PAA Teacher Publishes True Story of Cuban Finding Freedom

August 28, 2019 | Education | Liesl Vistaunet

“I met Dionisio at the Portland Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church,” says Rita Barrett, Spanish teacher at Portland Adventist Academy in Portland, Ore. “I was looking for volunteers to help with classroom conversation groups, and he was the first to volunteer. He has been my faithful helper ever since.”

 That was 10 years ago.

Throughout those years, Barrett occasionally heard pieces of his story as he talked with students in small groups. She grew more and more amazed by the adventures that finally led him to the United States and to his embrace of the Seventh-day Adventist faith.

“I began to think I should write it down,” Barrett explains. With the encouragement from students who were also excited about Dionisio’s story, she began writing.

Every week she wrote a chapter and brought it to her students until finally the story was a complete book. She named it Libertad — “freedom” in English.

Barrett offered the manuscript to Fluency Matters, a major publishing company of books for classroom use by language teachers around the world. Fluency Matters editor, author and professional growth teacher Carol Gaab found Dionisio’s story inspiring.

Fluency Matters accepted the book, and several months later it was published just in time for teachers to order copies for the 2018–2019 school year.

Later, Gaab followed up with Barrett, Dionisio and PAA students in a video thanking them for the book. “Dinsosio’s story leaves me speechless,” Gaab said in the video. “Dionisio, thank you so much for allowing us to share your story. Thank you for helping us to inspire others to acquire language and to stay the course on their journey through life.” See the video HERE.

During an all-school chapel at PAA, Barrett surprised her students by showing them the book was finished. She invited Dionisio on stage and presented him with his own copy.

While publication alone is something to celebrate, Barrett’s joy came from knowing that Libertad is shining a light on Dionisio’s incredible journey to Jesus and sharing that light with people who may not fully understand the Christian faith.

In a presentation during PAA’s 2019 alumni weekend, Barrett called every part of this journey a miracle. She shared the story of Dionisio’s adventures and his eventual acceptance of Jesus. She also talked about the long and laborious process that led to the publishing of Libertad. Hear Barrett’s presentation HERE.

“Publishing the book through a well-known publishing house has opened the door to sharing Dionisio’s story with students in both public and private schools,” says Barrett. “It’s even being read in schools where teachers may not have the liberty to share their own religious beliefs!”

But that’s not where the story ends. Nearly a year after Libertad was published, the miracles continue to compound.

Barrett and several of her students traveled to Cuba for a PAA spring break mission trip with the organization Care for Cuba. During their trip, they visited a church that, in Barrett’s words, "stole our hearts." She felt moved to help the church to rebuild after a hurricane left their building in shambles many years ago. They still need $20,000 to reach the $30,000 required to rebuild. Read all about that HERE.

Connecting her experience with Dionisio’s inspiring escape from Castro’s Cuba, Barrett decided to commit the book’s first-year royalties to the church building fund. As of July 2019, the book has earned more than $2,000. Sales continue.

When Dionisio was being imprisoned and abused, he would never have imagined his experiences could have such a positive impact. Twenty-five years later, his story is being read by hundreds (and counting) of young people around the world and supporting a little church in Cuba, his home country and where his adventures first began.