Retired but Not Gone Away / Mario Lleonart

On Friday, November 22, we made another stop on our U.S. itinerary that we will never forget. At the invitation of the Fellowship of Hispanic Churches, we participated in a tribute paid to retired pastors. Honor to whom honor is due, or as the Scripture says in Hebrews 13:7: ̈ Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you; Consider the result of their conduct, and imitate their faith.”

This special occasion took place in Gethsemane Baptist Church in Miami at 5298 NW 7th St. The meeting was full of fond feelings. The pastor of the local church Felipe Rodriguez, moderator of the radio program “Building Lives,” which airs daily from 7 – 8 p.m, on 1450 AM, who was in an evangelistic campaign in our church in Taguayabon in 1993 while serving as pastor in Regla, blessed everyone with a few inspired words from Galatians 1:6 – 2:5 from which he set out seven truths he learned from the honorable elders: the one called by God preaches the true gospel (1:6-7); is radical (1.8-10); has a divine message ( 1:11-12); is set apart by God’s grace (1:15); is prepared by God (1:17-18); preaches with his testimony (1:24); and identifies the false brethren and does not submit to them even for a moment (2:4-5).

My wife Yoaxis  and I had the blessing of greeting such worthy elders. To share the table with Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos, who prefers to be known as “Tony” the son of “Cheo”, showed us that even if they are retired they have by no means gone away. Some of them we knew from Cuba, as in the case of those who were our pastors in my early childhood: Isabel and Esteban Estrada, as well as Dora and Leoncio Veguilla, who for years occupied the highest offices of our Association in Cuba.

I was moved to find there the widow of former Taguayabon pastor Obed Guzman, the moderator for many years of the “Baptist Hour” program in Miami that we listened to from Cuba. It was also very moving for us to to be embraced by the widow of the great Jorge Comezañas. One of the most beautiful moments was the wedding sendoff of Rafael Melian (Felo) and Miriam Sánchez Parodi, who will move to Jacksonville in January.

The author with one of those retired but not gone away, Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos, along with the leaders Pablo Miret and Luis Estevez

The author with one of those retired but not gone away, Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos, along with the leaders Pablo Miret and Luis Estevez

As a continuation of Friday, on Sunday morning I attended the first service of Northside Baptist Church Pastor Adalberto Cuellar, also retired, who baptized my parents and many other relatives in Cuba because he was pastor at our church in Taguayabon in the hardest times, just as they got up the nerve to put a stamp on our door between November 1963 and December 1964. In our area, the work of this man of God, who remained unwavering in difficult times, still survives.

Leaders like Pablo Miret, Andrés Olivares, Luis Estevez, and Nathaniel Vicens struggled and performed a work of genuine servants “washing the feet” of so many heroes and reaching the goal. I embrace them for the gracious invitation and thank them for the master’s class that was given to me that day, fantastic for my ministry in the midst of an aging country, in the most-aged province, and with the fate of lacking an entire generation of senior pastors who, like most of those present that day, had to leave Cuba in a choice that I do not judge, as a result of one of the greatest persecutions that we believers have suffered in the entire continent.

Translated by Tomás A.

25 November 2013

Eric Metaxas’s “Bonhoeffer” / Mario Lleonart

By Mario Félix Lleonart

If the only benefit of my recent trip to the United States had been to find and bring back to Cuba with me the biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, it would have been worth it. As I’ve always declared, that martyr of the German church is an inspiration for my life, and thus for this “Confessing Cuban” blog.

During the recent days of detention and house arrest accompanying the shameful repressive crackdown (as we should always characterize it when mentioning the Second CELAC Summit in Havana), the work of Metaxas was my bedside book. A text like this, regardless of my circumstances, reaffirms my faith and my convictions of social justice emanating from the Bible.

In my recent reading (since several more are required) of chapter seven, “Bonhoeffer in America,” recounting the pastor’s nearly yearlong stay (1930-31) in that great country, I identified strongly because of my similar experience during the four months I just lived through. Continue reading

"The Student" and #ShameOnUnitedNations / Mario Lleonart

Poster for the campaign #ShameOnUnitedNations. By Rolando Pulido.

The beginning and end of yesterday were inextricably linked.

