Wednesday, February 27, 2013

chapter 8 Juan

Juan Oro was married to Enrique’s aunt Tia Fela. He was a Spaniard who had come to America from Cuba. He was a hard worker in the migrant fields. When he was in his late 60’s he took sick with cancer. Enrique went to visit him in their apartment in ‘Little Havana’ in Miami. Juan liked Enrique.
Part of the Cuban culture is the older men and the younger men form a certain bond. Both groups learn from each other. There is not the disconnect between the generations. Juan talked with Enrique man to man. “Listen, before this cancer takes all the dignity out of my manhood...” Juan reached over to a drawer and showed Enrique a gun, "I'm going to take care of my own business." Juan feared his cancer was going to incapacitate him. He wasn’t going to be a burden to his wife.
“I hear you, man.” Said Enrique.
“Don't tell anyone.”
Enrique nodded.
Juan had not told anybody about the gun. He had to tell someone so he told Enrique.
Months went by and Juan kept getting worse. Enrique couldn’t get Juan’s gun out of his mind. He called his mom. “I’m going to tell you something that Juan told me when he found out he had cancer. He said when the time came when he couldn’t take care of himself, he had a gun.”
“A gun?” asked his mom. “What do you mean?”
“He’s going to shoot himself.”
“How do you know this?” she asked.
“He told me,” said Enrique. “He pulled open a drawer to show me the gun he's going to use on himself.”
Enrique’s mom took action. She called Juan’s wife and others in the family. They searched the apartment, found the gun and made sure Juan would never again get access to another one.
Enrique had betrayed his uncle’s trust. How could he face him again? He stayed away. But as time went on and Juan grew worse his mother kept at Henry. “You need to go see your uncle! You're ungrateful. Where's your sense of loyalty to your family? He likes you. Don’t say you’re too busy.”
There was no way Enrique was going to see him. But then,  Juan got really bad. He was at the hospital in intensive care. Enrique’s mom was livid. Enrique knew he had to see him, but he was ashamed.
Enrique shared the story of his uncle at the Bible study at Bob Beer's house. “I’m so burdened for him,” said Enrique. Here I know the gospel and I know he’s never heard it.” “Let’s pray for him, and we will pray for you” said Bob. He strongly encouraged Enrique to see Juan.
So the next day with a bit of help from a couple of beers and a marijuana joint, Enrique walked into the ICU ward. His uncle was awake, but he was so hooked up with tubes he couldn’t talk. He looked up at Enrique.
“What’s he thinking about,” thought Enrique. “Is he thinking that he’s where he is at, just lying there like a rag, because I ratted him out?”
Enrique started talking. He was very emotional. “Please forgive me,” he said. “What could I do? I knew I was the only one you told about the gun. If you killed yourself…but what could I do? I’m sorry I sold you out. I am so embarrassed. That’s why I didn’t come to see you. I couldn’t. I’ll tell you what. I’ll bring you another gun. You can shoot me first before you shoot yourself.”
Juan just stared and listened.
Enrique kept talking. “I got to tell you about something, Juan. You’re close to death. You’ve got to face it. You know Juan, they lied to us. Our whole religious system, it’s a sham. The only thing it's for is to keep people under its bondage, and to take our money.”
“But Juan, this is the truth. God does love us. And He knows we’re sinners. He knows we can’t save ourselves. He knew none of us could ever be good enough. God loves us so much He sent His Son Jesus into the world. He knew we were helpless. So Jesus Christ died for my sins, Juan. He died for your sins. It was He, the One who never sinned that could alone pay for our sins by dying for them."
“So God gives us forgiveness and salvation as a gift. It had to be a gift Juan. There’s no way we could pay for it. It was way too costly. You know we couldn’t earn it. He had to do it Himself. And He had to give it to us for free."
“The Bible says that the one condition is, we have to believe it and take it as a gift.”
Tears started coming out of Juan. “Oh my goodness,” thought Enrique. “He is so ticked off. He would love to totally kick me, but he can’t do it because he’s stuck in bed.”
Then it began to dawn on Enrique. “Could it be that he is crying because he actually believes what I just told him?” He thought, “Can it be? Nah, it ain’t like that.”
Then all of a sudden Enrique says to Juan. “You okay? You’ve got to let me know. Is the reason you’re crying because you believe what I just told you? If it is, squeeze my hand.”
Juan didn’t just squeeze his hand. He pumped it, and he pumped it for as long as Enrique held his hand there. Juan was crying for joy. He believed. He knew the Lord Jesus was His Savior, his own personal Savior. God had saved him! Enrique left Juan overwhelmed. He had never had an experience like that. He wondered if he personally had ever had experienced what Juan just had.
Enrique told the Christians at his church. They rejoiced.
In less than a week, Juan was dead. All Cubans appear to be good Catholics when they die because the family always gives them a big Catholic burial. But Juan never went to church. He had left his religion behind a long time ago. Enrique told his mother, “It's a farce if you give Juan a Roman Catholic burial! He didn’t believe it.” He said to his mom, “Juan got saved when I visited him at the hospital. I was with him when he received the Lord Jesus as his Savior. If you give Juan a Catholic funeral, it will be like slapping him in the face.”
His mom listened. She talked with the family. In the Cuban culture, people tend to accept others for who they are. Juan’s widow agreed that when Juan was alive he would have nothing to do with religion, so she asked Enrique’s mom, “If we don’t go with a Catholic funeral, what are we going to do?”
His mom talked to Enrique. “Don't tell me your going to be like those hippies that find fault with everything but don't do anything about it. Why don’t you say something at the funeral? You opened your mouth, so put your money where your mouth is.”
Enrique hadn't thought anyone would actually listen to him. Now what?
He called Bob Beers. What should he say at the funeral?
“Tell them exactly what happened with Juan,” said Bob.
So Enrique preached his first gospel message. He told the people at the funeral how Juan came to know the Lord Jesus. He explained why they weren’t doing a big Catholic funeral. He expounded on Christ raising Lazarus in John 11, and he preached on the believer’s hope in the Resurrection.
It was a good message. Perhaps hearts were touched. They certainly wondered at it. Many had never heard such things before. But Enrique still felt like something was not quite right. Lisa’s parents were convinced something was not quite right. They wanted Lisa to get away from him and they offered to make arrangements for her to go off and study in Paris.

