Not long ago, in Cuba, our coordinator Felix and I were driving into the interior of the country. On every Cuban road trip, we see needy and often desperate people by the side of the road, hoping to pierce through the driver’s glassy gaze, to persuade him to stop and pick them up, to help them get to their own destination.
It’s sad enough to see single men or women pleading like this with their eyes. But it’s far worse to see a mother with a child, or with a baby. Sometimes our van is full. We can only reply with sign language, sadly, that the van is full ... and drive on.
But on this day, Felix and I were alone in the vehicle. I was at the wheel. Under a bridge, we saw a young mother with a little boy, an even smaller girl, and a baby in her arms. No excuses — we must help them!
I stopped and bid them join us. They were amazed at the feel of air conditioning! The mother reached out with a wrinkled bill to help us pay for gas. We declined. She tried to insist, but we reassured her that we just wanted to help.
I’ll call her Maria. She was on her way to her parents’ home, in a town about 90 minutes in our direction. Ah, good times, I thought: she’ll see her parents; Grandma and Grandpa will love seeing these sweet grandkids.
But the story turned very sour.
Maria was running for her life.
Her abusive, violent husband was out of control. She feared he might make good on his threats — and kill her. She was counting on protection from her parents.
My heart went out to this beautiful, beaten family. The children — 7, 4, and not quite 1 — were supporting their mama as best they could ... yet very dependent on her. I was struck by the sad reality of a man so lost, so ignorant, who would dispose of such a treasure. It was a grim and powerful reminder of why we do the things we do to reach the lost.
We had some leftover candy from ministry with a previous group. Felix asked Maria if she’d like to give some to her two older children. She was grateful. Felix wisely confirmed with her that the four-year-old would be able to eat the hard candy. Mom felt it would be fine. Conversation resumed.
Suddenly — commotion. Desperate mother shouting at daughter: “Put it out! Spit it out!” Boy crying. Mama calling out to God for help. Felix yelling advice. I quickly pulled off the highway, jumped out, and ran to the other side of the van. I fully expected to be doing the Heimlich maneuver, possibly CPR, within a few seconds. But the little girl had simply swallowed the whole piece of hard candy; she was rubbing her throat. All of them were crying now.
It seemed that calamity had a fixation on this family, and would not leave them alone.
Heartbroken, I began to pray out loud for God to please step into this sad scenario. Gradually, the crying subsided. I prayed with gratitude, thanking God that His presence always opens up great hope for help and victory. The weeping subsided. The crisis was over. We got back into the van and resumed the trip.
I began explaining to Maria how God brings transformation and peace into the lives of those who invite Him in. I shared two or three brief testimonies of people we had found in desperate conditions — and how the Lord had brought about change as He came into their lives.
But what would become of this family after we dropped them off? I asked Felix which of our friends in ministry might be serving near Maria’s parents’ home. (By the Lord’s great doing, we can pretty much throw a dart at the map of Cuba — an island as long as the state of California — and hit one of our church-plants.) Felix reminded me of a church-plant just five miles from Maria’s destination.
In fact, Maria said, she had seen the church many times, as she traveled through the area. “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good,” I said, quoting Psalm 73:28. I told her that I had known many people over the years who decided to draw near to God ... and that in each case, this decision was the root of a full and blessed life.
In that vehicle, on that road, we prayed with Maria to turn over the control of her life to the Lord. She was determined to make this her strategy for a new life. She said she would visit the couple heading the work in the neighboring town. I gave her some money, to help her get up on her feet. As we said good-bye, we were all filled with hope.
The greater joy came the following week....
The church-planter in the adjacent town contacted us to let us know that Maria and her children had indeed visited the church. She was delighted to meet them and eager to get started in her new life. She made arrangements to participate in the church and in Bible studies! Life for this little family is starting over. It is God’s good work.