I woke up to the publication on Facebook, by my brother Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo of the recently initiated campaign, and we’ll be waging it as along as the United Nations remains occupied by regimes tied to terrorist, or which are guilty of State Terrorism.

Independently of each of the faces on this poster, my soul is touched by all the martyrs, the victims of the feudal government that reigns in Cuba. The first of them, Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, nicknamed “The Student,” moved me deeply, for being the face of a friend, whose story of life and death God involved me in during the last year of his life, the irrevocable proof of which is my tweet of May 5, 2011 at 11:55 a.m., a few minutes after the he was fatally beaten.

At the closing of the night I was sent “The Price,” by its composer, Ciro Javier Díaz Penedo dedicated to my assassinated friend.

The death of “The Student” — nicknamed this for his early imprisonment when he was only sixteen — invalidates the bad government in Cuba, not only for a seat on the UN but also for the chair that it occupies there. The worst thing is that there are many more deaths, a multitude of faces far beyond those shown on the poster; and the worst of the worst is that 148 States have become accomplices.

14 November 2013

“Prince of Peace” Around My Neck / Mario Lleonart

Preaching the Gospel: Prince of Peace Lutheran Church

When I was just a kid, discriminated against in Cuba for attending the Baptist Church of my town, I could not imagine that one day I would receive the special Prince of Peace honor that is granted by the Lutheran Church on 6375 West Flager in Miami.

Every Sunday before going to Sunday school, I would listen to the program “Ayer, hoy y siempre” (Yesterday, today and forever) on radio WQBA “La Cubanísima” on 1140 AM. And Good Friday was not truly Good Friday if I did not listen to the “Sermon of the Seven Words” presented by the pastor, Reverend Lenier Gallardo, on the same radio frequency.

Receiving the medal from the hands of Rev. Lenier Gallardo

I had the blessing of being present when the same medal was conferred to Reverend Marcos Antonio Ramos who honors the name of the Baptists among the Cubans in exile. He gave an extraordinary sermon about the “Day of the Protestant Reformation” and later the Reverend Lenier Gallardo put the meaningful medal on his neck. What I didn’t imagine was that the next Sunday the same scene was repeated for me. It had been years since the church had given its symbolic award.

With Rev. Lenier Gallardo after ceremony

To be so close to and shake hands with two men of God as the Rev. Lenier Gallardo and Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos are for Cuba was already enough. But being feted with the Prince of Peace medal at the hands of the saint that is the Rev. Lenier Gallardo was more than I could dream of. Receiving the blessing and the affection from these spiritual leaders of the exile strengthens my commitment and responsibility to the Gospel of Christ for Cuba. Hopefully I can reach the level of the ministries that they have achieved.

The award to Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos a week before, celebrating the Day of the Protestant Reformation

Translated by Boston College CASA (Cuban American Association) Member: Elio Andres Oliva

14 November 2013

The Welcome of Our Brothers in the USA / Mario Lleonart

US churches and ministeries plus the media and secular institutions are giving us a warm welcome.

Tomorrow at 9 am we will participate in the special service dedicated to the Protestant Reform Day that will be celebrated at 9 am in the Lutheran Church “Prince of Peace” (6375 West Flager Street, Miami, FL 33144).  We were invited by its pastor Lenier Gallardo; we listened to him from Cuba for many years preaching a liberating gospel through the program “Yesterday, Today and Always” or through his famous sermons of seven words each Holy Friday, through WQBA.  In this special service the sermon will be provided by the Baptist pastor, also a prolific writer, journalist and historian, Marcos Antonio Ramos, and with whom we already had the honor of sharing at Miami Dade College.

Then at 11 am we wiil have the responsibility of preaching in the New Jerusalem Baptist Church at 760 SE 8 St in Hialeah, invited by its pastor Luis Estevez.  We already did it at Adonai and Mi Ebenezer, invited by its pastor Moises Robaina; at Estrella de Belen, invited by its pastor Javier Sotolongo; at Bethel, invited by its pastor Gerardo Garcia and at Nazaret, invited by its pastor Noel Perez.