chapter 7 lisa

Enrique tried to be careful with the friends with whom he now spent time. Along with his Christian friends, Enrique still hung out with Jorge. He was a good friend. He was like a brother to Enrique. They had attended Jesuit School together. Enrique was close to Jorge's father and had spent many days at a time in Jorge's home when they were younger. Jorge had been a good student and he was now in business with his father.

His cousin was visiting from Spain and had a girlfriend who was staying at a cabana (beach house). Jorge suggested that they go with his cousin to visit her. They arrived to lots of activity. His cousin’s girlfriend was there chaperoning several of her younger sister's friends who were celebrating their graduation from high school. One of those friends immediately caught Enrique’s eye, and not only because she was the only Gringo (an American). She was tall and gorgeous. Enrique liked the sound of her voice. He really liked her laugh. He went over to talk with her. Her eyes lit up. He kept returning to talk to her. He was pretty sure if he asked her out she would agree. He wondered if this was a good thing to do, but he asked anyway.   

Shortly after first date he got right to the point. “I’m a Christian,” he told her. “I don’t think it’s really right for a Christian to go out with someone who is not a Christian.”

Lisa was bewildered. She was a Christian. Her family went to an Episcopal Church. They believed in God. They were solid people and their morals were high. He told her about his church. He asked her to come with him next Sunday. No guy had ever asked her to do that before. She agreed.

When he picked her up, Lisa was looking good, really good. She had on a new dress. She was wearing high heels. She had a look of youth and of vibrancy. When they walked into the meeting, the ladies had their hair up in buns, and mantillas or modest hats covered their heads. People spoke quietly and reverently between meetings. The church had little cups of Kool-aid for during their break time. What was going on here? Lisa wanted to know. Was he into some kind of a Jim Jones type of cult?

But she kept coming to church with him. Many times when the Beers family had Enrique over for lunch, Lisa came too. She liked the people and they liked her. She was impressed with the reality of their worship and their love for the Lord Jesus.

Enrique felt something for Lisa that he had never felt towards a woman before. They dated for three years. They would break up, but neither could stand being apart, so they kept getting back together. One day Lisa was in a serious car accident. She was knocked unconscious. Her mother was with her when she started coming to. Lisa kept calling out, “Where’s Henry? Where’s Henry?" (Henry is the English name for Enrique).

Lisa’s mom wondered. She called up Henry. “Are you secretly married to her?” she asked.

During these three years, Enrique—or Henry—moved slowly, steadily towards living in two distinct worlds. Just as when he was a boy, Henry lived within the Cuban world at home and the American world at school; now he lived both in the church world and the world of a fun loving young American Cuban man. He learned as a boy how to keep his two worlds separate. He did the same now.

Henry was tall and muscular. Henry was hired as a bouncer by a big promotional company for rock concerts. He loved music. He was paid to be at the concerts for security for these rock stars. He was in demand as a bouncer so he could be selective. There was not a big name band that came to Miami that Henry was not at their concert, or on their stage, or in their rooms. If any trouble arose, Henry would take care of it. He loved doing that too. Nobody messed with Henry.

