I was born in Cuba, under a tyrant’s rule. Even before I was born, my dad knew that he wanted a better life for us. As did my mom. That’s why she insisted I was named Roger, instead of what my dad wanted to call me, Nabudoconosor, (Nabuco for short). She said, “One day we will go to America, and I want my son to have an English sounding name”. I was just two years old when my dad, the pastor, decided to apply for a visa to leave the country. What followed for him was hell on earth. He was assigned to a sugarcane cutting detail that worked six days a week. Every forty-five days, he would come home and spend a weekend with us. Then he would leave again, back to the 16 hour days, lack of food, harassment of the guards, mosquitoes, and everything that could be the brutal definition of misery.
After 2 years, we finally got good news. Our visa was approved! But wait. Timing was not on our side. My mother was pregnant with my brother Isaac, 8.3 months to be exact. Law would require for her to first have the baby, then travel. But my father had enough of the tyrant. He had had enough of the secret police, the lack of possibilities, and impossibility of freedom. So my mom packed all she could in the one allowed “maleta” (or suitcase) that we could take out of the country, put on the biggest dress she could find and we headed for the airport. Right before we passed the soldier that checked the passports, my pants dropped. She bent over to pick them up, and the guard didn’t notice the belly with the 10.5 pound baby inside. We got on the plane. Finally, freedom was ours.
Freedom came with a price. It always does. Freedom, by definition, is not just the absence of tyrany, but the deliverance from it. Deliverance is never easy, but it’s worth it. The price we paid for freedom was high.
1. We paid a financial price. We were only allowed to take out from Cuba one piece of luggage. No property deeds. No savings account balance. None of our hard earned cash. Nothing valuable was to be taken out. We did it, because we wanted out. We came to the point where we were willing to leave anything, for the one thing that meant everything. Freedom.
2. We paid a relational price. All our family, loved ones, friends, and co-workers were left behind. We traveled to Spain were we could count in one hand the people we knew and still have some fingers left over. The desire to be free is even stronger than the “ties that bind”. We elected to be free by ourselves, than to be in bondage with our family.
3. We paid a stability price. Cuba to Spain. To Costa Rica. To Miami. To Aibonito, Puerto Rico. To Las Piedras, Guayama, Cayey , then Cidra, also in Puerto Rico and lastly, back to USA. Those were some of the places and countries we traveled to as pastor’s kids. We sort of got used to it. “We’re moving” seemed my father’s favorite phrase. We basically had Elizabeth Taylor’s attitude towards her husbands: “We won’t be staying long”. We found support in each other and made many friends along the way.
4. We paid a health price. My health suffered because of malnutrition. Since food was in short supply in Cuba, especially when my father was gone, my mother gave me a bottle of water and brown sugar at night, to ease the hunger pains. This concoction calmed my hunger, but left me with a mouthful of rotten teeth. My father had it the worse. His health suffered the brunt of a concentration camp atmosphere. Any person that for two years is undernourished and overworked endures a physical toll that lasts a lifetime. But it was a price he was willing to pay.
I could not have chosen freedom myself. I didn’t have the knowledge, ability, strength, or resources to do it. My father did. Thanks to his sacrifice, we have a better life. Thanks to the self-less love of one, many could call freedom a possibility. He gave me the opportunity to dream.
Whatever you are leaving right now, if God said go, don’t look back. It will be worth it in the end.