CSW spoke with David Rosales, son of Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, pastor of the independent church Monte de Sión in Palma Soriano, who today is serving a seven-year prison sentence in the Boniato Maximum Security Prison in Santiago de Cuba.
The religious leader was accused in December 2021 of public disorder, criminal incitement, disrespect and assault, after he and his son David participated in the national protests on 11 July 2021. The Cuban regime, using false information and witnesses, accused Lorenzo and David of responsibility for wounds suffered by ‘seven public order agents and one civil servant who was taking care of the institution. At the same time, they damaged the state bus, which was parked where the acts took place.”
On 17 July 2021 David Rosales was released under precautionary bail because of his participation in the protests. This measure was modified, and David was exonerated from criminal proceedings after a fine, paid on 19 August 2021, was imposed.
In 2021 David’s mother lost her job for being married to Pastor Rosales Fajardo. Similarly, Pastor Rosales Fajardo, who, on 11 July 2022, completed one year as a prisoner, has been harassed in prison subjected to inhumane treatment and has also been blocked from reading Biblical materials and attending Christian meetings.
David, who is only 18 years old, is a first-hand witness of the harshness of the government towards those who belong to a church which is not officially approved by the government, which has systematically refused to register new congregations since 1959. This forces these churches to operate illegally, leaving them vulnerable to being shut down and demolished, and their leaders targeted to the point that their lives or freedom are at risk, and they are forced into exile.
David told us about his experience as the son of a pastor of an unregistered church and also told us about the strength he has found strength through his faith in Christ.
What are the challenges in Cuba facing a young person, independent of their religious beliefs or political position?
“It is completely difficult for a young Cuban who has dreams and goals set for their future [to obtain] anything they dream of. Studying is an option that more and more young Cubans are rejecting, because there isn’t anywhere to practice what they study or what they have chosen is very poorly paid. In addition, there are no incentives to continue to improve oneself; the life of a student at every stage is one of the most financially difficult and more so for university students. [For example, in my case] I don’t study [in the same region] as where I live. I have to travel to the province and transport is very complicated and expensive. The scholarship they give us is very bad and we have to travel home because the food [provided] through the scholarship is terrible, and this is a lot of work. I have seen children go to school without breakfast or lunch, and it is very difficult to study like that. In summary, in Cuba, any young person, Christian or non-Christian, speaks almost all the time about emigrating. It’s the dream of almost everyone.”
What kind of difficulties does a young Christian in Cuba experience?
“It is a great challenge for any young Christian who attends a church that is unregistered and does not agree to work with the regime. The authorities consider any churches which had been registered before the year 1959 to be linked to the government and not to represent a threat to the regime. Those who are not registered are the target of harassment, persecution, and face many restrictions. The government limits the church and any voice that rises up, so to be a young member of an unregistered church in Cuba is really a call from God [because it is He] who gives us the strategies, but we always run the risk of facing the government’s abuses and its interference in each individual’s enjoyment of this freedom [which is] written in the Constitution.
I have seen young people suffer because they belong to an unregistered church. I know one who was expelled from university [although] they were an excellent student. I also have friends who have been urged by the regime [through its agents] not to attend a specific church.
I have lived all this in my own flesh. I am the son of pastors and since 2012, my parents, guided by God, withdrew from a council [a group of churches under the same ecclesiastical leadership and name] which was registered. Since then, we have been an unregistered church, and this is the biggest reason why my father has remained a prisoner since 11 July 2021 (11J).
There have been a lot of challenges, in school, with the teachers; I noticed [while]reviewing my student file that on every page and in every pedagogical submission they referred to me in a very derogatory way, that I was ‘religious’ and they never wrote anything good. I was also detained on 11 July for seven days and although [my family and I] have lived these challenges in our own flesh, God has helped us and we have continued to lift His name on high, and with His help we represent Him through our lives.”
Do you feel discriminated against, or mistreated, in your daily life, because of your faith in Christ or because you are the son of the pastor of an unapproved church?
“Yes, many times I have felt discriminated against or made fun of because of my faith in Christ, above all at school, but mostly from two teachers, rather than from some of my classmates. The Political Culture teacher, you can imagine the content, humanism linked to communism, denied the existence of God and I did not remain quiet, and I shared the truth of God, and for this reason, she tried to ridicule me, and this got worse after 11 July. They asked me what kind of Christian I was? [They said that] Christians do not need to get involved in politics, that we were fakes, beginning with my father. And truthfully, it was difficult with her because she was merciless with me.