Henry understood the taboos his new church had on smoking, drinking, dancing, and going to shows. Not a hint was given to his church friends of what his world was like outside of their assembly lives.

Not long after Henry starting going out with Lisa, Bob Beers’ son died in a tragic accident. He was only 16. Henry had been to many funerals. He had never been to one like this before. Henry came to the funeral expecting to see the agonizing displays of grief that were common with Cubans. He was ready to see the indescribable pain displayed by women holding onto the casket, wailing and refusing to let go. He expected to see his good friend Bob Beers folded up into a cocoon of quiet grief.

Instead, Bob was the one who prayed at his son’s funeral. He thanked the Lord for giving him and his wife Betty 16 years with their son. He praised God for His kindness for each of the 16 years. He said he understood that each of those years on earth was only a temporary gift. Then he worshiped the Lord. "I thank Thee Father, for the wonder that You gave up Your only Son, so that I might have mine in Glory for all of eternity."

Bob continued in his prayer, “if only one person comes to know the Lord Jesus as their own personal Savior, then my son’s death will be more than worth it, as much it hurts now.”

A preacher got up and explained the Passover lamb. God’s wrath had sent the avenging angel through Egypt to kill every first born son. “But God provided a lamb to be sacrificed so the shed blood could be applied to the lintel and the two door posts. When the avenging angel came, when God saw the blood, he would pass over those who were in the houses under the blood. On the basis of the blood they were saved from the awful wrath of God.”

The preacher quoted John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world.” He quoted I John 1:7, “For the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.”

He then asked those who were at thefuneral, “Are you under the blood? Have you ever gotten under the blood?" He implored, "If you've never gotten under the blood, do so right now! Receive Jesus Christ, God's Son, to save you from the wrath of God. Come today. Come under the blood that you might be saved.”

For the first time Lisa saw herself as outside the protection of the blood. She realized she needed Christ to be saved. And on that day, at that very moment, she put herself under the blood.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

chapter 6 bible bob

Enrique became angry toward the Catholic Church when he understood that the Bible taught salvation was totally unmerited; that it was given through Jesus Christ as a free gift to be received by those who believed.

He mockingly said to the priests, "Now I know why you don't want Catholics reading the Bible. If they do, they'll find out they don't need you anymore.”

Enrique had read I Tim 2:5, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” He understood its implications. “People get saved by coming directly to Jesus Christ. They don’t need any other mediator because Jesus is the only mediator,” he told the priest in his classroom. “People don’t need the Church to bring them to God. “If people started reading their Bibles, you wouldn’t be able to get their money from them!"

This was when Enrique was in ninth grade. It was also Enrique's last year in Jesuit school.

As he lost respect for the priests’ theology, he also lost respect for their authority. His behavior deteriorated. He was called into the principal’s office repeatedly. Despite his family’s connections, his parents were told Enrique would not be permitted to continue in Catholic school.

Though he did not understand it at the time, the Jesuits had taught him that he was responsible to figure out for himself what was real and what was false. Part of the Jesuit mission is to teach people to use their reasoning. As an example, a priest asked the students in Enrique’s class if it was right to smoke a cigarette while praying? The kids were aghast. “No!” they exclaimed. The priest continued: “So what if someone is smoking out on the beach and he sees a beautiful sunset. And that person prays, ‘Dear God, thank you for such a beautiful sunset.' Is it okay that he prays while he is smoking?"

Enrique did not understand at that time that though his mind was filled with the truth of the gospel, his heart had not yet been converted to the person of the Lord Jesus. His love for sin only increased as he had lost his fear of a coming judgment.

Yet his new understanding of a ‘works free’ salvation had become part of his psyche. Because he felt so unlike any of his friends, his emotions were dark. Anyone critical of anything in others would fill him with sadness. Life around him seemed to have so many problems. He looked for anything to drown out his feelings and his fears.

He went to a Christian youth outreach called The Ranch. There they had many activities. They sang and talked about the Bible. But Enrique couldn’t make a connection with the kids. They were too different from him.

At age 17, against his earlier principles, he began using marijuana with his friends. He had never so enjoyed himself, or had such a wonderful escape from his troubled feelings.

When Enrique started community college he decided to buckle down. Without any help from a girlfriend, he did well. He chose his course of studies and he stayed focused. But Enrique knew where to find a good time, and gradually his motivation diminished and his good grades declined.

While in school, he found a job as an installer/repairman for Southern Bell. He dreamed of becoming a millionaire. His happiness consisted of doing whatever was out there to have fun. He gambled, fished, caroused and he liked women. All those things needed money.