We have also been invited to the Baptist program of Multicultural Radio (UNAVISION RADIO), to several programs of the services of “Onward” by 1450 AM; and to the program of Life (1080 AM) and Radio Luz by 1360 AM, this last can be heard perfectly in Cuba, and we had the unforgettable opportunity of being heard by our brothers there.

To top it off, pastor Javier Sotolongo gave us the opportunity to exercise a professorship in the Miami Bible College that he directs.  The live transmission of his church services permitted us to reach with our preaching many around the world, including those who had the privileged and very exclusive possibility of accessing from Cuba.

We are receiving invitations to go share with churches and ministries in other cities and states like Tampa, Atlanta, Dallas, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey and Indiana.  We were already in Washington DC where one of our most important stops occurred: the visit to the headquarters of the World Baptist Alliance where we were received by the unforgettable brother Raimundo Barreto who directs the Commission of Justice and Liberty there; in Oklahoma where we met courageous brothers, typical inhabitants of the not coincidentally named Bible Belt of the United States. We thank God for offering us the excellent opportunity of also proclaiming his Word on this shore where we also have found so much of Cuba present.

Translated by mlk.

26 October 2013

Visiting the USA / Mario Lleonart

Alongside a national poster campaign announced in November by Billy Graham.

Contrary to predictions since 9/11 my wife and I are in USA.  It has been so intense that the time to write in my blog Cubano Confesante has been null.  But now is the time, in the midst of a tight agenda I will attempt to stamp a few lines where we’ll provide testimony, at least the most important parts of our stay in the nation of our admired Billy Graham.

Translated by – LYD

1 October 2013

The Same Dream, for Cuba / Mario Lleonart

1377651836_Una-de-las-diapositivas-de-mi-sermón-este-domingo-300x225Text of the poster: Christian Cubans also have received all the divine means Martin Luther King had at his disposition to combat evil. God willing we make use of them.  

This Wednesday, August 28 marks 50 years since the famous march on Washington lead by Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) demanding the recognition of rights of African-Americans. From Cuba, I follow the example of this hero of faith. To these oppressors who constantly threaten and stalk beneath the taboo that Christians should not get involved in politics today I return to give the example of the life, work and homily of this pastor baptised as I am. And I warn you; watch out for me if God gives me the opportunity, as he had, some day to participate, too, in a march on Havana where I will express that I also have a dream, similar to that of Reverend King, “With all and for all Cubans.”

27 August 2013

Orange Juice Runs Through My Veins / Mario Lleonart

Not even I understand how much those nearly eight months — from 30 November 1993 to 28 July 1994 — affected the rest of my life. I was used as cheap and reliable labor, exposed to hard labor in the citrus harvest, to the substantial economic benefit of the Cuban regime and the Grupo B.M. y Waknine & Berezovsky Co. Ltd. Over the years now I hve come to understand that it was a chapter God had for me. The experiences I went through had to do with things far beyond what I imagine, given all that I have been and done since then.

My friend Omar Lopez Montenegro whom I met last June on my trip to Poland excitedly tells his experience at the famous Pre-University of de la Víbora, a site which has also been immortalized thanks to another of its graduates, the writer Leonardo Padura Fuentes, who turned this mythical place into the origin of the backstory of his character detective Mario Conde.

The joint non-violent resistence of Omar and other friends prevented some gatekeepers from cutting their long hair during a period of mobilization in the field. I lived something similar in Boom 400 of the EJT (Ejercito de Trabajo Juvenil, or the Youth Labor Army) and above all the vivid outrages will stay with me forever.

After walking for three months among the concentration camps adjacent to the towns of San Jose Torriente and San José de Marcos, they made us return to that of Socorro en Pedro Betancourt. Supposedly from this Boom 400, which was our original camp, the suppliies assigned to us should have arrived, but we received nothing during those three months during which we wandered on some supposed mission whose high work goals were never met.

During those three months we didn’t even get a pass to go to our homes. We felt sorry for ourselves. Our clothes were dirty and ragged as could be. Most of us were walking barefoot, a few with broken boots. One of the generals named Acebedos came by for inspections and called us “the shirtless”, and a relaxed captain in the camp next to Torrientes, seemingly moved by compassion, told us — pointing at his massive gut: “Don’t be discouraged boys, I lost this belly in the army”.

