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Pastor's journey of service takes detour to detention in Cuba (July 12, 2004)

Pastor's journey of service takes detour to detention in Cuba (July 12, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Pastor's journey of service takes detour to detention in Cuba

July 12, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0108}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — The Rev. Aldo Martin was only 11 years old when he gave his first sermon, and he says it's one he won't forget.

DAYTONA BEACH — The Rev. Aldo and Celia Martin accept a certificate of years of service at the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event's retirement service. Aldo Martin retired from his most recent position as superintendent of the Lakeland District after 48 years of service to the United Methodist Church, some under harsh conditions in his native country, Cuba. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #04-0040.

Martin had written the sermon and was about to deliver it when the lights went out in the Methodist Church of Omaja in Cuba. A frightened Martin doesn't remember what he said in the dark, crowded church, but he knew in that darkness he would walk in the light of Jesus Christ for the rest of his life, regardless of the obstacles he would face.

Years later in November 1965 Martin experienced one of his greatest obstacles. As a fresh seminary graduate just beginning his ministry in the eastern area of Cuba, Martin received a hand-delivered letter informing him he was being drafted for military service. Convinced there was some kind of mistake, Martin obeyed the request to report to a central location, expecting the matter to be rectified in a matter of minutes.

The following morning, he and Celia, his wife, were shocked when other pastors, priests and seminary students from the area were gathered at that location and even more alarmed when armed guards shuttled the men into vehicles to take them to a sugar plantation 10 hours away. That was the last time Martin would see his pregnant wife for a long time. She was frantic, with tears running down her face as her husband of only a few months disappeared.

Although Martin physically lived on that plantation for four years, along with 30,000 other men, his heart was with his wife and his church, San Juan Methodist Church in Santiago de Cuba. Reflecting back on the experience, Martin says he has no bitter feelings.

"The key leaders of Cuba of that time were trying to stop the work of the church," he said. "Then, the laity of the church stood up and became the new leadership. They couldn't stop the church."

Those days cutting sugar cane were long for Martin, beginning at 5:30 a.m. and ending with dinner and a shower around sunset. Despite the long days, Martin and others held secret prayer meetings.

While attempting to keep his spirit and the spirits of other workers upbeat, Martin anxiously waited for news about the birth of his first child. After being at the camp for a little more than six months he received news of the birth of his son, Aldo, and received even more good news when his wife, son and mother appeared for a visit arranged by church members.

"It was raining the day they came, and they had to walk seven miles in the rain because the road was so bad leading to the camp," he said. "I felt so bad seeing them leave, having to walk in the mud and rain. My mother died one day after we visited. I had to go to her funeral as a prisoner. I knew in my heart I had done nothing wrong."

Martin returned to the camp with the light of Jesus Christ shining in his soul.

"I was preaching, as well as working," he said. "God wanted preachers to be there for the other men. We were so isolated and far away from families. My role there was as a mentor. Almost every night the Christians would sneak and gather and provide comfort and encouragement."

Soothing was needed because the six days of work in the fields were almost unbearable.

"I prayed a lot," he said. "And today I have no bitterness for that situation. I just prayed to the Lord about it. I can't accumulate resentment in my soul. There are a lot of reasons to be angry, but I forgive everybody."

Martin says praying to God placed him on the path of forgiveness. "God made the miracle to clean my heart," he said. "It was only by the providence of God that I was able to do that. God helped me to forgiveness."

So much so that when he was released Martin didn't immediately flee Cuba, but spent 11 years at University Methodist Church in Havana. In 1981 he and his family moved to Indiana where they lived for five years, serving a church there. Due to severe weather experienced in that area, Martin requested and was granted a transfer to Florida. He served Hardee County Spanish Mission in Zolfo Springs in 1986 and Christ Hispanic Mission in Orlando in 1987. He became superintendent of the Lakeland District in 1998 and retired at the recent 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event.

After 48 years of service to the church Martin plans to travel with his wife and spend time with his three grandchildren. While touring destinations such as Italy Martin says his heart will always be with Cuba.

"I dream with Cuba," he said. "My roots stay there. That will always be my country. It's an ugly place for some, but it's paradise for me."


This article relates to Personal Spirituality and Faith.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.