Omar and Kenia

Working on religious freedom can be a real drag sometimes. Not in the sense that it ever becomes boring, I love that this is my actual job, but in the sense that cases can drag on and on for what seems like forever. Oppressive regimes and intractable conflicts stay intractable for decades, until suddenly one day they’re not.

Even following political reform, however, justice can remain elusive and some of the cases I work on are almost thirty (THIRTY!) years old. One of those thirty year old cases, has been dragging through the court system for a decade now; the strategy of the defendants and the Ministry of Defense, behind them, appears to be just to stall the process much as possible until the government gives up and the victims run out of resources (which unfortunately is exactly what’s happening).

So… seeing a case positively resolved is something we seriously celebrate at my organization.

Today we closed a case.

After five years of advocacy, prayer, press releases, report writing, regular skype calls and yahoo chats, the Gude Perez/Denis family arrived as refugees in the United States.

Note I said positively resolved, not ideally resolved. Ideally, they would have stayed in Cuba and continued to exercise their ministry. Ideally, they would have done so free from harassment and threats of imprisonment. That, however, wasn’t a possibility, so they made a painful decision to do the best thing for their family, especially for their children who had been excluded from school, and accepted an asylum offer from the US.

Even that, however, became an ordeal as Cuban state security tried to block the family from leaving, or to force them to separate. First they were told none of them would be allowed “white cards”, the equivalent of an exit visa, a requirement that was abolished on January 14th. Then after months of pressure and prayer, the government gave Kenia and their thirteen year old daughter permission to leave, but not their fifteen year old son or Omar. Months after that, following more pressure and prayer, their son was given an exit visa, but still nothing for Omar. In the meantime, someone in authority decided that the kids should no longer be allowed to attend school – never mind that they weren’t going anywhere until they could leave with their dad.

Press releases were published, verbal promises were made, then reneged on.  I started to have frequent random visions of Cuban Communist Party officials in Pharaonic headdresses shaking their heads to the tune of “Let My People Go”.

This situation went on for a full year and a half – as the family discussed, debated and prayed over what they should do: stay firm in their decision to only leave as a unit or if, in the best interests of the kids, they should separate knowing a separation would be indefinite and likely prolonged.

Finally, after a very courageous decision in November 2012 by Kenia to travel to the US on her own, with the intention of returning to Cuba to be with her family, in order to put the spotlight on her family’s situation, something shifted. Someone, somewhere apparently decided that the costs to Cuba’s public image outweighed the benefits of punishing this family and making an example of them to other church leaders on the island and the wheels were set in motion.

More verbal promises were made but this time they were accompanied by the signing of mysterious papers.

Then nothing. For two months.

Until mid January, when in despair Omar wrote an open letter denouncing the regime and explaining the impact of their intransigence on his children – his son had lost more than fifty pounds and his daughter much of her hair, due to the stress put on the family over the past year and half. We prepared a press release.

Maybe someone was monitoring our communication (actually, not maybe, definitely) but for whatever reason, literally just as everything was about to be published, I got an e-mail from Kenia saying they’d just had a visit and been given the final white card.

In the final days of January they boarded a plane and left the country, to their new homes, where they were met by an amazing church family who arranged a welcome party at baggage claim.

Exodus 15:12-18

“You stretch out your right hand,
and the earth swallows your enemies.
In your unfailing love you will lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them
to your holy dwelling.

The nations will hear and tremble;
anguish will grip the people of Philistia.
The chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
the peopleof Canaan will melt away;
terror and dread will fall on them.
By the power of your arm
they will be as still as a stone—
until your people pass by, Lord,
until the people you boughtpass by.
 You will bring them in and plant them
on the mountain of your inheritance—
the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling,
the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established.

“The Lord reigns
for ever and ever.”

Advertisements

A number of friends of mine, all fellow alumnae of my university, have been posting this video today. Anderson Cooper asks Jennifer (another alumna) and Matt Hubbard, who attend St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown, Connecticut, how they are dealing with the death of their six year-old daughter, Catherine Violet.

I wanted to share it as well. Though it doesn’t relate directly to persecution, it does deal with how we process unexpected and senseless death. Personally, I can relate to the decision to honor a loved one by choosing to remember them with joy. I have also heard similar sentiments expressed again and again over the years from people who have seen loved ones murdered for their faith.

Pray for this family and others like them, thanking God for their faith and testimony. Their hope and joy is evident, and in some ways they make it sound easy, but as they say at the beginning, their life has changed irrevocably and can only, at times, be handled hour by hour or minute by minute.

Click this link to watch the Hubbards tell Anderson Cooper why they have hope.

***

Updated to share that I’ve just come across an open letter written by Catherine’s mother which is worth reading as well.

Earlier this week I asked for prayer for Christians in Egypt and mentioned that some Salafi extremist clerics had declared that any Muslim who so much as offered a Christmas greeting to a Christian would be considered apostates and traitors. I also mentioned that many Muslims and some significant Muslim leaders had made a public stand against those declarations to stand in solidarity with Egyptian Christians celebrating the birth of our Savior. The video below shows that solidarity in action.

Taking a stand like this is not without its risks, especially as the citizens of Egypt face an uncertain future. Individuals of all faiths who are willing to put themselves out there, however, for the cause of unity and religious freedom, and especially leaders who know that their words and actions have the power to influence so many, give me hope for Egypt’s future.

Please continue to pray for Egypt and to lift up these men and women who are taking a very public stand against extremism and for an Egypt that derives strength and legitimacy from its own rich and diverse history and present.

“The truth ain’t like puppies: a bunch running around and you pick your favorite. One truth! And it has come a knockin’!” Emerson Cod; Pushing Daisies

Truth is what we do at my organization. It isn’t always easy to find out what the truth actually is – but we are called to investigate, weigh up, analyze and then make sure that truth is exposed, using discernment to choose the most constructive form of exposure (choosing the most constructive way to expose the truth is a good way to deal with the truth generally – i.e. avoid telling the truth in a way that is unnecessarily hurtful). But it goes beyond that; truth should also be integral to our every interaction. We must be truthful to our colleagues, those in authority over us and those under our authority, to our enemies, to our friends, to our families – to acquaintances and strangers alike. That means admitting it when we aren’t sure what the truth is.

Our concern with truth is an inevitable expression of our concern with God. If God exists then he is the measure of all things, and what he thinks about all things is the measure of what we should think. Not to care about truth is not to care about God. To love God passionately is to love truth passionately. Being God-centered in life means being truth-driven in ministry. What is not true is not of God. What is false is anti-God. Indifference to the truth is indifference to the mind of God. Pretense is rebellion against reality and what really makes reality is God. Our concern with truth is simply an echo of our concern with God.
By John Piper. ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org