Growing up in communist Cuba in the 70s and 80s, Victor Manuel's grandparents bravely taught him about the God of the Bible, despite there being a strong threat of persecution and a general rejection of religion in society.
Victor's biological father was a communist and an alcoholic, and his step-father was a communist too. However, while Victor was still a young man, his mother became a Christian by accepting Jesus as her Saviour and Lord, and began praying for her son.
By this time Victor had fallen into alcoholism himself, begun smoking and was working as a bartender in a nightclub. But a single phrase was about to change his life forever.
"One day my mother, who knew how much I liked the English language, invited me to a service where an American evangelist would be that night. I accepted the invitation to go but was unable get inside, so I stayed outside looking through one of the windows. That man of God said a phrase that acted as a trigger for me. He said: 'Those who are born once, die twice; those who are born twice, die just once'.
"That phrase impacted my life and I reflected on it for several weeks after hearing the message," Victor recalls.
The preacher had been referring to Jesus' teaching in John 3 in the Bible that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. Jesus then goes on to explain that the second birth is a spiritual one.
About a month later, Victor witnessed a fatal accident and heard God say clearly inside him: "You could have been one of them."
"That night I decided to go to church and three days later I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. God took my sins away and He made me a new person in Christ. I was baptized [immersed in water as an outward sign of dying to my old self] on September 24, 1995. From this time on I felt a strong desire to serve the Lord. A year later I gave up my work as a bartender because that place was not compatible with my new life in Christ," Victor shares.
Initially unable to find work, Victor began volunteering in his church. God provided for him financially and made his work so successful that he realised God was calling him to become a pastor.
In 1997 he married his wife Elaine and they have since had two children together. The following year Victor started studying towards a theological degree with a seminary in Eastern Cuba.
"The Lord has allowed me to continue studying, obtaining a Master's degree in Old Testament and, if it is God's Will, I aspire to start a Doctoral degree," says Victor. Besides this, he has been kept busy running a Christian conference centre, teaching at a seminary, serving on the board of his denomination and spreading the Good News of the story of Jesus to his community in Baire, in southern Cuba.•