His foreman at Southern Bell was a man everyone called BB. His name was Bob Beers, but his employees understood BB to stand for Bible Bob. The other men warned Enrique about him. But one day BB got Enrique by himself and began to witness to him.

“I know Jesus died for my sins,” Enrique told him. “I’m a Christian.”

“You!?” said BB. “You’re a Christian?” He could hardly contain his astonishment.

Enrique had hair past his shoulders. He dressed good. He swore even better. “I am,” said Enrique. “I know Jesus died for all my sins.”

“If you’re a Christian,” asked BB, “then why don’t you act like a Christian?”

“What are you talking about?” asked Enrique.

“If you’re a Christian, why do you hang around with the crowd you do? Why do you talk the way you talk? Why do you go with the boys to the bars after work?”

Enrique was confused. Bob Beers quoted I Peter 1:16 and Ephesians 2:10. “Be holy for I am holy.” “We are created in Christ Jesus to do good works." 

He asked Enrique, “Don’t you know that Jesus did not die for our sins so we could just keep on sinning?”

Enrique listened. It seemed to make sense what Bob was saying. He thought he understood. So he said to himself, “Okay, I’m a Christian, and if Christians don’t smoke, I need to quit smoking. If Christians don’t cuss, I need to quit cussing.”

He cut his hair. He stopped smoking marijuana and he stopped drinking. He ended his promiscuousness.

He did not yet understand that Christians behave like Christians because they are Christians.

But Enrique listened to everything Bob told him. He got baptized. He read his Bible. He went to Bob’s church. His church was different! The building was a simple structure. No one there had any special titles. He heard their expressions of prayer and listened to their teaching and observed their breaking of bread. There wasn’t even someone presiding as the person in charge. He saw a difference in the roles between men and women, and he observed there was not a chafing between the genders there. It was just a small gathering of plain people who believed that Christ was in their midst. Enrique was deeply moved. “Surely God Himself is among these people,” he thought.*

He became a regular part of this fellowship. He liked these people. Bob opened his home to Enrique. There he enjoyed many meals and many good conversations. He became good friends with Bob's four sons.
A fellow worker in BB‘s crew at Southern Bell, Bob Bowers, also befriended Enrique. He and Enrique spent much time together, and they often talked over the Scriptures.

But sometimes Enrique wondered if maybe these people were not just a little too simple. He respected them. He believed they had the truth. And they were perfectly happy with their singing, their prayers, and their beliefs. But still he wondered. “There has to be something more,” he thought to himself. He missed his old circle of friends.

During this time, he met a beautiful young girl. She came from a good home. She had good morals (very different to him from the other women he had once found so attractive.) Even better, she was willing to come with him to this church fellowship. “Maybe,” he thought. “Maybe this girl is this missing part. Maybe she is what I’ve needed.”

*1Corinthians 14: 24-25

Monday, February 18, 2013

chapter 5 saved?

Without anyone knowing about it, all on his own, ten year old Enrique went to mass the first Friday of every month for nine consecutive months. He believed in God. He had a feeling something was wrong with what he was taught in the Catholic Church but at the same time, he was drawn to the Church because he thought there was where he would find God. It was a time of deep spiritual oppression and he was desperate to be relieved of it. Every night when he got into bed, it seemed like the Devil was offering him a deal. And every morning he would think, “What should I do today?” He knew he could not live by his understanding of the golden rule. He couldn’t be a goody-two-shoes. He didn’t want to be a goody-two-shoes. But he could not believe he was so bad that he wasn’t actually a good kid. He saw a lot of other kids who were worse than him. At least he showed respect to those in authority, unlike some of his American classmates who would be defiant and verbally disrespectful to their teachers.

Bigotry and prejudice were openly displayed against Cubans in Enrique’s neighborhood and sometimes at his school. Some Cubans rejected their culture to fully embrace Americanism. They were known as ‘Un cubano arrepentido,’ (a repentant Cuban). Enrique responded defiantly by embracing his Cuban identity all the more.

After Enrique's experience with Kennedy's assassination and his confusion and uncertainty about ever making it to heaven, he wondered if there was any use in even trying. As a teenager, Enrique lost heart on trying to achieve respect and success as an American. He gave up even trying to live righteously in the way prescribed by the Catholic Church. “I just want to have fun,” he thought to himself.

His parents were making every sacrifice for the survival and support of their children. This meant they were away at work, and the daily job of child training was pretty much left to his grandmother. But Enrique was a big, good looking teenager. He was confident and gregarious. He was a smooth talker, and got by in school by cheating and getting girlfriends to do his homework for him. He loved to joke and party. At age 12 he gambled and he started drinking. He soon learned where to find the physical pleasures he desired, but he stayed away from the drug crowd. They were too closely associated with the hippies. Hippies were against Vietnam, which to Enrique meant they were not against communism and the Castro regime. He also was still concerned about the influence he might have on his two younger brothers.

