Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A startling reminder

Jessica is currently in Florida with her parents, attending a Church of God gathering of pastors and church members from all across the state. She would like to share with you the story of a young man from Cuba that she met last night - his story is a reminder to us all to thank the Lord for our personal freedoms and to pray for the persecuted church.

Last night, while attending a post-church service reception, I met Omani, a 33-year-old pastor from Cuba. As Pastor Omani doesn't speak a lot of English, I took advantage of my ability to speak Spanish, to give him a chance to have a good conversation. He began to tell me about his coming to the U.S. - he tried for nearly a year, and was finally accepted on a 1-month visa. He's being hosted by a pastor here in Florida. He told me that as a pastor in Cuba, he can be put in jail for the slightest infraction, as the government closely watches him and his family. According to Pastor Omani, the only churches that are officially allowed to exist are those that were in existence before Fidel Castro's rise to power in 1959. Home churches, he says, are allowed but groups cannot grow larger than 12 people or the church members will be jailed. He says that pastors' sermons are closely monitored and that he has many friends have been beaten and jailed for years for saying things the government disliked.

Pastor Omani says that the Cuban government strictly controls not only religious freedoms, but day-to-day life in the average Cuban's home. He received permission to build a small, one-room addition onto his father's home, where he, his wife, and their 2 daughters could live. But it took over 6 months to get a permit to buy cement, and they were not allowed to construct a kitchen. The pastor says that when his oldest daughter turned 7, the government told him and his wife that the little girl was too old to drink milk and their permit to buy milk was revoked. The same thing happened with his younger daughter, except the government took her milk away when she turned 2.

Pastor Omani makes a salary of roughly $17 per month, an amount chosen as suitable by the Cuban government. He is delighted to have been able to recently purchase a 1948 pick-up truck, with most of its parts from Russia or China. It was the only car the government would allow him to purchase, but he feels fortunate to have it.

The conversation with Pastor Omani affected me deeply. I rarely think of Guatemala as privileged country, but I see that despite the country's overwhelming poverty, Guatemalans are still free. They are free to worship as they choose, they are free to live where they choose, and their children experience personal freedom in a way Cuban children do not. Please join me in praying for the persecuted church in Cuba, and around the world. Please pray that the Lord will bless the church in countries where the people cannot freely worship, that the Lord will bring an end to their oppression, and that one day, they would know what it is like to praise the Lord when they want and how they want.

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