my heart a more urgent and important calling. The new assignment would require a fresh start in all areas of my life. The task would require me to live by faith "in things not seen." I had no Earthly idea of the opportunities--and yes, some of the burdens--that God would provide. What I know is this: I am blessed beyond measure.
Today, 25 years later, I stand in awe of what God has done for me, a farm boy from Cuba. What I realize now is that the promise I made to God 40 years ago had been planted in my heart many years earlier.
Each year, under the cover of night in a desperate attempt to reach U.S. soil, hundreds of refugees from Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic secretly leave their homelands on rafts lashed together with pieces of wood, used inner tubes, large pieces of Styrofoam, plastic bathtubs, and surfboards. Since 1990 alone, about 30,000 Cuban balseros (rafters) have been picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard while attempting the ninety-mile journey across the Florida Straits in hopes of drifting into the Florida Keys five to seven days later. Hundreds of balseros have died from shark attacks, drowning, exposure, starvation, or dehydration. In March 2001, the sole survivor of a ship that failed to reach America from the Dominican Republic told how people on board resorted to cannibalism to stay alive.
Roberto traveled from Cuba on a raft made of a tractor chassis and inner tubes. On the journey from Cuba, westward through the Gulf of Mexico, he witnessed fellow rafters suffer horrible deaths from shark attacks. Through the grace of God, Roberto was able to save the life of an eleven-year-old boy after his parents sacrificed themselves to sharks in order to prevent further attacks on the raft. Needless to say, when Roberto arrived in the United States through Mexico and phoned us from the Port Isabel detention camp, he was traumatized. We took him in and immediately began caring for him.
Mariela and Alberto
Mariela and Alberto, * a young couple, also fled Cuba on a raft. The raft drifted until it came upon the Cayman Islands, where the couple lived several months before they were ordered to leave. Without any funds, they were forced back to the open sea, where they soon ran out of food and water. Just a day or so from death by exposure and dehydration, the couple landed on the shores of Honduras. Hoping to reach San Antonio, where they had relatives, they walked across Guatemala and into Mexico. It was a difficult journey because Mariela was pregnant.
On a mountain path, some corrupt Mexican immigration officers robbed them of what little money they had and gang-raped Mariela, who, by this time, was seven months pregnant. The sexual assault prompted the baby’s premature delivery on the side of the mountain. When the couple and the baby arrived in a nearby village, they were imprisoned for being in the country illegally. When some other Cubans living in Mexico learned of the family’s plight, they came to their aid. Mariela, Alberto, and their baby were taken to the International Bridge between Matamoros and Brownsville. There, the family presented themselves to the U.S. Border Patrol as asylum seekers from Cuba. They were transported to the Port Isabel detention camp, from which the couple contacted me. The family was paroled to my custody and with assistance from our ministry, Mariela, Alberto, and the baby were able to get to San Antonio to join their relatives.
Miguel, a man from El Salvador, lived at our facilities for several months. A member of a political party seeking peace amid the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s, he had witnessed many sad events in his country. He told us that around midnight on December 29, 1988, four armed men entered his home while his family slept. They took him and his brother-in-law to the back patio and began shooting at them with rifles. The two men ran for cover behind large rocks. A bullet hit Miguel in the right hip, but he was able to scamper into the dense jungle behind the family’s home. However, his brother-in-law was unable to escape.
The next morning, after the sun rose, Miguel counted seventy bullet wounds in the body of his brother-in-law. Traumatized, Miguel, the bullet still lodged in his hip, ran to a nearby cemetery where he hid for two days. Incredibly, he slowly made his way through Guatemala and Mexico and across the border into the United States. In late January 1989, he came to our church. Once he was stabilized, we took Miguel to the U.S. immigration office, where, with the help of a lawyer we had arranged for, he initiated the process of seeking refugee status. Soon, he was able to write to his mother, wife, and children in El Salvador, who were relieved to learn he was alive. However, in their letter of reply, they told him he could not return to El Salvador or he would face certain death because of his political views.