When Enrique was 15, a neighbor moved in next door. He was a 21 year old white American student attending Florida Bible College. Enrique had never seen anyone so clean cut. But Enrique liked him. This neighbor was friendly and athletic and they played street ball together. He had been recently converted to Christ. When he heard how Enrique talked and he saw the kids he hung around with, he knew Enrique was someone who needed to be reached with the saving gospel of Christ. One afternoon he shared it with him.
He asked Enrique, “How many sins did Adam have to commit for God to cast him out of the Garden of Eden?” Enrique knew the answer, it was just one sin. Then he asked Enrique, “Do you think it would have mattered if for the next 900 plus years of his life Adam never sinned again, do you think God would have let him back into the Garden?” Enrique didn’t think so. “He shouldn’t have sinned in the first place,” Enrique said. “God told Adam what would happen.” The neighbor explained to Enrique that God knew that we couldn't save ourselves. God knew that if we were going to be saved then He would have to do it Himself. He did this by sending His Son to die for our sins, for only by death of a sinless one could the penalty for our sins be paid.

It made sense to Enrique. He knew everyone was a sinner. He knew he couldn't save himself.

The neighbor he asked Enrique, “If Jesus Christ paid the penalty for all your sins, then how many sins do you have to pay for?”

“None,” said Enrique.

“That’s right. It’s a gift. It’s absolutely free. And it is yours to receive simply by believing!”

Enrique had never heard such reasoning before. It was different than all that he had ever been taught and beyond anything he had ever imagined. He had always believed in God and that Jesus was His Son. Now he heard there was nothing he needed to do, for Jesus did it all. Securing his own salvation was not up to him, it was all God’s initiative. It made sense to Enrique.

Regardless of the good or bad influence of the Catholic Church, the Lord used it to teach Enrique certain essential truths:
1. God was the Creator
2. There was judgment to come for sins
3. There is one God in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
4. The Bible is God’s Word and thus it is the truth

Imagine witnessing to a typical secular person or to a Moslem and telling him, "The Bible says that Jesus is the eternal Son of God." That person would look at you with bewilderment and amusement. “Now why is it that I am suppose to care about what the Bible says?” he would say to you.

So when the neighbor opened up the Bible Enrique, he believed what it said. Though he had never read the Bible and had hardly even seen a Bible, he did know he could accept that what the Bible said was from God. He had learned that in his catechism classes.

His neighbor read to him John 3:16 and explained that the only condition for salvation was to believe. Then he read Ephesians 2:8 & 9: “It’s never by works. Salvation has nothing to do with what we can do to deserve it or earn it. It’s because of what Jesus Christ did when He died for our sins.” 

Enrique thought, “I've always believed in Jesus Christ. And I believe in sin and God's judgment for sin." So he said, "I believe that. I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins.”

His neighbor exclaimed, “Then God’s Word says you’re saved.”

“I am?” said Enrique in surprise.

His neighbor read 1 John 5: 9 - 11: “...Whoever does not believe God has made Him a liar because he has not believed in the testimony that God gave concerning His Son...”

“I believe,” said Enrique. “I would never call God a liar.”

“Then you’re saved!” pronounced his neighbor.

Enrique was overjoyed. “This is tremendous,” Enrique thought. “I can go on living exactly the way I want to live and I can stop worrying about guilt and about judgment. Since Jesus paid for all my sins, I’m going to heaven. I don't have to worry about hell.” To him it was like a credit card that one can use and use, but the bill never comes due. It had all been paid for.

chapter 4 who will pray for me?

