One family’s pastoral legacy

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, December 2nd. 

Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

WORLD Senior Correspondent Myrna Brown recently spent an afternoon with a family of Cuban-Americans who love their cultural heritage.

But as ties to the old country slip away, they’re determined to pass on the one thing that never fades. Here’s their story.

AUDIO: [Voices speaking in Spanish, kitchen utensil sounds]

MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: In this welcoming kitchen 45 minutes outside of Atlanta, Georgia, there’s plenty of garlic…

AUDIO: [Garlic being crushed] It’s important that you don’t cut it…

…olive oil…

AUDIO: [Pouring hot oil] …and the temperature of the oil cooling off is actually what gives it the exact perfect temperature.

…and three-part harmony…

AUDIO: [Aleman family singing about Cristo in Spanish]

JOSH ALEMAN: Yeah, it’s God, family and food. That’s the level of importance. 

36-year-old Josh Aleman and his parents, Samuel and Ruth are second and third generation Cuban-Americans. Their story begins in Havana, Cuba with Josh’s grandfatherand Samuel’s fatherCililo.

SAMUEL ALEMAN: Cililo Aleman. He was pastor, Baptist pastor.

JOSH ALEMAN: I was probably 12 or 13 and a young man came up to him and he said are you Cililo Aleman? Oh my goodness, I just wrote a paper on you. And he shook his hand. And he said I’m so honored to be in front of a person who did what you did. And I’m like what did he do?

AP ANNOUNCER: Cuba’s Fidel Castro emerged triumphant after two years of guerilla warfare of the Batista regime.

The year was 1959. Communist leader Fidel Castro had come into power. Samuel, just a boy, remembers the celebrations.

SAMUEL ALEMAN: My parents, my father, my mother, everybody was happy about Castro because they came to restore democracy.

However, their joy was short-lived. Instead of democracy, Castro promoted socialism and suppressed Christianity. 

SAMUEL ALEMAN: All the Christian schools were closed. People were afraid to go to church.  Nobody have nothing about business, even small restaurants…zero. The government owned  absolutely 100 percent of the things.

In April 1965, Castro ordered the abduction and later imprisonment of nearly 50 Cuban pastors. Cililo Aleman was one of them. Samuel was 12 years old when plain-clothed officers barged into their home and took his father away.

SAMUEL ALEMAN: They take him and put him in the car. They start to check the whole house, every door, everything, including my room. 

Cililo served 5 ½ years of a nine-year sentence in six different prison camps. Old black and white photographs and other memorabilia sprawled across the Aleman’s kitchen counter tell more of the story.

AUDIO: He made this for me in jail.

Samuel picks up a tiny brown comb and triangular ruler his father made for him from the shell of a turtle. Once released from prison, Samuel says instead of leaving Cuba for good, his father continued to preach in the communist country. 

SAMUEL ALEMAN: But he was a man of principle. He said I am pastor. I am not finished in here…

When Cililo retired from ministry in Cuba, he and his family emigrated to America in 1986. But he didn’t stop preaching. He became a pastor in Florida. Samuel and Ruth, along with Josh and his two siblings headed north to Georgia. 

AUDIO: [Samuel preaching in Spanish]

Before Cililo died in 2002, he lived to see his son Samuel become a pastor. 

And earlier this year, Samuel passed the torch to his son, Josh, a youth pastor.

JOSH PREACHING: You’re going through life and things are difficult and he says man will you call my name.

While Cililo didn’t live to see his grandson become part of a new generation of Aleman preachers, his beloved wife of 50 years did.  

Aurora Aleman, is 90 years old now and lives with Samuel and Ruth. Speaking softly and rubbing her aged hands with lotion, Josh cherishes bittersweet moments like this with his abuela.

JOSH ALEMAN: Which means grandma. She’ll go sweetie, I feel like you’re really important to me but I don’t remember you. And I’m like it’s ok, I’m your grandson, Josh. Oh ok, and she’ll continue.

Aurora has Alzheimer’s Disease but her memories aren’t the only treasures fading. Her descendants will likely never hear or understand her stories. Aurora doesn’t speak or understand English. Many of her great-grandchildren don’t know Spanish.

SAMUEL: To see my grandchildren growing up, not a Spanish at all. I feel a little uncomfortable with that…

AUDIO: [Samuel prays around table in Spanish]

Around the dinner table, the Alemans enjoy rice with chicken and yuca with Mojo sauce, traditional Cuban dishes. While the prospect of losing parts of their culture is difficult to accept, Samuel says they cling to the promise of what they’ve gained as a family of faith.

SAMUEL: But let me tell you, for me the more important thing is that they be a Christian, that they have Jesus Christ. We are very close as family because of Jesus.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Myrna Brown in Loganville, Georgia.

REICHARD: If you’d like to see the Aleman family, Myrna produced a companion video piece for WORLD Watch. We’ll put a link to that story in today’s transcript at

(Photo/Aleman family) Cililo Aleman

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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