The cure was worse than the disease. A stern Franciscan nun by the name of Sister Margarita met me at the second grade entrance of a Catholic school in Cuba many years ago. Being the first day of school, she delineated a sundry list of rules and immediately commenced to impart knowledge. Being that I was highly hyperactive (self diagnosed), I proceeded to briefly socialize with my newly acquired classmates and soon thereafter felt that indescribable feeling of burning pain that savaged my brain; she made good on the enforcement of the rules by using a ruler. Being a hyperactive masochist and after my hand stopped throbbing, I gave it “one last try,” which was followed by “one last hit,” and then it happened; a little boy riddled with “disease” was cured in less than 30 minutes…..hallelujah! I realized that in order to be in her classroom one had to auto-medicate daily, and there and then began the training that served me well (mostly not well) for most of my life….undercover work.
This skill was honed in high school and college, particularly in social settings where I felt quite comfortable impersonating people much more interesting than me. After graduate school, and in search of a real job, I looked and found a profession that uniquely matched my gift: federal drug agent. In this rarefied environment, being someone else but yourself was highly rewarded, whether dealing with international drug dealers or your supervisor. Information was kept close to the vest, relationships were casual at best and one became an island, even to family and friends. My undercover persona was exciting, daring and uninhibited while the real me changed diapers and mowed lawns. You can guess which direction I took.
And then in the summer of 1983, after returning to Florida following stints in Mexico, Venezuela and El Paso, in a small Hispanic Presbyterian Church in Little Havana, I came home to Jesus Christ. The process of adaptation from a brash, commanding, insensitive and self-adsorbed jerk to a humble and loving Christian man has been a long one (as many who know me can attest.) But, the longest journey begins with the first step, and I finally began to walk the marathon ahead of me. For the next six years, I tepidly made incursions into growing my faith, mostly at services and Bible studies, but my old undercover self still had preponderance.
Then in December 1989, events beyond my control jump started me from walking to jogging.
On the 22nd, I joined thousands of American troops in the invasion of Panama, not as a fighter but as an escort service. I had a professional relationship with Manuel Antonio Noriega, the Panamanian dictator, that dated back to 1973, and now that we had procured an international drug trafficking indictment against him, we were using enforcement leverage to justify a military invasion. My primary job was to arrest him in country and transport him back to the U.S. to face trial, which occurred on January 3, 1990 when he surrendered to our military forces. Shortly thereafter, he was handcuffed to me as we flew to Miami. Among his possessions was a Bible, which I read and shared with him throughout the five-hour trip, much to the chagrin of my DEA partner, who was supposed to assist me in Noriega’s interrogation. For some inexplicable reason, I chose a “big stage” to share my faith and show transparency, something not lost by either side; my supervisors excoriated me for not interrogating Noriega, and the defense attorneys accused me of torturing him for five hours by reading Scriptures, but the die was cast.
Twenty-seven years have passed since that event, and hard as I try undercover relapses occur daily when I have opportunities to openly share my faith but choose silence instead. For me, as for many other Christians, being accepted is so important. I am afraid not to measure up when sharing the Gospel and don’t want to be known as a “Bible thumper.” We fail to visualize that we are world missionaries, that Jesus has our back and that “to be ashamed of the gospel is to be a shame to the gospel,” as the evangelist Billy Sunday once proclaimed.
If we are to make a difference for the Kingdom, we must cast aside one of our identities. As Revelation 3:16 declares: “So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Take it from someone who spent most of his life living a lie…the time has come to do the right thing and get right before The Lord, and that starts by being a bold and strategic ambassador of the Good News. We were put on earth at this precise time for a divine reason; let us endeavor to seek His face, seek His favor and seek His identity; the truth will set us free as long as we make transparency a non-negotiable item. As an undercover operative once said, “I’ve worn this mask so long it’s become my face”; for us, it is time to take off our masks.