Walking Away From Freedom

November 5 2006 / ShareHim in Cuba, Feb. 24 - Mar. 11 '06 #83
by Leslie Nicholas

Personal Testimony of Leslie Nicholas.

When I walked out of the plane, the Cuban air was heavy with aromas: moisture...and smoke! There is no smoking inside public areas in the good ol' USA, but this was different. I stepped through the auto-locking door of immigration into the thick smoke of baggage claim. They were hand rolling that foul leaf right in the baggage claim area, and it seemed everyone was puffing away.

I looked up, and hanging from the ceiling were flags from every country. Even Old Glory was there. I have never longed to see those old red, white, and blue stripes as I did those first few minutes in a communist country. In that first 24 hours, it seemed like I saw more smoking people, smoking cars, smoking trucks, and smoking factories than I had seen in the last two years in the United States.

Cubans have a fierce national pride, and while every immigration official displayed his authority in a way that let you know he was in charge, I observed compassion mixed with that authority.

One person in our group was born in Cuba to U.S. citizens who were serving as missionaries 57 years ago. Being born on Cuban soil required separate visas and special documents, which he didn’t have. They could not allow him to enter, yet we could see by their body language that they wanted to accommodate him. He spent the night in the custody of immigration while we prayed, expecting a miracle. The next day he was to be on the first plane out, but instead he rejoined his wife at the Copa Cabana. His wife knew it was a miracle, but some hardened hearts could easily dispute the supernatural influence. I wonder if the hardened heart gives thanks for his breath, or gives thanks when he sits down for that daily bread we are so accustomed to. Twenty percent of the world consumes eighty percent of its resources, and the other eighty percent live on the remaining twenty percent. If you lived on what was left over, you would praise God when He sends a cloud to give you shade for just a few minutes.

Global Evangelism began in the mind of Robert Folkenberg as the idea that the less qualified you are for evangelism, the more you must depend on God. It works! I have never preached an evangelistic sermon. Me? Making an altar call? Calling for one to respond to the love of God with an appeal to the heart is for those specially authorized by God, right? Well, if you answered “yes” when Jesus said, “Follow me”, then Jesus was speaking to you when He said, “Go, and teach.” In Bob Folkenberg’s mind, that included you as well as me.

It was with great trepidation that I practiced preaching in front of a mirror in my hotel the next day. My audience of one was so kind, and he understood me without a translator. I liked him, even though he had a few extra pounds.

That night, I would stand and fail in front of 75 total strangers; I was praying for a miracle. Five minutes into the preaching, it happened. The lights went out, and my first thought was, “I won’t have to finish the sermon.”

From somewhere, a flashlight was produced and I finished preaching without the aid of PowerPoint or a PA system. As the people filed out the back, they kept telling my translator what a blessing the message was. I thought, "To whom were they listening?" Clearly God had spoken to their hearts, because "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1 Cor. 1:21). I realized that I had been trusting in the graphics and in the power of PowerPoint, not in the power of the message itself and in God’s Word.

The next day, as we gathered together before the meeting, Samuel, my translator, said, “The head elder wants the pastor to pray.” I thought that would be a good idea, so I bowed my head, and after a few seconds of silence, I heard in English, “Pastor…?” Suddenly the realization that I was the pastor they wished to have pray, flooded me. As an American evangelist, I was respected in the eyes of the Cubans, even though I was just a deacon at home. God uses deacons! Stephen was just a deacon, and he preached one of the most convicting sermons ever recorded in the Bible.

I had been reading about how the father of J. Hudson Taylor, a great man of faith, had prayed that he would be a missionary to China. Hudson had no knowledge of this when he accepted a call to go to China. That man lived by faith for every morsel he ate and every penny he gave away. I wanted to learn that kind of faith; this trip would begin the exercise of this faith. I didn’t have sufficient funding for the whole trip, so I made a deal with God: “You feed me, and I preach”. He worked a miracle. The hotel provided breakfast, and the first evening a precious sister gave me some fruit (without my asking). Ysora invited me to supper the next day and eventually adopted me as her white son. I was praising God that first day that for being so faithful.

The meetings were going okay, but I found that I was missing $600. This meant that I couldn’t stay at the hotel, so I checked out and paid what bill had accumulated. Ysora had offered her home to me, but it was so small, and I assumed I would sleep in their loft.

That night as I lay in their bed, and listened as they dragged boards into the little kitchen floor to sleep on, I cried. How could these people who have NOTHING give so much? I was rebuked for my covetousness, and how luxuriously I lived. In Cuba there is often no paper for printing or wiping, I actually felt guilty when I came home and used six sheets of toilet paper at one time! What a waste! That camera lens that I wanted at Wal-Mart--now no longer seemed so important. What my newly adopted beautiful, black mother lacked in necessities, she made up for in spirituality. We had worships, and sang together. God had this planned. I was living by faith, and happier than I ever was with any purchase of material goods. I had become a Cuban!