On returning to our original camp, we held out the hope that things might change, but on arrival, a new unit chief met us: a Navy captain whose punishment was being sent to the EJT. And I became aware of another characterisic of this invincible army: it was the punishment site for MININT, Armed Forces, and even Navy officers.

For us, the officer’s reception was to inform us that we’d just arrived at Boom 400, and we had to earn all we asked for. An additional answer to our worries was the delivery of immense Chinese machetes, and after a miserable lunch, he made us go to some place infested with the invasive marabú weed that we had to pull up and prepare for the planting of citrus.

That was more than a humiliation. Supposedly, in those conditions we didn’t cut even one marabú, our patience having completely dripped away, so even better we organized and so it was like that night in May 1994 when, in protest, the complete squad deserted and we agreed that nobody would return for at least a week. The silent exit from the camp and the trip, one by one, through the orange orchards towards the national highway where in a matter of minutes we undertook a course towards Las Villas, were the most glorious moments of those eight months of abuse.

On our return, at least those who returned — some never did — we were subject to trial in the camp’s ampitheater, seeking an answer: “Who had been the leader?” The end of the trial consisted in the delivery of the supplies they’d deprived us of for the last eight months, our manner of nonviolent protest showed the vulnerability of those who thought they had power and made us discover that power was really in our hands.

The en masse desertion of an EJT squad had made the news all over the island and uncovered corruption in high places. Although I was liberated, that unforgettable July 28, 1994, I can’t deny that since then, orange juice runs through my veins.

Translated by: JT

12 August 2013

My Youth Labor Army (EJT) / Mario Lleonart

They undoubtedly ordered the official press panegyrics in honor of the Youth Labor Army (EJT) for its forty years of existence. Between the two national newspapers they share the responsibility and take turns with articles such as, “At the end of the line,” “EJT: an undefeated army,” “Force for youth training,” and “Immersed in the EJT is the transformation of the Cuban economy.”

This same press hasn’t said a single work about the scandalous traffic in arms carried out by the founder (i.e. Fidel Castro) of the Military Units in Aid of Production (UMAP) and its successor, the EJT, in cahoots with his counterparts in North Korea; but that they carry on about a topic that concerns me because in one of those concentration camps they stole eight months of my life twenty years ago.

Colonel Pedro Duardo Mendez, Head of Territorial Headquarters of the Western Railway, quoted in one article, said that the EJT “was forces composed of Active Military Service (SMA) soldiers, usually with family or financial problems.” But they took me for the same reason they mobilized those in UMAP: my condition as an evangelical believer that meant I wasn’t reliable enough to be in the real army, the care and safeguard of the regime.

This same official said that the EJT recruits “have a salary that depends on their monthly production… They work in the interest of developing our country’s economy and at the same time receive a pay package for the solution of their economic problems.” But when I left the EJT I had to pay them a debt of almost 200 Cuban pesos to be released.

He said he also interviewed soldiers “recruited in places near their homes. to facilitate the work and the assistance,” but they took me 100 miles from my house and met young people in those camps who’s been brought from the easternmost areas of the country and could barely visit their homes once a year.

The journalist Eduardo Palomares in the 5 August edition of Granma (which, by the way has not dedicated a single word to the nineteenth anniversary of Maleconazo), said: “For a long time considered the country’s most productive force… they envisioned leading the way to the aspiration planned by Army General Raul Castro, in which the EJT will always be a highly efficient institution.”

And it’s undeniable, just like in the UMAP, the main objective of EJT is to make the most of young people forced to work, especially in forced labor in which it is not easy to voluntarily engage people, at least not with the paltry wages they earned.

It has to be efficient, this consortium provider of cheap labor to other companies, with the additional guarantee of total control of slaves without rights who are subjected to all kinds of abuse and harassment to perform the tasks that nobody else wants to do.

In this regard my twenty years of experience in the citrus groves of Jagüey Grand remains fresh in my mind, producing large gains for an Israeli company in dealings with the regime that served us to them on a silver platter along with our oranges.

But I know for a fact that the forced labor workers today are forced to work laying railway lines, performing specialized tasks of so-called regional companies of the Union of Railways, hard work and underpaid, done by these young people, some of whom, if they mange to finish the two years they “owe to the regime” unscathed, end up with their spines traumatized for the rest of their lives.

