This is not my own writing but I wanted to share with you all an article by a friend of mine, a young Baptist pastor from Cuba. I hope it inspires you as much as it did me!

By: Mario F. Lleonart Barroso.
No one should ever go on hunger strike. Neither should anyone ever fast, and absolutely no one should ever go voluntarily to a cross. But we live in a world that has required such sacrifices and fortunately there have existed men who are ready to carry them out.

The year 2010 is inscribed in the annals of history as the year in which two hunger strikes carried out to the bitter end shook one of the most entrenched dictatorships of all that have passed through a plagued Latin America. Two black men, born in the first years of the Revolutionary period were the protagonists, perhaps surprising for a regime that once said it was born to bring justice to men like them. One was martyred, the other survived, both remain forever united as the two black men who made an autocratic and godlike system tremble.

What they did resonated so much that on December 15th an empty chair was the testimony of both before the entire European Parliament when MEPs, from all parties both left and right, representing 50 million citizens of the EU, carried out the ceremony awarding the Andrei Sakharov prize to Guillermo Fariñas, recognizing his peaceful, arduous, and tenacious struggle, an epic 23 hunger strikes and his battered body’s 11 years in prison

When I heard about the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, which could have so easily been avoided and that Coco had begun his own hunger strike as both a form of protest and calling for the freedom of 26 very ill prisoners, I went to visit him at his home in Santa Clara with the purpose of persuading him to stop. My human wisdom was condemned to failure from the start, he shut my mouth with arguments as strong as John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”, Romans 5:6-8 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Isaiah 58:6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”

So I realized that I was face to face with someone just as evangelical as I am, and what’s more, for the first time in my life, I was in front of someone who was ready to die for a righteous ideal. For Coco, his life came second after his ideas and his firm humanitarian commitment. I was ashamed and remembered the words of Jesus warning us that if we are silent, even the rocks will cry out.

It was very difficult for someone like Coco to be a member of a church in Cuba, just a few of his visits to the First Baptist Church in Santa Clara were enough for the Office of Religious Affairs, the political right hand of the dictatorship which involves itself and interferes in the internal affairs of the Cuban churches, to begin to tremble with rage and anger. Even today, despite the retirement of the courageous Pastor Homero Carbonell, this exemplary Cuban church finds itself punished, its bank accounts have been frozen for some time and any foreigner who requests to visit them is denied a religious visa. But the important thing is that despite the difficulties of ministering to someone like Guillermo Fariñas, the Spirit of God dwells in his heart.

When I received that crushing evangelical argument, one of the best theological lessons I have learned in all my life, I was left with no other option but to pray earnestly for two big miracles intimately linked – first, that Coco would not die despite his determination to carry out a total fast with all the consequences, and second, that those 26 sick prisoners would be freed so that my first request would be granted. Many of the Christians who knew about my new effort discouraged me from such obstinate intercession, I heard every argument against it, but sadly all of them included a sad lack of faith that God is someone for whom nothing is impossible.

Each day of Coco’s hunger strike was for me a day of prayer for him and for the prisoners, all of those days in the privacy of my bedroom, sometimes public as when I publicly spoke a few restrained words on day 28 of the total 135 days of his hunger strike at the Water and Life Conference held by the Worldwide Baptist Alliance on the 23rd of March, or in the public prayer that I would lead once or twice a week at the hospital where Coco languished as part of a chain of prayer that united many diverse people, who, hand in hand would go to visit him during the approved visiting hours.

When at noon on Thursday, July 8th, I had the privilege of leading a prayer of thanksgiving in a huge chain in the courtyard at the entrance of the Arnaldo Milian Hospital, there making it public that Coco’s fast had come to an end after the announced liberation of those prisoners by the government, it was even published in Granma that day, I understood that God had performed an unbelievable miracle. Guillermo himself, that afternoon as we talked by telephone, recognized it: we had witnessed a real miracle and he gave all of the glory to God for it.

This is the history of peaceful co-belligerence in which I, by some divine plan, have been involved in night and day. Co-belligerence is one of those rare divine calls to which I could not say no, and which, despite all the potential consequence that still hang over my life, my family, and my ministry, I will never be ashamed. Instead, I give thanks to God who allowed me, unworthy of his affection or choosing, to live out such an important chapter in the history of Cuba, representing Him.

On December 15th, during the impressive Sakharov award ceremony, a certain letter from Coco to the European Parliament was read out. I was not surprised that he spoke of forgiveness and love for his political adversaries, imitating Jesus Christ who he referred to explicitly. His words were echoed in many of the interviews he gave out, among which I mention one with the wise journalist Reinaldo Escobar:

“Castro-ism aspires to be a religion, and even though every day it is less so, some people go on believing it. It competes with the church as far as requiring adoration… The thing that few people are aware of is that through these days (during the fast) the government felt destabilised facing the strength of will in the community which it produced. This prize should serve also to make it clear that God exists. From a medical point of view, everything said I should have died. I believe that God didn’t want me to and he didn’t want me to die so that I would be able to forgive my enemies, as Christ has taught me, to love my enemies. I was an adolescent of twelve when I entered Camilitos Military School. There they taught me how to hate; hate my enemies, hate the Yankees, hate capitalists. The verb “to hate” was used over and over. If this peaceful struggle has taught me anything, it is how to love. We have to love our political adversaries because the love that we profess towards them is what will make us triumph. Without love, we will not triumph.”

With all that happened, this is now history, but not just a simply earthly history, the hand of God was involved in the whole thing like a sign of His profound love for this world and as an introduction to the fact that a new day is coming to this island.

*Baptist pastor living in Cuba. Member of the Western Baptist Convention. He carries out his minisry in the Taguayabón Baptist Church, Villa Clara, Cuba.