During the transfer, after they detained us on 11J, we were in a completely enclosed truck, full of detainees and guards, police officers and others. They were beating the adults, and with me, they began to make fun of me and laugh. They said to me “look at the religious [kid], liar.” They said horrible things about my father to me in front of everyone, including that it was a lie, that my father was not a pastor, he was nothing, for the simple reason that the church is unregistered. They were horrible things that they said to me, this was one of the most bitter experiences of that process.”
What challenges have you faced now that your father has been imprisoned and sentenced to seven years by the regime?
“My life changed drastically because I had never been separated from my father. Since I was born, he was always at my side, helping me to make decisions, caring for me, giving me advice and always [completely committed] to my mum and sister. That they would separate me from him has been something very hard for me, because my father is very important in my life. I missed his support when I went to take the entrance exam for university and his hug when I received approval to study for the degree. I have had to learn to do things that I never had to do [without him], to make decisions without his point of view. It hurt me very badly to see my sister observe her 15th birthday without him. My father helped me a lot with the situation at school, he is my example to follow, and they unjustly separated him from me.”
According to the official media, Granma, Cuba saw an increase in the number of university students in the second semester of 2021. Do young people feel hope to study in Cuba?
“Over the past few years, I saw my classmates experiencing a lot of indecision, because here, most people don’t study what they want to study, but rather what has a future in Cuba, like medicine. [Medicine] allows them to go on [foreign] missions and emigrate, but very few young people choose the degree course that they want, and there is a lot of discouragement because for many, there is no future.”
You were recently admitted to study at university. What are your plans for the future? How do you see yourself after finishing your degree?
“I have a really big challenge in front of me to do with my university [studies]. First, with the issue of all that we have gone through, I’ll tell you what just happened to a close friend, [a Christian from an unregistered church] who studied at the university, who participated in the protests, and just like me, was a prisoner. Recently [this year] they forced him to withdraw from his second year. [But that is not all] during the course, before asking for the withdrawal, it was very difficult because of all the things they did to him, they stole his things, they would go into his room [where he slept, and which was provided through] the scholarship and they would take his belongings. They also took his telephone; they persecuted him until he had to drop out of the university.
Another case, near my house, the daughter of a Christian who participated in the protests [of 11J] requested leave during her degree in medicine because her mother was a prisoner at that time, and she wanted to return to university, but they would not give her the papers to allow her to resume [her studies]. All of this makes me very afraid, I don’t [want them] to do the same thing to me, or they won’t let me finish my degree, or they blacklist me, and I won’t be able to study anymore. I have dreams, I want to be a good man.
I dream of having a technology business, but here in Cuba, that is impossible, I’d really like to go study in a different country and one of my dreams is also to do a Biblical training for young people. I am praying for the latter, because here in my country, I don’t have this opportunity, but everything is in His hands.
I don’t see any possibility here to be an entrepreneur, to have one’s own business, to be free and to have the financial abilities that exist everywhere else in the world. I want to help my mum and my dad and my sister. I want to study and to be a family man, successful according to God’s heart, but here it is very difficult. I want to be able to serve God in His work, helping others to progress. I know that my life is in His hands and He has a purpose for me and His works are perfect.
In any case, in the middle of this harsh reality, I can see how God sustains us and helps us, but many people are in need and that hurts me too, to see children crying and suffering, that destroys me, because they don’t have food, something that should be so simple and easy to obtain. This system has turned people who are not Christians to live in misery. In other words, they only live to work for food and clothing.”
If you could go back in time, would you let your father go back out to protest or would you ask him to stay home?
“This question is very hard for me, that’s the truth, because everything we have gone through has been very difficult, everything they have done to us, [everything] that we have suffered, but really, if this happened again [something like 11J], I would go back out together with my dad, because it is the right thing to do. In the Bible, Christians were persecuted unto death, but they never stopped preaching and sharing the Gospel.”
In a country with a government that restricts freedom of religion or belief, how do you explain that religions continue to spread, such as through more house churches?
“In a country like ours, many people need God. Only He is the solution and every day more determined Christians do not allow themselves to be subjugated by the regime and if they close one house church, they open another. If they don’t allow worship in this place, they hold it in another, and they don’t stop because only God is the only one who can carry our burdens. God is the solution for Cuba.”
If you had to bring people from other countries to live on the island, what would you tell them so that they would fall in love and stay to live and work here?
“I would only tell them to stay to help to rebuild an island which needs God and that only with His help can we change the course of our broken nation and make out of her a prosperous and fruitful nation in accordance with Christian principles.”