They end up “rallying the troops” after forcefully “squeezing them dry” in exchange for a measly cents to be investing in their own food and things which are deducted from their wages. That is our undefeated EJT.

7 August 2013

The 40th Anniversay of the Youth Labor Army (EJT) / Mario Lleonart

This week I will dedicate my post to what is called the Youth Labor Army (EJT), on the 40th anniversary of its creation, which is Saturday, August 3, and nineteen years since my release from its “ranks,” which occurred on July 28.

This so-called Army, created in 1973, it’s said, from a merger of the Centennial Youth Column (CJC) and the Permanent Infantry Divisions (DIP), had its true antecedent in the dark Military Units in Aid of Production (UMAP), which were dissolved in 1968 in the face of global condemnation given its undeniable and unmasked reality of being concentration camps in which the Cuban regime committed crimes for which they still haven’t answered, but for which they will undoubtedly have to pay one day, no matter how much they try to erase the traces of that terribly black period.

Five years after dismantling these UMAP camps, they were reorganized with the new euphemism of EJT. Of course, it wasn’t simply a change of initials, five years between death and resurrections were sufficient to draw the experiences and to try to do the same thing but with different appearances.

I experienced it first hand in the EJT, for almost eight months, exploitations and humiliations greater than any I’ve been subjected to in my life. Between 230 November 1993 and 28 July 1994, I felt like a real slave. When people ask me if I was ever a soldier I respond categorically no, but yes, I was a prisoner under the false facade of completing Active Military Service (SMA) in EJT Boom 400, a concentration camp located one mile from the 119 Kilometer mark on the national highway. The nearest community is called Soccoro, which belongs to the Pedro Betancourt municipality in the province of Matanzas.

Despite being there barely eight months I knew two other concentration camps to which we were sent to serve our “mission” on the part of Boom 400, one very close to Torrientes, and the other at San Jose de Marcos, two villages of the municipality Jagüey Grande.

In these three military units in support of citrus production we were cheap and safe manual labor for the regime which at that time had strong business in this area with Israeli companies.

One of the biggest contradictions I experienced, by the way, in those dark days was to constantly wonder why there was this Zionist capitalist complicity with the totally anti-Zionist regime that didn’t even allow an embassy from the State of Israel. For me, educated from my early childhood in a Baptist community that instilled in me a love for the Jews and taught me to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, this was one of the greatest tortures that accompanied every drop of sweat and cursing.

Reading the autobiography “After Captivity, Freedom,” by my friend Luis Bernal Lumpuy, which includes the traumatic experiences of the author in the UMAP camps forced me to remember, by association, my sad experiences in the EJT and therefore I dedicate to him my brief written this week, with the certainty that both of us will finally see a Cuba free of these gross violations of fundamental human rights. And also of tyrants bred to create concentration camps such as UMAP or EJT, taking advantages of the students of Stalin, who highlighted similar experiences in Siberia, and the partners of the current regime, experts in this type of prison where they perform cruel experiments on humans, such as North Korea, our currently favored ally, as confirmed by the warmongering world adventure laid bare in Panama.

5 August 2013

Getting a doctorate: Published while they are celebrating the opening ceremony in Havana of the first course in a Doctorate in Theology in Cuba / Mario Lleonart

When my wife Yoaxis Marcheco and I not did not find our names on the list of those enrolled for the doctorate in theology (PhD) course to be offered for the first time in Cuba, after a strong year in a preparatory course, offered by the FIET Theological Institute (Argentina) in collaboration with the FTS of Londrina; when we discovered that our two names were the only ones absent; when we realized that we were the object of evident political discrimination; it is likely that our first reaction was human, because none of this is foreign. When we discovered ourselves not even among the guests at the opening ceremony this Sunday, June 9 at 7 pm at Los Pinos Nuevos Church in Calle Suárez, Habana Vieja, is likely that we felt excluded.

Now that July 9th has come the situation has changed unimaginably. Originally we thought of going for the occasion to Havana and at least sitting on the pews of the Church in silent protest. But, what is our situation today?

