CUMMING, Ga. (BP)–The rescue and eventual return to Cuba of 5-year old Elian Gonzalez last year was an international incident for the United States government and a major news story for the world’s media. But it spurred a return to God for the man who pulled the little refugee from the ocean.
“I gave my life to Christ 21 years ago and preached the gospel in 27 countries, but the day we found Elian, I had lost my way and was away from the Lord,” said Donato Dalrymple, who found the nearly lifeless boy clinging to an inner tube on Thanksgiving Day, 1999, in the water off Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “I was ashamed and afraid and didn’t know how to come back to God, but when I pulled Elian into the boat, I began to weep, looked up to heaven and knew God could still use me.”
Dalrymple shared his testimony of God’s love and restoration with the congregation of First Redeemer Church in Cumming, Ga., on the first anniversary of the early morning raid that resulted in the boy’s eventual return to his father and to Cuba.
“On the day before Easter one year ago today, I felt led by the Holy Spirit to leave my home in Fort Lauderdale and go to be with Elian and his family in Miami. I witnessed to people outside the home as well as to the family,” Dalrymple said. “About 5 o’clock in the morning, I was sleeping on the sofa while family members were negotiating by telephone with Janet Reno [U.S. attorney general]. I was awakened by men shouting, ‘Get down or we’ll shoot. Get down or we’ll shoot.'”
Dalrymple said he instinctively grabbed Elian and ran to a bedroom to either escape or hide. There was no escape.
“Soon the battering ram began hitting the [bedroom] door as Elian was screaming uncontrollably … and a federal agent armed with a machine gun burst into the room shouting, ‘Give us the boy.'” That’s when an Associated Press photographer took a Pulitzer Prize-winning picture that showed a U.S. agent pointing a gun at the boy in Dalrymple’s arms.
“I put my hand between Elian and the agent saying, ‘I’ll give you the boy. Just don’t hurt him,’ but he kept grabbing at Elian with one hand while holding the machine gun with the other,” Dalrymple recounted. “Then a female agent came in, threw a blanket over Elian, and they all ran out of the house to the van which sped away while agents held the family at gunpoint and threw teargas on the crowd gathered outside.”
Dalrymple said the Holy Spirit has impressed on him that the widely reported incidents were not about him or even about “God’s miracle child, but about God showing that he still loves us even when we’re away from him, and he can still use us if we will return to him.”
Dalrymple said he has stayed in contact with Gonzalez’ relatives in Miami but “nobody has been able to communicate with Elian since his return to Cuba. We must continue to pray for him and for his family.”
His testimony, to be telecast nationally on the Inspiration Network Wednesday, May 23 at 10 p.m. Eastern on Redeemer pastor Richard Lee’s “There’s Hope” broadcast, concluded with Dalrymple’s encouragement that “if you’ve lost your first love, God is able to do above and beyond what you believe.”