The early morning breezes that blew west out of Provo and Rock canyons June 23 carried with them two of the latest generation of freedom fighters.
Jinqing Cai and Lester Moreno Perez felt the freedom of flight that Saturday morning as they floated through the sky in two "Stars and Stripes" hot air balloons.But this flight was welcome, even enthusiastically anticipated - not like a flight both of them made just months earlier.
If you are keeping up on the America's Freedom Festival at Provo, you probably recognize these young people's names. They were honored June 22 at the Awards Gala for their involvement in seeking freedom.
Jinqing, 22, a student leader at the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing, China, was honored for her courageous fight. She was forced to go into hiding after the 1989 incident, but through the help of a sympathetic university professor, Jinqing secured the letters necessary to flee her beloved homeland to freedom.
Lester, a 17-year-old surfer, began preparing for his escape at the tender age of 8. His actual flight to freedom began the evening of March 1, 1990, as he stepped off the Cuban shoreline and onto his sailboard and set a course northward for the Florida coast. Ten hours and 60 miles later, Lester was picked out of the water by a Bahamian freighter and taken the final 30 miles to freedom.
Jinqing and Lester seem like ordinary Americans with unusual ethnic backgrounds. They enjoy swimming at the Seven Peaks Water Resort, riding the Bridal Veil Falls tram, hiking, eating pizza and just sitting around talking and laughing.
Yet whether they know it or not, they have placed themselves in the history books. People who hear their stories want to shake their hands and be near them. Some shed tears of admiration for their timely heroics, others reach out to embrace them as a sign of approval of their deeds.
The concept of yearning for freedom is a foreign one to most Americans. The idea of having to flee our homeland is incomprehensible. But a great many of us give little thought to what our lives would be like without that precious freedom.
It was my extreme privilege to be a hostess to Jinqing and her parents during their visit to Provo. In just three short days, these wonderful Chinese people taught me about freedom in a way I could never have learned from books or the school room.
We shared our thoughts and dreams of nations joining hands, of people living without fear of their fellowman and of the future. Our hopes are the same.
For Jinqing, the future holds many wonderful opportunities. But for her parents, who are in the United States for six months on visitors visas, the future could be ominous.
As long as I live I shall never forget my new-found friends. Hopefully I have gleaned from them the kind of courage it will take to fight for and maintain freedom in my own homeland. Hopefully I will never have to.