Reported By: Samuel David Hernández
A few weeks ago, I made a very unusual trip to the island of Cuba with my wife, Lisa, and our older children Gaby (age 11) and Isaac (age 7) to visit their Grandpa. On this occasion, Grandpa (Russell Stendal) was aboard the Dawn Treader working on his next book, a series of messages about the epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Romans. I say “unusual” trip because most of the traveling our family does is not along the lines of traditional family vacations. We hardly ever plan trips in advance because in most cases we are short on cash. We go when most people would consider the least opportune, but we are always taught something valuable; even if the lesson is as simple as learning how to listen instead of talking. Just like in Narnia, it becomes an adventure with the “Great Lion” ever present with us even when we feel alone. This was our first trip as a family to the island to visit Grandpa and the famous Bavaria 50 sailboat, appropriately named, Dawn Treader.
I remember a time when we would fight over the opportunity to go on an adventure. Most of them were to the Colombian jungle to distribute Bibles, radios or humanitarian aid. If you are familiar with the movie La Montaña, you can imagine how our everyday lives are here in Colombia as part of the ministry that the Lord has given us.
For me, the famous boat trip aboard The Light of the Truth was enough to learn two lessons for the future. The riverboat was loaded with over 5 thousand Bibles for some of the most hostile regions of the Eastern Plains where there had been no missionaries for over 30 years due to the violence. On that trip, those of us that made up the crew lived through ambushes, a guerrilla attack on a town we were crossing, running from wall to wall under heavy gunfire and a fire on the boat in which a 3-year-old child was miraculously saved among other things. At the end, none of our personal belongings were salvaged, only the Bibles on board the boat were safe. Each one of them was distributed.
These were the two lessons I learned: 1) Never put pressure on making a trip just because you long for adventure, without putting it first in the hands of God. 2) Never invite anyone to come with you unless you are being prompted by the LORD to do so. Personally, this has turned into a continual walk with the LORD, not just in the big adventures, but also in the small details that apparently have no great importance.
Two people, both of them of Cuban nationality, but with very different lives on the island, were examples the LORD used to show us the “tip of the iceberg” of what He is doing with that small sailboat, its captain and the crew on this particular island.
I use the word particular because the history of Cuba has not only affected it’s own people and North America profoundly, but also, Central and South America. Colombia, whose Peace Treaty has been developed on this island that which Cuba, Norway and others are guarantors of the agreement, has been a victim of the well-known, anti-imperialist hatred spread by Cuba throughout the Americas. This treaty, although the many deficiencies, has served to help diminish the killing of innocent, many times Christian, civilians. Aspects of the treaty are still being debated as they make their way through Congress and the Colombian court system. Many do not want Colombia to turn into another Venezuela, which we can not irresponsibly ignore or fail to mention, is the most recent and unwanted child of Cuba’s influence on the continent. However, we do know with utmost certainty that true lasting peace is only achieved by God’s divine intervention.
It is because of this, that I conclude that there is no better place for the LORD to restore hearts where the effects could ripple throughout the Americas and the entire world. If this were not the intent, why would God permit such an island with 11 million inhabitants and 2 million “displaced or aided” people to be frozen in time for more than 50 years?
The first of the Cubans, whom I will call “Lord Roop,” is a poor unhappy soul who has never been out of the “darkness.” But, by an unforeseen miracle, he bumped into the Dawn Treader. He is poor, literally; he has even lost his taste for food because of the food shortage that the island has suffered for almost 57 years since the economic “embargo” placed on it by the United States. Even placing a great meal on the table, there is very little food that draws his attention with the exception of wine-soaked pound cakes and garbanzo beans that someone visiting the sailboat gave him. He fondly remembers this food, while licking his lips and rolling his eyes. He is unhappy, because unlike 99% of the inhabitants on the island, he does not have some family member in Florida to send him a few dollars.
I first met Lord Roop over 3 years ago in other circumstances when we went to the island invited by Noel, the guerrilla commander whose story is portrayed in the movie La Montaña.
Back then, Noel was participating in the negotiation table established by the Colombian government to discuss the terms for the Peace Treaty. He contacted us after having seen the film and it was he who allowed for Bibles, Christian material and copies of La Montaña to be distributed among the FARC secretariat on the island. Noel became the excuse the LORD came up with for our participation in Cuba and our prayers for this man are more than necessary so that his heart is continually transforming for the LORD until he surrenders completely to HIM. But as my father-in-law, Russell, would say, Noel is “the theme for another message.”
Lord Roop would complain about everything and everyone, Cubans, Americans, Cuban-Americans, but today he is the first mate aboard the Dawn Treader. It took 2 years and a lot of high-ranking influence for him to be allowed to sail off the shores of the island; he turned out to be an excellent sailor. At night, he is the one who hands out the books we have aboard the vessel to members of the Cuban marina who are intrigued as they read and treat us with the kindest of hearts. Many of them do not know the power of the message that comes out from the beautiful boat, but little by little they have seen that it is God Himself who has us there. Lord Roop after having seen (more than heard) the life (or the written letter) of men of God like Russell Stendal and others, has learned to discern who truly is representing God among the variety of visitors to the boat. Discernment is one of the rarest gifts among the people of God today. The last words I heard from Lord Roop were, “Sammy, some day I will go to Colombia when the Lord permits.” So, in order to clear all doubts, I asked him, “What lord?” He answered, “The one who DOES and CAN DO all things.” I was impacted to hear something like this coming from someone who not too long ago declared himself an atheist.
My second friend, whom I will call “Lord Bern,” is one of the best pianists in the world, who I met in Bogota at the ceremony where Russell was given an important award for his tireless search for true peace. This character is rather idolized by his people. Blessed by his talent, which has taken him around the globe, he could be what most would consider “a diva.” In spite of his great public influence, he was almost not able to arrive to the boat. It took him great effort. He had to borrow gasoline, drive many hours and endure the discomfort of being a citizen of a country that does not permit its naturals to board any vessel easily. (Due to his great talent and influence, this is something he was not accustomed to.)
Lord Bern was impacted greatly upon hearing that our trip to the island was financed by a few personal savings that we had set apart (although we did not nearly have enough) for a volleyball tournament that our daughter Gaby had won her way to in Orlando, FL. When he asked us why, we told him that Grandpa had invited us and we felt this trip to visit him was what God wanted us to do with that money. By the end of the trip, Lord Bern had endeared himself to the children referring to them as his own grandchildren from Colombia. The grandchildren, that up till now, he and his wife have not been able to have. Before we left he said to us, “Meeting you has changed my wife and I.”
On this trip we tried to do some fishing, but even the bait was scarce on the island. The two times we went out we only caught two enormous BARRACUDAS, one on each occasion. It was then that I understood perfectly what the LORD had us doing on that island and in other hostile and undesirable areas we visit. The LORD has us fishing for BARRACUDAS. When the LORD called Peter and Andrew his brother and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:18-19 what He didn’t say, but what we have begun to learn over time, is that not all the fish are the same. Not all of them are at the same level of deepness, they don´t all have the same size and not all of them are attracted to the same kind of bait. The same thing happens with many men, in this case represented by Lord Roop and Lord Bern. This is unusual for us, but most definitely a marvelous thing of God. God has us fishing men that at first sight are a lot like barracudas. A class of fish that resemble serpents or piranhas and in many cases cannot even be eaten because their flesh is a poison to those who are not accustomed. What is true though, regardless, is that they are fish and the LORD wants to fish them and He is doing it.
Although the LORD may have others fishing “nicer” creatures, our share has been the barracudas. But who is to say that the LORD cannot make of barracudas a great dinner for His feast?
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