Set Free

“The Word first came into my life when I was a little boy in the Republic of Cuba,” says Elio Mario Fernandez. “In a dream, God told me He was going to bring me to a nation where there was plenty of food.” As a boy, Elio remembers having to tend to his father’s peanut crop, which the Cuban government allowed him to grow inside the sugar fields. “It was a tough job for a boy my age,” he recalls.

There was no spiritual significance attached to Elio’s dream, because he had no knowledge of Jesus Christ. In fact, there were very few known Christians in Cuba at the time. Elio remembers one man specifically, who read the Book, obeyed the Book, and lived a life that was right according to the Book. Beyond this faint memory, his childhood was not centered around Christian values, much less a daily adherence to the Word of God.

Finding his place


It wasn’t until February 1956 that Elio moved to the United States. “I was about 23 years old,” he says. “On the flight to America, I looked down from the plane window and saw the very land God had shown me in a dream as a child.” The plane landed in Miami, Florida, where he immediately began working at a hotel on Miami Beach.

Sometime later, Elio decided to travel back to Cuba to visit his sick mother. When he arrived back home, the revolution led by Fidel Castro was in full force. It did not take long for his name to be discovered by security and Elio was quickly pulled aside by guards. Upon further investigation, Elio’s name was found on a list right next to his second cousin, who happened to be the ex-president of Cuba. Elio was immediately flagged as a threat to the revolution and accused of working for the Central Intelligence Agency in America. At that time in Cuba, there was only one penalty for being an international spy – death by firing squad. He was taken to the Cabana Prison in Havana to await his fate.

“When they arrested me, they paraded me by all the cells before locking me in a room all by myself. It was the room where the clothing of people who had been executed was tossed,” Elio says. “There was a small Bible there as well, and so I took some thread from one of the articles of clothing in the room and placed it as a marker inside that Bible.”

The Lord visited Elio in a dream and told him if he would read that Scripture every day, by the time he reached the page with the thread again, he would be released. For 24 days, Elio did just that while awaiting his turn for the firing squad. On the twenty-fourth day, he turned to the page where he had first placed the strands of thread.

Elio praised God and exclaimed, “Thank you Jesus, I’m getting out of here tonight!” The other prisoners thought he had finally gone crazy, since it was well known anyone who was called out of the cell block would be the victim of a gunshot heard ten minutes later.

When Elio heard his name called by a guard, he was not afraid. He was escorted through an iron gate to the prison office where many had spent their final moments before heading to execution. Instead, a soldier handed over his clothing and sent him to the exit with the understanding his release was only temporary.

For Elio to walk toward his freedom, he had to pass Fidel Castro’s infamous el paredón, which is Spanish for “the wall.” Like many prisoners before him, it was a wall meant for Elio’s execution by firing squad. Instead, Elio walked past el paredón alive, clinging to God’s promise.

Returning with a message


Nevertheless, Elio’s heart was anxious when thinking back to what the soldier had promised – only a temporary release from prison. For 50 cents, he rented a hotel for the night in Old Havana. Still overwhelmed with anxiety about his situation, Elio complained to the Lord, “Lord, you told me I was going to be free, but I live in Miami. I don’t live here, and this is only a temporary release. How am I going to get out of here? Please, tell me.”

The answer he received was simple, yet inconceivable. “God told me to return to the prison I had just been released from,” says Elio. It seemed God was leading him backwards, to the very death sentence from which he had just been delivered.

The following morning, Elio took a bus back to the prison. At the gate, two military men asked what he wanted. When Elio asked to talk to the boss, the men hit him in his chest with a rifle, “No man gets inside this place, and no man gets out of this place.”

Elio Fernandez on his porch in Sylvester, Georgia

Elio persisted. “The Lord put words into my mouth,” he says, “I can only explain that moment as Him speaking for me.” Elio pointed to the soldier and said, “Listen, the instructions that you received are only for ordinary citizens. But, my name is Elio Mario Fernandez.” He had no idea what that meant, but God had a plan. Elio was shocked to hear the soldiers quickly apologize and allow him to enter.

Elio approached the main building, where the boss was, and found it was also surrounded by soldiers. One of the men recognized Elio as the prisoner who had been released. He questioned Elio as to why he had returned, “How can you dare to speak to the boss? Even soldiers don’t dare to ask favors of that man.”

Moments later, Elio was standing in front of the man in charge of the compound. “I remember feeling sorry for him,” says Elio, “because I saw him through the eyes of the Lord, and I knew he would do anything I told him to do by the name of Jesus Christ.”

The Lord took hold of their conversation. Elio doesn’t remember much of what happened until he heard the boss direct another soldier, “Take this man to court right now and tell the judge I said to drop all the charges against this man, and let him go back to America where he lives.”

Full Circle, More Than 20 Years Later


The following day, Elio walked through the international airport in Miami, Florida, recounting the most miraculous experience of his entire life. He knew God had redeemed his life for a purpose.

Reading the Word of God back in Havana was the beginning of a new life for Elio. It transformed his life to such a level he often wakes in the middle of the night to meditate on Scripture. “The joy that comes to my life because of Scripture is so fantastic, I have to get up no matter the time of day or night and praise the living God.”

The joy that comes to my life because of Scripture is so fantastic, I have to get up no matter the time of day or night and praise the living God.”

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