I cannot be in Havana as I thought because I’m in Gdansk, the place of the shipyards in which the Communist regime in Poland saw the birth of its collapse. In the midst of this we never dreamed, nor much less planned to receive so many proposals in order to achieve our doctorates.

Precisely on this same day the 9th, as a sign from heaven, an Argentine friend, Micaela Hierro, has come to Gdansk to greet us from Germany where he did his first year of a doctorate. And he came in a hurry because the following morning he must be present in his classroom. And it has left us very encouraged in this regard.

The question for us today is, where to do it? Of the universities that are offering us options which offer so we accept? South America, Europe, USA or Africa? What programs suit us more, us and Cuba? Frankly we wanted no more than what was offered in Havana, in our own land, in this project of FIET and the FTS, but the possibilities and proposals are more diversified than we ever imagined.

Our year of pre-doctoral studies (nivelación) with Professor Alberto Roldán of Argentina was extremely motivating for us. This excellent teacher, who directs the digital magazine “Teologia and Cultura,” guided us to the reading of authors and sources not common to Cuba. Frankly he planted in us “the bug” of the study of theology as a source of empowerment and we were ready for this doctorate which will take us further along the path of the so-called “political theology.”

The stab made by the dictatorship through its Office of Attention to Religious Matters (Oficina de Atención a los Asuntos Religiosos) of the Committee Central of the Communist Party of Cuba has only resulted in our facing, today, the difficult decision of choosing between various and tempting options. It is not that it has eliminated the only option that was offered to us: it is that they have multiplied them for us. And we are going to do it! For the glory of God and for the benefit of Cuba.

9 June 2013

An Office that is unnecessary, and that never should have been / Mario Lleonart

The members of our church are victims of a constant process of pressure, intimidation, blackmail, coercion and even recruitments in the midst of a psychological Cold War, whose ultimate goal would be my long-awaited resignation or recall as pastor.

This shows the double standard of this regime, whose agents, in the arbitrary detention that they put me in on Wednesday, October 12, 2011, and in an effort to pressure me so that I would sign an official written warning, to which of course I did not agree, they officially threatened me so that I would focus on my pastoral activity and leave aside my social concerns, as though these were not two sides of the same coin. The sad thing is that, in practice these are the same agents, sheltered by the highly overrated political Office in Havana, who hinder and obstruct everything I try to do in my community, basically.

 But the epitome that, as pastor I find myself in the painful decision to denounce, is that that Office, not satisfied with this dirty policy of constant interference to my pastoral work, which moreover has not yet given the expected result, taking advantage of its power to grant or reject permits, extend or withdraw privileges, in extreme cruelty, and in the unforgivable stance of “making the believers fight,” in order to interfere with our evangelistic mission to the people (John 17, 21), has extended permissions and privileges to another congregation unfortunately fitting, to the honored Evangelical Pentecostal work known as “Good News,” so that, in a first phase, it would prohibit them from any type of relationship, not only with me or my family, but with any member of our church; they were forbidden to invite us to their activities, or to attend those to which we cordially invited them.

After this discriminatory and segregational posture towards the brothers, worthy of the words of the Second Epistle of the apostle John (verses 9-10) concerning the tyrannical leadership of Diotrophes; the sad thing is that this congregation with privileges easy to see for our community and everyone knows at what cost, has passed through a sad phase which consists of putting a first priority on evangelistic work for which there is more than enough land among our people (“the harvest is plentiful but the workers few”), an aggressive proselytism and without dissimulation obviously addressed to the members of our local church in order to grasp whichever of our brothers it can (that in Evangelical Cuban slang is known as “fishing in another’s pond”), without taking into account either the most minimum rule of ethics, and in which sadly they already have reaped some fruits.

Someday the history of this sad period of Christianity in Cuba will be written, in which our case unfortunately does not constitute an exception, and it will be strong enough to discover information and facts that will leave the skeptics astonished. Then perhaps we will know how much damage this Office caused, what excess, and what never should have been, to the church in Cuba, “Although its gates shall not prevail against it.”

In the meantime I have the most precious thing, that God who is my help and strength and who is also my witness of these brief accusations that constitute only a point at the tip of the iceberg that is the violation of religious freedom in Cuba.

20 May 2013