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Cuban couple advocates for imprisoned Vietnamese Mennonites

   
 


Aisha and Alexander are leading a new church plant of the Evangelical Missionary Church in downtown, Santiago de Cuba. They are writing a letter of advocacy in response to the imprisonment of Vietnamese Mennonite Christians in Ho Chi Min City.

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Feb 9, 2005
-story and photos by Dan Dyck

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba — A young Cuban pastoral couple who heard about present-day persecution of Mennonite Christians in Vietnam has decided to respond.

Their initiative comes out of a genuine and sincere desire of the Evangelical Missionary Church of Cuba to embrace the suffering servant model of Jesus. Aware that Cuba and Vietnam have good diplomatic relations, the couple has initiated, on behalf of the church, a letter asking Cuban officials to investigate the Vietnamese claims of persecution.

Their action could also put them in a potentially risky position given that the two countries are based on similar political ideologies.

Alexander Tamayo is leading a small, young, Evangelical Missionary Church congregation in Cuba’s third largest urban centre, Santiago de Cuba. His wife Aisha is a journalist employed, until recently, by the Communist Party of Cuba. Aisha left her work to pursue church work with her husband, Alexander. Together they are reaching out to young people through a sports ministry. The couple exude a profound sense of personal peace with their faith.

The Tamayos felt compelled to act after they studied Mennonite history and learned of Mennonite martyrs who perished for their faith during the reformation.

Janet Plenert, executive director of International Ministries for Mennonite Church Canada delivered the course in September of 2004. Plenert said, “Aisha was one of the first students to really dig deep within herself to ask what implications peace theology would have for her life and for the church in Cuba. Her whole body expression demonstrated her struggle, questions and deep reflections. Alexander exhibited an unquenchable thirst for more information about Mennonite history. He was making connections that crossed time and geography and gave him both roots and wings in the Anabaptist faith community.”

“It really was striking to us to understand that this kind of persecution is not something that is simply part of history. It actually is present today in our world, and this motivated and inspired us to try to do something on behalf of the persecuted church,” said Alexander through a translator.

The possibility of persecution and suffering is foundational for the church, says Alexander, and stands behind their desire to act. “If this should result in some sort of persecution against us, we do so with the understanding that God is with us and that God compels us to be willing to suffer for others.”

While the concerned couple demonstrates no apparent anxiety over their intentions, they acknowledge that the letter could be misunderstood as a critique against the government of Cuba. “Given that there are very good relationships between the church and the state here, we are hoping that we can make use of those relationships in advancing this process,” said Aisha.

 


A Mennonite Church Canada Learning Tour Delegation forms a prayer circle with members of the Santiago de Cuba Evangelical Missionary Church congregation in response to the persecution of Mennonite Christians in Vietnam. “The freedom of Christ is not kidnapped by prison bars,” said pastor Alexander.

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Alexander allows, “It is true that there is a lot more flexibility and openness by the Cuban government towards Protestant Christianity. It is also true that that same flexibility doesn’t always come down to the local authorities. It could be that this could cause some reaction from local authorities that [we] are not aware of.”

“We recognize full well that this represents potentially a risk for us. We also strongly believe that God is in this and that things will work out.”

There are also other reasons to be hopeful, adds Alexander. Cuba has good diplomatic relations with Venezuela, and the wife of Venezuela’s current president is a member of the Evangelical Missionary Church there. “Perhaps [we] can use this kind of opening even in neighbouring countries,” says Alexander.

The couple would like the imprisoned Pastor Quang to know that his brothers and sisters in Cuba are supporting him. “Even though he is behind bars and he may be in [close quarters] in a small room, the reason why it feels so tight is because the Missionary Church of Cuba is there with him, and that he is not alone there,” says Alexander.

Aisha lends her support as well. “Let him know that we are praying for him and that we know that his life is in the hands of Jesus Christ.”