Escaping Communist Cuba
Updated: Aug 30
Written by Annelise Jagitsch as told by Yuleidy Lopez
“Be very quiet. No one can hear us.” Father told the small group as they crept back to the beach. The last light of day was fading and it was getting cold fast. Checking behind her one last time to make sure no one was watching them, 15-year-old Yuleidy climbed onto the small raft. All she knew was that they were going on a short trip, which made sense when she noted they were taking no food - only a single jug of water. The raft was about 6 inches tall and really only made for four people, but all six of them (Yuleidy, Father, 3 younger siblings, and a young man) crowded onto it and pushed away from shore. Her father and the young man began to row. As the night dragged on, Yuleidy and her 3 younger siblings fell fast asleep to the rhythmic swish of ores.
Yuleidy opened her eyes and looked around. The morning sun glared down on the small raft. She couldn’t see land anymore. “Father, where is the land? Why can’t I see land anymore?” The children were beginning to realize this was going to be much more than just a short trip. “We are going to America,” Father replied. “That’s why you can’t see land anymore. We aren’t going back to Cuba again.” Father's words took a minute to sink in. “Where is mom? Why isn’t she here?” Yuleidy was confused. “I couldn’t tell her we were leaving. She would not have let us go because it’s so dangerous. She doesn’t know where we are, but I will bring her to America later.” Father turned back and began to row once more.
Yuleidy was born in communist Cuba. She and her family were persecuted because of their faith. They were told they had to attend school on Sabbath and that father had to work on Sabbath. Since they never went to school on Sabbaths they were teased by the other kids and teachers. Father was treated badly by his bosses and fellow workers. Cuba wasn’t an easy place to be a Christian. For years her Father told her that one day they would escape to America, where they could worship in freedom. That day had finally come. The night before, when they attended an Adventist Youth program, no one knew they were leaving. Everyone sang father’s favorite song, having no idea that it was the last time they would sing it with him. The service ended. They walked to the beach, and under the cover of night began their quest for freedom.
On the second day of their trip, they spotted a large boat coming their way. Afraid that it might be the Cuban Patrol, they immediately began to pray, asking God to somehow hide them from the view of the authorities onboard. As they opened their eyes, the boat suddenly made a U-turn and left. It was in fact a Cuban Patrol boat, but God had worked a miracle. If they had been spotted, all their hopes of a better life in America would have been dashed. Father would be sent to jail or worse and the children would have been taken away and placed in government homes where they would be taught how to be good communists. Relieved, they thanked God for his protection and continued rowing.
By the third day, they were getting tired and running out of water. They started hallucinating because of their hunger and dehydration. They would see big animals walking on the water, waterfalls coming from the sky, and gaping holes in the sea. At one point they thought they were going to fall off the edge of the earth. Then they remembered that the earth isn’t flat, so they kept going. That night as they were rowing they saw a massive cruise ship coming straight for them. Afraid that they were about to be run over by this huge ship, they started waving and yelling to get the attention of those aboard. But it was useless. No one could see or hear them and the boat continued plowing straight toward them. There was nothing else they could do. So they prayed. Suddenly the ship turned and headed in a different direction. Once again God had spared them from certain peril, but then father realized another problem. The wakes made by the ship were more than enough to flip their small raft, dumping them into the sea. He immediately prayed and when the wakes came they miraculously calmed and barely rocked the raft. They again praised God for his mercy and protection.
The water was very cold at night. But somehow when it splashed into their raft it wasn’t cold. Refreshing maybe, but nowhere near as cold as it should be. God warmed the water for them. During the day there was no relief from the sun but they never got sunburned. When it was especially hot, clouds would cover the sun, shielding them from its heat. They knew God was watching over them.
On the fourth night, they found themselves completely lost. They were so tired that they couldn't figure out where they were or where to go, and even the compass they had brought with them didn’t always work correctly. Despite their exhaustion, they sang and prayed asking God for help.
The last day of their trip across the ocean nearly broke them. Sometimes they could see large animals moving under their raft but they didn’t know what they were. They guessed it was sharks, but they didn’t know for sure. But that was hardly the worst of their problems. They had run out of water and hadn’t eaten in four days. Father and the young man were beginning to wear out as well. They were lost and about to give up when they saw a small sailboat ahead of them. Father heard a small voice tell him, “Follow that boat.“ He didn’t know why, but he obeyed the voice and followed the sailboat. Hours later the boat led them to American waters. They were looking at one of the Florida Keys. Soon an American patrol boat came by and picked them up. They were taken to the marina where they were fed and given water. They thanked God for bringing them safely over 100 miles of ocean.
Life in America is much easier. They can now go to church without worrying about being arrested. They are never pressured to go to school or work on the Sabbath and they have complete freedom to worship openly. Yuleidy is so thankful that she was able to come to America. She is now married, has a family of her own, and works in the cafeteria and as the Spanish teacher here at Oklahoma Academy. “I praise God for bringing me here to America. It is the freest place I have ever known. I can put my kids in a Christian school here. I am glad to be an American now.” She told me as she relayed her story.
Yuleidy has seen God work in her life many times. He is very real to her and she wants to let people know he can be real to them too. “He brought me safely across an ocean to America in a small raft unfit for the trip and he can do things like that for anyone.” Do you want to see God work in your life the way he worked in Yuleidy's? Start paying attention to what he is already doing in your life and praise him. Thank him for everything he has given you and done for you and ask him to work in your life in mighty ways. Ask him to work through you to reach people around you. Trust me when you take a step of faith you will see Him do incredible things. You can witness miracles too!