Enrique was nine years old when he knew something was seriously wrong. “The Lord gives each of us a sense of authority", said Enrique, “We also know when there is abuse of that authority.” One of those abuses is when those in authority teach as truth what even a child can see is foolishness. 
His family had moved into a home in the suburbs and Enrique and his brothers were sent to the Catholic Parish School. When Kennedy got shot, the nuns were weeping. The next day at school each of the students received indulgence cards with Kennedy’s face on one side and an image of the Virgin Mary on the other. The cards' instructions said something to the effect that if one prayed 10 “Hail Marys” and 10 “Our Fathers” it would take 200 years off purgatory for Kennedy. From everything he had heard at the school, President Kennedy was a saint. The nuns had talked with great pride about their first Catholic president. “At school I heard what a good man he was,” said Henry. “But I knew I was not good. And I knew that all over the world people were praying for President Kennedy. And I thought, ‘Who will pray for me?’”
Enrique was taught that Purgatory was for all those who would one day enter heaven. Hell was reserved for the utterly wicked, not for the majority of the people who basically tried to do the right thing. But though the suffering in Purgatory was the same as the suffering in Hell, the suffering was not eternal. It was for the punishment needed to cleanse and purge the soul. Things did not add up for Enrique: Why would God sentence a great, wonderful person like Kennedy to thousands upon thousands of years in Purgatory? How could it be that even school children could so dramatically reduce this sentence? And if such a good man like Kennedy needed hundreds of years off of his time, how long would he have to be in Purgatory?
Adding to Enrique’s questioning was that within the Cuban community, Kennedy’s assassination was seen as not necessarily a bad thing. Kennedy's politics seemed to make it less likely they would soon return to their homeland. And they hated communism. (It had made many of them paupers and refugees.) They could not understand how a United States president could allow a communist regime only 90 miles from the border. Surely the next US president would do better.
Every day the Cuban community was looking to when they could return to Cuba, so when at home Enrique understood he should speak Spanish and not English. He was encouraged to keep with his Cuban culture, for he was a Cuban and not an American.Soon their trials would all be over for they would be back home again.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis everyone in America was scared. A nuclear holocaust was one push of the button away. Like school students all across America, Enrique’s school added air raid drills to their fire drills. For fire drills, all the students practiced leaving the school building as fast as possible. That made sense. One needs to get away from a building that was on fire. But for air raid drills, the students were instructed to crouch underneath their little school desks. And just as this made no sense to every student all across America, it made no sense to Enrique either. But Enrique lived less than 100 miles from where the Russian nuclear missiles would be launched. 
Two and a half months after the Kennedy assassination, the Beatles came to America. They played on the Ed Sullivan Show and were seen by 73 million viewers. At that time it was the largest television audience on record. On the radio station, it seemed every third song was a Beatle song. At school the music teacher, a priest, railed against the Beatles. “It’s not music. It’s just banging. Just hitting guitars,” he said. But Enrique thought it was the nicest music he had ever heard. The priest explained the popularity of the Beatles with their having made a pact with the Devil. “The Devil is real,” said the Priest. “Like many others, the Beatles have sold their soul to the Devil for popularity, and for wealth, and for power.” 
Nightmares and day terrors plunged Enrique into desperation. Would he make such a pact? His family was in such pain. They lived in a nice house in a nice neighborhood now. But his father was always working, always fretting about bills. At night his mother was up until 3 a.m. studying to be an American teacher. Then she would be up at 6 to go to her day job. Enrique knew they could not afford to buy him new clothes, so Enrique stole a shirt. He took money out of the poor box at his church. "I'm poor," he reasoned.  He started stealing other things he needed, and things that he wanted.

Enrique wondered, could he be loyal to God, or would he end up making the Devil’s pact? His grandmother had come from Cuba and was there every day. He talked with her about everything, but this was not something he could talk to anyone about.

chapter 3 america

Between 1959 and 1960 over 220,000 Cubans arrived in Florida. They expected to soon return to their homeland. Many of these refugees had been hopeful when Cuba's corrupt self serving dictator Fulgencio Batista was overthrown by a band of revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro. Castro traveled to the United States and declared, “I know what the world thinks of us, that we are communists. But I am telling you very clearly that we are not, we are not communists.” Then Castro returned to Cuba and created the Ministry of the Misappropriation of Assets. Almost immediately people lost everything. All that had been theirs was confiscated and nationalized. Enrique’s grandparents were vacationing in Mexico at the time. They never returned to Cuba. Under danger of imprisonment Enrique’s father had to flee to the United States and soon the rest of the family followed.

Their world turned up-side-down when they came to Miami. They came with nothing except an overwhelming desire to return to Cuba. But while waiting for this to happen, Enrique’s parents were determined to pull the family out of their new found poverty.

His parents enrolled Enrique and his younger brother into William Jennings Bryant Elementary School. It was less than a month since they had come from Cuba. In this new school, the two boys were surrounded by English which they could barely understand; and when they spoke English, they could only be understood by those who took the care to listen carefully to them. It all seemed so surreal to Enrique.

Bullying was common, and not just by the kids. One teacher insisted on demand that Enrique put his hand on his heart and say the Pledge of Allegiance. One morning this teacher gave him a shaking. In this strange new language the teacher said to him, “Let me tell you what I’m going to do to you if you don't say the Pledge of Allegiance.” When Enrique told his father, he came to the school and spoke to  the teacher and to the principal, "There will be consequences," he said, "if ever again any man here touches one of my sons." His English was good for in 1938 he had graduated from prep school in Tarrytown, New York. Despite the hardships and prejudices of this country, he would do whatever he could to see that his sons were treated with dignity.

