Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

May 1, 2012

Freedom and Faith

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

From the Archives — May 12, 2011

In 1961, after the attempted Bay of Pigs Invasion in Cuba, Fidel Castro responded by taking over all the Catholic schools and banned religious possessions.  Although he allowed the Catholic churches to remain open, he required that all priests have permits to hold Mass.

His communist persuasion looked at evangelicals with great suspicion.  His tolerance for the work of Baptists ended in 1965 when he arrested many of the Baptist leaders.  Among those were American missionaries, Herbert Caudill, and his son-in-law, David Fite.  He allowed their families to remain in their homes, but he sentenced the two men to ten years in prison for espionage.  Castro had many Cuban pastors arrested and imprisoned at the same time.  One of these pastor was Arturo Corugedo,  president of the Cuban Baptist Convention.

Following these events, many Cubans attempted to flee.  They sought to cross the 90 miles of water to the Florida coast.  There were some who survived in spite of inferior boats and tied-together inner tubes.  But many drowned during those times because of rough seas or floating devices that could not carry the weight of the passengers or hold together.

We had the joy of knowing some of those who did survive.  The church we served in Atlanta while I was in graduate school sponsored two of the families.  The Balester family, with four daughters, lived two doors from us.  Across the street was the Escobar family.  His children and wife had arrived prior to his coming.  Juan Escobar was an officer in the Cuban army and remained behind until he felt he could escape.  He and two other men left one night to cross the strait.  They were intercepted by a Cuban gun boat and fired upon.  The other two men were killed, and believing they had killed Juan, they turned and left.  These two wonderful families were friends.  Judy spent time teaching them English, and they always provided us with special pastries.  Their stories are multiplied among the Cuban community.

In a few years, our ministry in Miami would be in the center of the Cuban community, and we were  at that moment in history when the eyes of the world focused on Miami.  Because of the economy, Castro decided to decrease the population, and he allowed those to leave who had the wish.  Of course, masses of people rushed to boats.  Miami would be the destination because of the  many Cubans already living there, and it was the shortest route to freedom.

The exodus was known as the Mariel Boatlift, named for the site of departure in Cuba.  The exodus began in April 1980 and continued until October.  More than 125,000 Cubans were processed through Miami, and it was estimated  by a congressional report that more than 10% of this number were criminals from the jails and inmates from mental health facilities.  Castro deliberately sent these.  Again, in the haste to leave, many left in unsafe vessels, and many tragic reports came of drownings.

Over 50% of these arrivals remained in Miami.  Many had family and friends with whom they could stay.  Others simply walked the streets, slept under the overpasses of the expressways, while others would seek to find any shelter possible.

Our church had purchased a motel next to our property.  We converted it to Sunday School space, and later would use it for an adult day care center.  One day our custodian discovered a man living in a maintenance closet on the outside of the motel.  He had been there for weeks.  He had nothing except the clothes he wore.  He had survived with little nourishment.  We allowed him to remain there a few more days while the church sought to provide a better place for him.  And the church did!

Our church was the recipient of many blessings during those days.  I spoke of Arturo Corugedo.  He had been imprisoned with Caudill and Fite.  He had spent 15 years in jail.  When he was arrested, all his books and religious items were destroyed.  He was 82 years old when released.  Our church had the joy of hosting him.  He was a radiant person.  There was no bitterness, but simply a grateful heart.  Sadness stabbed our hearts as he shared with us that only a few days before he was released, his wife had died.  The Cuban community rallied around him as he was so well-known as the leader of Cuban Baptists.  About a year later, Herbert Caudill, who had been released after serving only three years, came to Miami to spend time with this beloved friend.  What a joy as we saw them united.

I think much of those difficult days in Miami.  Consider the price so many of these families paid for their faith and for their freedom.  Perhaps just reading this causes you  once again to be thankful for where you live and all you enjoy.  We are so blessed!



1 Comment »

  1. We are truly blessed to live in a country where the expression of our religious freedom is still one of our guaranteed freedoms. My prayer is that more people will not only come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, but also that our religious freedoms will continue to exist. We live in an age where there seems to be so much contempt towards religion, but we Americans have built our country on the basis that we can chose whatever denomination that we wish to worship God with and that choice comes without persecution.

    Comment by Stevan Garner — May 1, 2012 @ 8:02 am | Reply

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