We had been in Miami for almost a week and were heading to Cuba the next day.
Maria, the religious programming director for EchoCuba, hung up the phone and shook her head no. It was becoming clear that seeing some of Echo’s programs firsthand would be impossible. However, she offhandedly mentioned that so-and-so had just arrived in Miami after having been kicked out of Cuba for facilitating the same programs. Maybe they’d be willing to talk with us.
A few phone calls later and we were sitting in the living room with Angel and Susana, the couple Maria had mentioned.
At the time, “kicked out of Cuba” flew right over our heads, and we never really considered what that meant for a person. The phrase could have been just as easily “sacrificed everything” or “gave up their entire lives.”
We also didn’t expect them to be 20 years old.
Angel and Susana, we learned over espressos, had arrived in Miami three months earlier. They were forced to leave Cuba for showings provocative films and facilitating discussion groups that focused on religious freedoms & evangelism—the exact programs we’d hoped to see. This entire movement was conceptualized by Cubans, funded by Americans, and managed by EchoCuba.
While Angel and Susana’s names and pictures could be used, we were asked not to disclose the name or locations of their program, because the ministry was still running under new facilitators.
Angel and Susana were in their early twenties, had been married for three years, and had left their entire lives in Cuba at a moment’s notice. The transition has been challenging, they explained. The first thing I noticed as we sat together was how bewildered they appeared, equal parts deer-in-headlights and exhaustion. They looked so young. Way too young to be shouldering a burden of exile, or to have carried a revolutionary program to the margins of society.
Angel had been a seminary student and on staff at a local church, and Susana was studying to be a librarian—a career assigned by the government. Moved by compassion toward a marginalized group of Cubans, they spent the first years of their marriage traveling to remote villages known for a particularly dangerous sect of Santería, a mix of Catholicism and voodoo, to show films like The Bible Series and the Passion of the Christ in Spanish.
The films were highly attended, Angel explained, because this event was the only form of entertainment around—and afterward, the group participated in open discussions about Christ and religious freedoms. Angel and Susana were able to establish formative relationships with young adults in the neighborhoods and were sheltered from the violence of that particular group of people due to the protection of these new friends.
As the community response grew, so did the exposure. Eventually the government learned (through community watchmen) that these films and discussions not only had evangelical undertones, but also inspired social and moral passions in young adults. Other films like Fireproof and October Baby showcased the American lifestyle and raised moral questions about things like abortion. Government officials began pressuring Angel’s church to stop him from hosting the films and discussions. If the church wasn’t able to stop Angel, the church would be forced to close.
But Angel believed the program, and the people the program was impacting, were too important to stop. Ultimately, the church told Angel they had to sacrifice one lamb (him) for the sake of the flock, and they fired him.
He and his new bride Susana suddenly had no income, but he felt the program needed to continue. EchoCuba, which had been funding the program in part, then picked up Angel’s salary, and he continued to travel around showing the films and facilitating discussions.
Angel and Susana knew it was risky to continue. In fact, they’d even organized a succession plan in advance so the program would continue even if something happened to them.
Eventually, of course, something did happen. They were visited by neighborhood watchmen and faced with two options: jail or exile.
They left their whole lives behind—their educations, families, friends and passions—and came to Miami. One day they were there, the next day they were here.
I didn’t even know what to say. I wanted to hug them and find a friend group for them and work out their transportation issues and plug them into a church and soothe them and make everything in the world okay for these two who had sacrificed everything for something that was so free to me, it was almost value-less. Movies? Talking?
I asked if they would do it again, knowing now what the consequence would be. I wanted to know if the programming was worth their entire lives.
Angel rubbed his face with his hands and sighed, “Without even thinking, YES,” he said. “If had known from the beginning we’d have only two years in those communities,” he continued, “I’d have taken more risks—more projects, publications, theater in the streets—anything to share the love of Christ and the freedom He offers.”
I was speechless and totally humbled.
Here my husband and I were stressing out about which job we should take when our year with World Next Door is finished because we don’t know which would most glorify God and meet our family goals, and these two were sitting across from us—our Cuban life parallels—unemployed and exiled because their jobs glorified God at the cost of all their family goals.
We thanked them for their perspective and sacrifice—they way they’d unknowingly inspired us to consider the bigger picture of lives and jobs and costs and purpose. In turn, they gave us every possible piece of advice they could think of, including which juice stands not to drink at, as we departed for the home they could no longer return to.