Mina, a fifty-two-year-old woman from Nicaragua, came to us in 1989. She arrived in a state of great anguish, crying uncontrollably after witnessing unspeakable crimes during the civil wars in her homeland. She saw with her own eyes her brother killed and his body dismembered by political opponents. She saw her father tortured and his body only half-buried so its remains could be eaten by animals. Only God knows how Mina managed to survive this torture.
Terrified, she fled to Mexico with her six children (her husband had already left the family, fearing for his safety). Because the journey was so difficult, she was forced to leave her four youngest children at refugee camps along the route—her two youngest children at a refugee camp in Guatemala, the third-youngest at a camp in El Salvador, and the fourth-youngest at a camp in Honduras. Mina and her two oldest children continued their journey through Mexico, where they were robbed of what little money they had. After suffering great hunger, dehydration, and exposure, they eventually crossed into the United States and arrived at our church with, literally, rags hanging from their skinny frames.
Seeing Mina and her children in that condition reminded me of a scene from a horror movie on late night television. We immediately got them food, clothing, shelter, medicine, counseling, and legal assistance. Best of all, we showed Mina and her children how much God loved them. They stayed with us for several months, during which time we worked with refugee organizations to locate her younger children and assist in arrangements to reunite the family once more.
Ivan, a Guatemalan, and a companion came to us during Christmas 1989 on one of the coldest nights we have ever experienced in the Valley, with temperatures hovering in the 20s. Around 10:30 p.m., I received a telephone call from a lady in our church, informing me that she had seen two young men staggering along a road. She feared for their lives in the freezing weather. I went to find these two young men, discovering them huddled together on the side of the road. I ascertained that the two men had left Guatemala to escape the political violence there. Once in Mexico, however, they had been robbed and tormented. Ivan’s companion was thin and frail. On the verge of collapse, he could barely stand. I took the men to the church, offering them warm showers, clothing, shoes, blankets, and a hot meal. The next morning, I took Ivan to the doctor because he was unable to sit without trembling. Our church took these men into our care, and they participated in our worship services while awaiting the asylum process.
Katherine G, Peru
Ps. PEREIRA, UN INSTRUMENTO DE DIOS
Somos una familia conformada por padre, madre y tres hijos, que como Abraham salimos de nuestra tierra, huyendo de la inseguridad, de las amenazas y encontramos en México una estación de descanso por un tiempo, al proseguir nuestro camino, llegamos a esta Nación que Dios nos dio por heredad, entrando por la frontera del valle de Texas, por un lugar que no queremos recordar, estando acá sin conocer a nadie ni hablar el idioma Ingles, aún rechazados de Iglesias, pero si albergados por unos hermanos que abrieron su corazón y por dos meces estuvimos ahí, hasta que un buen samaritano, un instrumento de Dios, llamado Filiberto Pereira, Pastor de una Iglesia, escuchó nuestro caso y nos llevó al albergue EL Buen samaritano, donde por cuatro meses fuimos sustentados y supliendo nuestras necesidades básicas. El lugar que dormíamos era una capilla, que nos sirvió para refugiarnos en Dios en cada tiempo de angustia, ahí nuestro Dios nos siguió dando más promesas y muestras de que estaba con nosotros, la mayor muestra es que el Pastor Pereira, nos apoyaba, nos daba ánimo y junto con la iglesia oraba siempre por nosotros, El pastor no nos rechazó ni se avergonzó ni tuvo temor de tenernos allí, él también había llegado a esta tierra buscando refugio, el nos dijo, CRISTO, fue el primer refugiado que salió a otra nación porque su vida estaba en peligro. El pastor nos llevaba donde los abogados, ayudaba a conseguir trabajo, inclusive en fechas celebres nos reunía en su casa. El, y su equipo de trabajo motivo a la iglesia a apoyarnos en actividades para juntar el dinero necesario para los trámites. El es el pastor de los mil ministerios y de las 24 horas del día, sin hacer acepción de personas, la iglesia que el dirige es multicultural, multinacional, que Dios lo siga bendiciendo