Nevertheless when each school day ended, Enrique would look for his younger brother Septimio and race home, sneaking behind buildings so as not to get beat up. “I’ll tell you what put anger in me,” said Enrique. "It was coming upon a scene where my little brother was getting bullied. Rage would well up in me. I may have only been an eight years old child, but I could have killed at that age.”
At age 17, Enrique’s brother Juan Alberto volunteered to fight for the overthrow of Castro in a plan designed during the Eisenhower and administered by the CIA. He was one of the approximate 1300 Cubans from America who took part in the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion.* Castro’s army captured this invasion force and for nearly two years, Juan Alberto was a POW in Cuba. He had been sentenced to 30 years of incarceration. This was especially troubling Enrique and his family. Some mornings Enrique knew his mother was hiding her crying from him.

His maternal grandmother "Mima" was preparing to reunite with the family in Florida, when she read in the newspaper the names of the young men captured in the invasion. When she saw the name of her grandson, she wrote the family in America, “I will never leave this island while Juan Alberto is still here.”

After much negotiating, a ransom was paid and the captives were released. On December 24, 1962, Enrique’s brother Juan Alberto arrived at the Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. He was bussed to the awaiting family at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami. “Malnourishment had made him so skinny,” said Enrique, “But we all wept for joy. This was our first real sense of happiness since we had left Cuba. Everybody wanted to see Juan Alberto and everybody put their arms around him”. Enrique just held onto his leg. Finally Juan Alberto noticed Enrique and picked him up. “He was like an idol to me,” said Enrique, "I had almost forgotten what it was to be happy. I hadn't experienced happiness like that since we left Cuba."

When his grandmother Mima finally joined them, Enrique’s life took a dramatic turn for the better. His grandma had more than just time for him. “She gave us a sense of being part of the grown up's world. She would explain grown up things to us as she talked to us as real people and not just children,” said Enrique. As an example, in Enrique's childish mind all the beautiful girls were at least 10 years older than he was. They were part of Juan Alberto's circle of friends. None of the girls his age remotely possessed the beauty of those older girls. So he was terrified that none of the beautiful girls would be around when he was ready to marry. He told Grandma one day, "I must marry one of these girls now." Grandma matter of factly explained to him, "Do you understand how you will grow up into a man one day? Those ugly little girls you see all around you will grow up too. Then they will also change. When you see them then, they'll be just as beautiful for you to marry as these older ones are now." It made sense. And what a relief to Enrique!

When they had been back in Cuba, every night after work Mima would come over to their house to tuck Enrique and his siblings into bed. Now she was here in the U.S. to do it again! And even better, now she lived with them. So Enrique would now awake each day to Mima getting him ready to go off to school.

“If it hadn’t been for my grandmother’s wisdom and love,” said Enrique, “I don’t know if I would have survived.”

*Henry’s note:
President Eisenhower was concerned with the direction the Cuban government had taken causing an exodus of Cubans to the United States. Monies were allocated and by June 1960 the CIA began secretly training Cuban counter revolutionary volunteer recruits in Ussepa (Island), Florida under the plan to overthrow Castro’s communist government. Following President Kennedy's election in November 1960 he agreed to proceed with the plan. In January 1961 the training moved to Guatemala and continued there after Kennedy's inauguration into April 1961. On April 17, 1961, about 1300 Cuban men in amphibious boats landed on Cuba's shore and launched the infamous Bay of Pigs Invasion. The Russians responded with accusatory and threatening rhetoric. United States Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson's deceptive expression of moral outrage that any nation would accuse the US of involvement in the invasion denied US complicity in his speech to the UN. Kennedy had decided to forgo further US military involvement. In his lack of moral fiber he recalled the needed US air support and abandoned the defenseless volunteer invaders to dictator Castro's slaughter on their very homeland's shore. Juan Alberto survived and was captured on April 25, 1961. The now declassified archives on the Bay of Pigs Invasion can be further researched on the CIA's web sight:

chapter 2 heritage

Enrique’s paternal great grandfather made a fortune in real-estate. His grandfather later took over the business. The prestige of the Sardina family continued when Enrique’s father married the daughter of the chief justice of Cuba’s supreme court.

Like most families in Cuba, the Sardinas were immersed with Catholicism. Enrique's granduncle was a Jesuit priest and later became bishop. Enrique's father's first cousin was also a Jesuit priest. The Catholic Church does not accept divorce regardless of the circumstances. They would only consider annulment of a marriage. The church will not remarry a divorced person or recognize the civil legal marriage of a divorced person. When Enrique’s father decided he would divorce his wife, the family threatened to remove him from any inheritance but he would not be deterred. Enrique's sister Olguita was born during this marriage and she remained with her mother. Enrique loved and visited his sister often with his father. He felt bad for her that she did not have her dad to live in the same home with her.

