International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
The difficulties faced by a Baptist pastor in Cuba is one reason why Christians are being encouraged to take part in an international day of prayer for the persecuted church on 16 November. By Kiri Kankhwende
“In the midst of such tribulation, they have not made me lose hope, nor a feeling of security, quite the opposite, I have lived moments of exultation which cannot be bought with any money”.
Faith has sustained Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Taguayabon village in Cuba, despite a campaign of harassment and intimidation by the authorities who have tried to stop his work as an activist for freedom of religion or belief in Cuba.
Arrested and pressured to sign an “Official Warning”
On 25 January this year Mario Felix was arrested in the early hours of the morning. Officials took prints of his fingers and toes, scent and DNA samples. The pastor was also pressured to sign an ‘Advertencia Official’, or Official Warning, a document which is used in the Cuban court system to justify further arrests and criminal charges, but he refused.
Mario Felix was released the same day but placed under house arrest with two police officers standing guard. His sister Mirka Pena told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that this was part of a wider crackdown on dissidents in Cuba, ahead of a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which was due to take place on the island that week.
The arrest in January was the start of the authorities’ campaign of harassment and intimidation against Mario Felix and his wife, Yoaxis Marcheco Suarez, which has gathered pace throughout the year.
On 6 June, Pastor Mario Felix was arrested along with two others as they travelled between venues hosting an interdenominational series of concerts celebrating Pentecost. Later that month, Pastor Mario Felix and his wife were arrested and released after two hours with no charge, but their laptop computers and memory flash drive, which contained most of the music used for their church services, were confiscated.
Pastor Mario Felix would again be pressured to sign the Official Warning on 8 October, when he was officially summoned to the State Security Unit in Camajuani, Villa Clara. Once more, he refused. The officials were unhappy that he recently visited the eastern part of the country to meet church leaders who registered violations of freedom of religion or belief.
His wife, Yoaxis, would find herself in the same position on 16 October; she was arrested alongside another pastor, Yordanis Santi Perez, and interrogated for two hours before she was released.
She also refused to sign the Official Warning. Despite the authorities’ attempts to intimidate the family into being quiet or leaving the country, Mario Felix told CSW: “I intend to continue on with my activities in the defense of religious freedom in Cuba”.
Knowing that their brothers and sisters around the world are praying for them, thinking of them, and standing with them in a time of such devastation provides great comfort
Prayer is a vital support
So many Christians like Mario Felix and Yoaxis in Cuba and other countries around the world face harassment, imprisonment or threats to their lives on account of their faith and they tell us that prayer is a vital support. The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) on 16 November began as a way to mobilise Christians around the world to stand in solidarity with their fellow brothers and sisters in the faith who are under pressure. It is the one thing that all of us can do, and we know that it makes a difference.
Be part of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
This year, CSW will be co-hosting three events across the UK, in London (in Bloomsbury Baptist Church), Glasgow and Perth (Perth Baptist Church). We are delighted that Omar Gude Perez, will be joining us this year. Omar was a church leader in Cuba in the Apostolic Movement, an unregistered Protestant denomination.
Following imprisonment, harassment and intimidation he was forced to seek asylum in the US with his family. When in prison, he saw the gospel change the lives of those who had set out to harm him: “Our story is not a story about human greatness, but rather about God’s power being revealed and seeing God’s hand at work through people here on earth.”
CSW hopes that you will join us to hear his inspiring story of faith and courage, and to pray and worship together. One of the gifts most valued by those suffering for their faith is the gift of prayer. Knowing that their brothers and sisters around the world are praying for them, thinking of them, and standing with them in a time of such devastation provides great comfort as well as some wonderful answers to prayer.
All information needed to lead an event in your church, small group or with your family is in the free CSW International Day of Prayer pack, which can be downloaded from www.csw.org.uk
Kiri Kankhwende is a press officer for Christian Solidarity Worldwide