The wife of a Newport News man who has been sentenced to 24 years in a Cuban jail says that since he was on a "mission for God," she believes God will get him out of prison.

The man, Melvin Bailey, was the pilot of a plane that had been dropping religious anti-communist leaflets over the island when it was forced to land there. He and his passenger, Walter T. White, of Glendale, Calif., who provided the funds for the trip, were each sentenced to four years for illegal entry and 20 years for acts against the state.

Bailey's wife Mary, who visited him early in January, said, "He believes God is totally in control now . . . Personally, I believe something will happen and he will get out.

"There must be a reason for this. God didn't cause that plane to crash just so he could spend 24 years in prison. He did what he did, not for money, but out of voluntary service."

The pamphlets the men had been distributing were written by Richard Wurmbrandt, founder of Jesus to the Communist World of Glendale. Their plane was forced down last May and they were sentenced in Novemeber.

A State Department official said that while the men had a permit from the Cuban Civil Air Authority to fly over the island, "they are sensitive in Cuba" about dropping leaflets.

He added that there is only a "very very slight chance" that the men would be released before the end of their sentences. "We arranged visits with their family members. There isn't much else we can do except make sure they are treated humanely."