November 02, 2009
Deltonan fears for missionary father in Cuba
By LYDA LONGA
For two weeks, 68-year-old Ruben Ortiz Columbie, a Baptist missionary in
Cuba, lingered in a Cuban jail, wondering what he had done wrong and
with no way of knowing when, or if, he would be freed.
Almost 500 miles away in Deltona, his 37-year-old son, also named Ruben
Ortiz, feared the worst.
“It was a very difficult time because we had absolutely no information
of what was going on with my father,” Ortiz said recently.
The younger Ortiz, pastor of La Primera Iglesia Bautista (The First
Baptist Church) in Deltona, worked feverishly for almost two weeks
contacting various Baptist fellowships in Florida and nationally for
help in lobbying Cuban authorities for Ortiz Columbie’s release.
Suddenly on Oct. 17, after two weeks of sitting in a jail cell in
Santiago de Cuba at the eastern tip of the country, Ortiz Columbie was
released with nary an explanation, his son said earlier this week.
“They told him there would be no charges,” Ortiz said. “My father asked
if he would be left alone and they assured him that he would be.”
Of course there’s no way of knowing that, Ortiz said.
For now, Ortiz Columbie plans to continue the missionary work he has
carried out in the eastern part of the country for more than three
decades with the Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention.
As for the younger Ortiz, his wife, Elizabeth, and their 9-year-old son
Danny, as well as others in the Baptist community, the uneasiness that
this could happen again is haunting.
Ray Johnson, a coordinator with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of
Florida, said he was extremely concerned when he heard Ortiz Columbie
and his 49-year-old traveling partner Francisco “Pancho” Garcia, were
incarcerated Oct. 3 by the National Revolutionary Police in Santiago.
“We contacted folks in our national office and they, in turn, contacted
the World Baptist Alliance to see if they could call Havana,” Johnson
said. “We were ready to do anything to help.”
Johnson’s organization is linked with the Eastern Cuba Baptist
Convention, where Ortiz Columbie is a special projects coordinator. The
younger Ortiz’s church is also affiliated with the Cuban Baptist
concern, sending the group — which has 300 Baptist churches under it in
Cuba — money for missionary projects on the island.
When Ortiz Columbie and Garcia were nabbed, the pair were on their way
to Guantanamo to deliver funds for a missionary project, Ortiz said. The
men were intercepted and taken to jail, their $3,700 in Cuban pesos seized.
“They told my father that he was transporting illicit funds,” Ortiz said.
A Santiago incident report provided to The Daytona Beach News-Journal by
El Nuevo Herald in Miami states Ortiz Columbie and Garcia were engaged
in illicit economic activity. The men were thrown in separate cells and
were allowed to see their respective wives only once for 20 minutes,
said Ortiz, pastor of his Deltona church since 2002.
“My father has never been political, only religious,” Ortiz said. “He
does this work for the love of the mission and for love of his country.”
The younger Ortiz Columbie came here on a visa and is allowed to visit
his family in Cuba, then return home. He traveled to the island nation
last year. He recalled that waiting for word from his mother Anays in
Santiago was challenging because she had very little information to share.
“She saw him one time on a Friday and that was only for 20 minutes,”
Ortiz said. “It was very upsetting for her.”
The most trying moments for Ortiz were when his young son, Danny, would
ask daily for details about his grandfather in Cuba.
“When I would pick him up at school, he would ask me ‘How is my
grandfather? What do you know about him?’ ” Ortiz said. “I had to
swallow my tears every day and be strong for my son.”
At the time of his release, Ortiz Columbie had “extremely high blood
pressure” and a rash on his leg, Ortiz said. Cuban officials promised to
return the money seized from Ortiz Columbie, but he had not seen it by
“This is a 68-year-old man who was held in a jail under terrible
conditions,” his son said.
Although this arrest was not the first for Ortiz Columbie, in the midst
of his missionary work in Cuba, the longtime Baptist leader is not
deterred from continuing the work he loves in a country where religion
is not encouraged but tolerated.
With his father’s vision intact, the younger Ortiz said his church will
continue to send money for missionary work to the Eastern Cuba Baptist
“My mission is to help Cuba,” Ortiz said with conviction. “That’s my
country, those are my people and I’m not going to abandon them.”
West Volusia News – newsjournalonline.com (2 November 2009)