From the dark path to the clear faith

By: Miguel Terry Valdespino

Conversando con el pastor Luis Sánchez Vaillant

My friend Cyril Sevillano swore that he would tell me details of when he was disdaanding for life as irresponsible worldly, under a dangerous amount of vices, sleepovers and alcohol in his blood, without knowing days or nights, and without any attention to the advice of his mother Irma and his friends, Christians a good part of them.

Finally I ended up listening to them, as he ended up listening to his mother and pastors such as Francisco (Pancho) Santamaría, Rafael (Fello) Columbié and Antero Acoy, and several members of the latter’s family, all in charge of contributing to give an absolute turn to his life.

“I had really lost my way,” Cyril acknowledges today. I had taken a path that would eventually destroy me. But my mother, a diacomisa of the Pentecostal Christian Church of Caimito, together with several pastors of caimito, met in my house and, when my name came out, Pancho always said to her very optimistically: ‘Irma, don’t worry, everything is in God’s time. He has a purpose with your son.'”

Vestido para el trabajo que más le ha gustado en su vida
Dress for the job you’ve liked the most in your life

One day a group of young people, including several members of the family of Pastor Rafael Columbié, national president of the Pentecostal Christian Church of Cuba, invited him to the church where his mother attended. Cyril agreed. As he listened to the pastor’s preaching, he felt that those words were meant for him. A loud jolt shook him.  Those young people would invite him back to a recreational activity in a church in a nearby village and there he would see that it was possible to have a great time without the need to consume alcoholic beverages of any kind.

“Little by little I became incomprehate with that healthier life and was no longer interested in going back,” he says. I had taken the idea of making my mother happy and being someone else very seriously. When I attended a camp for young Christians in Canaan, Villa Clara, the impact was tremendous. For the first time, the Holy Ghost spoke to my life. At one point we went on to sit in front of a bonfire and I felt the fire inside me. I cried with emotion. I suddenly saw myself praying with about 200 brothers and felt that the Lord was ministering to me.”

Despite his detours in the march through life, the man of imposing figure with whom so many common stories I share, did not refer me at all to another being other than the very image of honesty, generosity and selflessness.

I knew it well when the blows of life clouded all the paths, and its door, unlike others, opened wide while I assured me: “This is your house, here you can be as long as you want, get in and out when it suits you, eat whatever you want when you’re hungry, sleep as many hours as you need; don’t ask me for anything, everything in this house is yours too.”

Surely by this gesture and by others, he often remembered a beautiful theme of the Catalan Joan Manuel Serrat, which, unfortunately, never gives any of our means of communication: Uncle Alberto, the story of a man, according to his famous nephew, who always had the house open wide and a dish arranged at the table for anyone who arrived and needed food.

“When I was not yet in the ways of the Lord,” he acknowledges, “when I had not yet been under a temple, I acted as I act today in my treatment of others. That goes in the teaching my parents gave me. Often virtues are learned from the cradle. My family has very strong roots within religion, my grandmother Paula and aunt Leopoldina were also Christians. With all of them I learned not to give what I had left, but what I had.”

It’s very true. I remember seeing up to twelve people parade, during a Sunday lunch schedule, and none of them being part of their genetic family. In the face of my concern for this costly generosity, I assured myself confidently: “There is nothing like giving to others, because there are many people, brother, who have nothing. I always say that the Lord provides me with… And I’m not mistaken. Today you help the others, and tomorrow the others help you. When you have nothing and a friend’s help appears, there’s God’s hand.”

Among his various adventures as a innkeeper, none seems as unforgettable as the one that had as protagonist a subject with signs of tramp, clandestine seller of aromatizing, who lost his original name to be called, simply, El Errante, saved by Cyril from the coldness of the bleachers of a baseball stadium, to receive heat, bed, friendship and food, for nothing , at his house, while family and friends warned him fearful about his risky trust in a stranger. It wasn’t a single case. Other wanderers would also find equal level of hospitality in their home.

Junto a su compañera de trabajo Lena Rojas, también cristiana
Together with her co-worker Lena Rojas, also a Christian

Cyril has also loved intensely. Hence the pretext that one day, together with her endearing Lydia Schobb, a German woman with which she has shared the most beautiful pages of love, she would become the protagonist of the story that gives name to my most recent published book: It is not a country for dogs (Editorial Oriente), where some of my most award-winning and beloved stories come together.

Precisely from the eastern part of Cuba, sometimes fused by thick-caliber “jokes” and flat criteria about its inhabitants, it keeps feelings that contradict the prejudiced opinions of not a few.

“I always thank Fello, an extraordinary guantanamer, for trusting me to be his chauffeur,” he says.  He died young and it was a terrible loss to me because we got very blended in. Next to him I toured the whole country, created a brotherhood between the two. Thanks to him I walked with great servants of God and met the deep Cuba, which does not appear in the media, in El Cobre I entered houses built with bejucos, mud and cooking floor, where the casseroles of the kitchen shone clean. But in that disadvantaged part of the country, the more humility he saw, the more he felt love for Christ sprout, the more his word took hold.”

Cyril recalls with nostalgia the warmth of the homes of the Cuban East, where he carried medicines, clothes and food, and where he ate the food of his brothers of faith, slept in their beds and shared with them how little they had. “I’ve heard negative criteria about orientals, but from them I learned that no one leaves their homes without having eaten before, without having tasted a cornbread and a jug of coffee. From the humblest house, you never leave on an empty stomach. I live in love with the love of the East. There, even if they have nothing, they have everything because they have the love of Christ in their hearts.”

Of all the work he has done, Cyril prefers the one he does today: ambulance driver of the Municipal Directorate of Public Health in Caimito, because he feels that from his post he helps the needy, because even if ambulances are missing and the guards are tense, he takes encouragement to many in need, whether he is a sick child, a physical impeder or an elderly man without family protection , although it deplores the lack of sensitivity of pregnant women who smoke or consume alcohol.

In Baracoa, a land blessed for the planting and harvesting of cocoa, Cyril had the opportunity to acquire, with money from his pocket, more than 900 tablets of chocolate. His intention was to go from province to province giving this treat to children and friends After successfully bypassing dozens of checkpoints, he finally came to Caimito, opened the smelly backpack and put in my hands dozens of tablets as a gift for my daughter and me.

He then pulled out another handful and commissioned me to give them to Tata Merlo, an old friend and baseball fan who, according to Cyril, was crazy to eat chocolate. And after Merlo, the gifts came for this and that one, for this and that one, for the guy and the cycle. and finally there wasn’t a single one of the nine hundred chocolate tablets left. But Cyril Seville wasn’t happy. Immensely happy.

-Why do you think everyone loves me?  He asks as he rejoices when I make him relive this story. Why do you think when I go out on the street I can’t walk three steps without someone stopping me and hugging me, or they say hello to me from anywhere in Cuba and the world, why do you think so many kids call me an uncle?

He adds finally: “I thank God, brother, for that affection. I feel like I’m the happiest man in the world.”

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