His father’s second wife, Ludivina, was born into poverty. Her mother was determined her daughter would not suffer her same fate. She worked hard and long to ensure her daughter received a good education. Ludivinda graduated at a young age with a teaching degree from the University of Havana. But it was Ludivina’s beauty that brought her into prominence. It attracted a Cuban senator who married Ludivina. He went on to become president of Cuba’s Senate.

From the grip of poverty she was thrust into the lime light of Cuba’s political elite. But shortly after the birth of her first son, Juan Alberto, Ludivina discovered her husband had a mistress. Being a woman of strong principle she chose not to continue in their marriage if she had to accept this as a condition. She now faced life with a young son under the stigma of being a divorced woman in a predominantly Roman Catholic country with a very machismo culture.

Not too long after her divorce, Enrique’s father saw Ludivina. Family legend has it that the first words he spoke to her were, “I am going to marry you.” Ludivina initially thought he was crazy and disregarded what he said. But as she would explain in later years, “He was not only very tall and very handsome, he was a most persistent man.”

This second marriage was not welcomed news to some in the Sardina family. Enrique's grandmother was especially biased against this divorced woman with a child. But Enrique’s grandfather let it be known that he fully accepted Ludivina. The family gatherings were often uncomfortable for some of the relatives considered the first wife to be the real wife. Ludivina felt their discrimination.

Enrique said he respected his father for cutting his own path in life even when it cost him. “My father was a faithful husband,” said Enrique. "He was a strong and a good man, and he cared for my brother Juan Alberto as his own son. My mother was equally faithful. Both my parents loved us dearly. They made many sacrifices for us as their children. I thank God for the wonderful family that He gave me to grow up in. I knew I was loved.”

Monday, February 4, 2013

chapter 1 the fight

Enrique’s Uncle met him at the door when he came home from school. “What are you crying about?” he asked. Enrique was only 7 years old. He had not yet learned it was not smart to tell at home what went on in school. But Enrique’s uncle was persistent. Enrique told him some kid had been bullying him, calling him names and just wouldn’t let him alone.

“Do you know where he lives?” his Uncle asked.
Enrique did.
“We’re going to his house,” said his uncle.

Enrique’s family had emigrated from Cuba the previous year. After overthrowing the dictator Fulgencio Batista, Fidel Castro was bringing communism to the island. Enrique’s father had to leave in a hurry for publicly criticizing the new regime. Within two months the rest of the family followed. Enrique’s home in Cuba was a good place for a kid. He lived in a big house near the ocean with a loving father and mother, three brothers, and lots of other family close by. The small apartment where he now lived in North Miami was a place where his family hoped to move from as soon as possible. So his father worked multiple jobs and his mother became a full-time student while working a full-time job. His Uncle Alfredo was often the only adult at home. He was a leather worker and his workshop was in the apartment.

Enrique’s uncle was small and so skinny, Enrique could put his arms all the way around him. When they knocked on the bully’s door, Enrique had to translate for his uncle could not speak English. “What do I say?” a scared to death Enrique asked. His uncle commanded, “You tell him his son bullied you—tell him!”

The door was opened by a man over six feet tall who weighed about 220 pounds. Enrique told him, “My uncle made me come here because your son bullied me and called me names.” His uncle said to Enrique, “Tell him we are here because I want his son to come outside. You and he are going to fight. And if he refuses to let his son fight you, then I will fight him.”

The father called to his son and asked him if this was true. The boy was about a year older than Enrique and quite a bit bigger. He admitted to bullying Enrique and calling him names. He was delighted to comply with the uncle’s demand. Immediately he pummeled Enrique as Enrique put his arms around his face to protect himself. “Toughen up,” shouted his Uncle. “You’ve got to fight him. Bring your arms down. Now hit him.” To the boy’s surprise, Enrique was able to get in a couple of solid hits and the boy started to cry. His dad yelled at him, “What are you doing, you sissy. You can’t quit.” Enrique and the boy tussled for several minutes. Then the boy landed a blow square on Enrique’s nose. Blood ran. Tears filled his eyes. His whole face swelled up. Enrique stumbled backwards and almost passed out. Both men said, “Enough,” each in their own language. Enrique and the boy were told to shake hands. Then the boy’s father reached over to shake hands with Enrique’s uncle.

“The kid never bothered me again,” said Enrique. “And the word got out. Things cooled off. There were still incidents at school, but it taught me something about people,  and about myself and how to get on in life.”