One man, Julio, said he was especially stirred that first night. He had been teaching himself English. His eye has been on the promised land to the north for some time, and he dreams of coming to America. I invited myself to his house, and he said no; he was embarrassed because he lived in a closet with his wife and two children. After much cajoling, he relented and the date was set: the next day at 4:00, his house. Through circumstances out of my control, I was over an hour late-only a little late for a Cuban. But I was an American, and they expected me on American time! Julio’s wife hadn’t attended the meetings, and she had heard many of his dreams of America. This just seemed to her to be another of his dreams. No American in his right mind would come and eat in this closet. In her mind, she thought ‘we live in the slum of the slums’. My tardiness only confirmed her feelings. When I arrived she broke down in tears, I was moved nearly to tears, and everyone was moved. This was a divine appointment. That night I was to preach the appeal, inviting everyone to accept Christ into their heart as a loving, personal Savior, who condescended to come down from the heights of glory to live and eat in our slum of the slums. This was a living parable, and it connected me emotionally with these souls. I invited them to the meeting that night and now there were eyes that I loved and smiles that I cherished, and I preached my heart out. God moved and 38 accepted Christ that night. I know my hardened friends have ways of explaining this away, but I know in my heart God breathed that night.

Julio’s home was truly the smallest home I have ever seen, and probably will ever be in. It was 7 feet across the end and 15 feet long and had a small bed that was the couch, bunk beds, a sewing machine that doubled as a dining table, a toilet, no shower, kitchen sink and one small shelf for a counter. Truly only one could fit in the kitchen at a time and there were only two places where people could pass each other. If you needed to pass, everyone had to back out to the sewing machine and one at a time you passed each other. But for the lack of luxury this home was full of love and I enjoyed every minute. There are many mansions here in the US, full of possessions that could use some of this family’s love. What has happened to us here in the US? Have we forgotten that we can’t take any of these possessions we love to heaven? We don’t really love the only thing we can take to heaven-our family. “For the things which are seen are temporary; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18

That’s what I was expecting--to see something. I realized that it is what isn’t seen that lasts forever. Start looking for the invisible and you will see it. Twenty-three years ago I walked away from what I thought was the bondage of rules and regulations in Christianity. I wanted freedom to do as I pleased. Little did I know the bondage what awaits those who follow their own inclinations. As I sank into depravity and moral decay, in the bottom of my heart, I longed for a Savior. Oh that I would be free from these vices that were draining my very life away. When I walked away from Christ, I walked away from true freedom. I had accepted Him as my Savior, not my Lord, now I wanted Him to be both.

I came to the place of absolute surrender. Jesus Christ accepted my surrender and began changing me from the inside out. As my thoughts and feelings changed, I found it my highest delight to do what He wanted me to do. What the Word of God says is true; that motivated by love we would obey Him and it wouldn’t be burdensome. He said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”.

My friend, I thought that Christianity was just a bunch of rules and legalism. What I thought was freedom was actually total bondage: I had to have that drink; I had to have that cigarette; if I didn’t go kayaking that week I was angry; if I didn’t get my way I was upset. Now I have found true freedom; penniless, in a communist country, sleeping in someone else’s bed; washing with a bucket and eating beans and rice for every single meal. I loved it. Jesus.

The communist system in Cuba, is crumbling. After the USSR collapsed, 5 billion dollars in annual trades and credits disappeared. Because there are inadequate resources for everyone, each one has to take a little from the common good to support himself. This common good system my translator called “smuggling”. I found myself participating. When I was in the hotel I smuggled some extra food from breakfast for a meal later. I took the extra bar of soap from the hotel and gave it to the Bible worker at the church. And when I checked out of the hotel, I took the leftover roll of toilet paper. Was I being dishonest? My conscience didn’t bother me, but where do I draw the line? This smuggling had even reached into the church - you practice one thing and tell the communist authorities another. For survival, it seems justifiable. As a result, when the call came to repent of sins, no one wanted to admit that they are sinners. My friend, if you are breathing and reading this, you and I are sinners. Accepting this fact is the first step to salvation. My favorite author wrote “All His warnings, all His promises, all His entreaties are the breathings of unutterable love, a love that is beyond understanding.”

The last night of the series was about the unpardonable sin. If you have gotten this far in the story and haven’t thrown it down in disgust, you haven’t committed the unpardonable sin! Continually resisting the Holy Spirit’s warning’s, entreaties, and promptings eventually leads one to a place where he or she can no longer hear that still small voice. God made an appeal through me to all that attended that night, and especially to the church members who intellectually assented to the teachings, but didn’t have a change of heart. It was powerful, but nobody would come forward, no one wanted to admit they were a sinner. As I poured my heart out and pleaded with the love of God, I saw tears, but no one would move. I shouted, “How long will you resist the Holy Spirit?” That question was like a cannon and people shot from their seats, good upstanding church members with tears streaming down their faces and sinners alike. I have never experienced a more powerful appeal than that night; we all repented and asked God to deliver us from the sins that plague us. It is by beholding this love poured out at Calvary that we truly come to repentance. “At the cross it is all taken care of. I find perfect rest, perfect peace, and freedom in Christ at the foot of the cross”. Friend won’t you turn your mind’s eye to that incredible moment and wait for the very breath of God to inspire you with His love?
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