May 1, 2017

Faith and Family

The lives mother touched will never be the same.

Cristina Jencks

Mama grew up in a small town in Portugal. As the third oldest in a family of six children, she was known as the hardest worker of the family. Working from sunup to sundown with less nourishment than necessary for a growing girl, she developed health issues in her late teen years. At the age of 25 she married a young man from a neighboring town, and together they had two children.

As far back as I can remember, my mother had a strong faith in God. During my early years in Portugal I remember many nights of her praying the rosary, attending Mass every Sunday, and taking catechism classes. Mother loved God and her church.

I also remember many doctor and hospital visits, as my mother was diagnosed with lupus. Her doctors encouraged her to travel to the United States, where knowledge of the disease and medicines were more advanced.

Heading West

So at the age of 41 Cidália and her family immigrated to Milford, Massachusetts. The move wasn’t easy. Her health deteriorated before it began improving; medical bills mounted, and my parents were forced to accept jobs in factories in order to survive.

Through it all, the one constant in my life was my mother’s love and her deep faith in God. We attended Mass every week and went to confession on a regular basis, and my brother and I attended catechism classes. Our Portuguese parish priest was a regular visitor in our home, often sharing Sunday dinners with our family.

Then one day everything changed. After Sunday Mass, our priest announced that he had some Portuguese Bibles (Catholic, of course) for sale. He encouraged anyone who wanted to buy one to see him after church. Not having any money with her, my mother asked my father to buy a Bible. He didn’t think it a wise investment, so he denied her request.

But Mama wasn’t deterred. Approaching her brother after church, she asked to borrow some money. Hungry to read God’s Word, she didn’t rest until she had read the book from cover to cover. She also encouraged my father to read it, which he did periodically.

Sunday dinners with our priest became a time of interrogation. Why aren’t we keeping the Sabbath on Saturday? Why are we encouraged to pray to Mary and the saints instead of directly to Jesus? Why do we confess our sins to priests? Mama couldn’t understand why the church she loved didn’t follow the teachings of the Bible.

Our priest had answers, but they didn’t satisfy my mother. She longed for answers that would quiet her troubled heart.

A Man Selling Books

One Sunday after Mass the priest announced that a man at the back of the church would be selling religious books. The priest had perused the books and said they were very good. He encouraged his parishioners to stop by the man’s table.

Mama Ingathered at work, started a Bible study in her home, and prayed, prayed, prayed.

Mama found the books interesting. She invited the man to come to our house.

That man, Artur Oliveira, was a Portuguese colporteur and later became a pastor in the Southern New England Conference. He visited our house, and my mother purchased The Desire of Ages, The Great Controversy, and some children’s Bible story books for me (I was about 13 at that time).

She also had some questions. Why aren’t we keeping Saturday as the Sabbath? Why do we have statues in our churches? Why are we encouraged to pray to Mary and the saints instead of directly to Jesus? Why do we confess our sins to priests?

This began a series of Bible studies that resulted in my mother turning from her Catholic faith. It was also the beginning of lifelong persecution from our very Catholic family. My father, a nominal Catholic during the best of times, forbade my mother to leave the church of their parents. My mother’s grandmother encouraged my father to divorce my mother to force her to rethink her decision. Aunts and uncles badgered and demeaned her, saying she was being brainwashed. Mama stood firm through it all.

As my mother’s faith grew, my father forbade the colporteur to return to our home or have contact with my mother. There were no Adventist churches nearby, and Mama didn’t drive, so she spent Sabbaths at home, studying her Bible and praying. After more than a year of this, one Saturday morning my mother walked three miles to a bus that would take her to a larger city (without knowing whether it had an Adventist church).

After a 30-minute bus ride, she approached a police officer directing traffic on a busy downtown intersection. In broken English she asked if he would direct her to a church holding Saturday services. The officer, thinking she might be Spanish, hailed a taxi and gave the driver the address of a nearby church, really a small house-church.

Another Family

The taxi driver pulled up to the Framingham Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church, and Mama never looked back. She found a church family that welcomed her with open arms. Although they sometimes had difficulty understanding her Portuguese, she had no difficulty understanding their Spanish. She was thrilled to worship with them, and within six months she became a Seventh-day Adventist.

Although she was repeatedly persecuted and ridiculed by family and friends, her faith never faltered. She shared her newfound faith with anyone who would listen. She bought Bibles and books to share, and invited people to come to attend church with her. She Ingathered at work, started a Bible study in her home with some neighbors and family members, and prayed, prayed, prayed.

Many mornings and evenings I saw my mom on her knees in her bedroom. Many late nights and early mornings I saw her sitting on her bed reading her Bible. She longed for my father, my brother, and me to follow the Lord completely. She longed for her friends and family to know the joy, love, and freedom that she’d found in the Lord.

She never forgot how the Lord had led her. She knew that He had always had a plan for her life, and she marveled at how He had worked all things out for good. When she passed away suddenly in 1998 at the age of 68, it was a loss too large for me to describe. I questioned why the Lord would take her at such a young age, why such a loving mother and faithful child of God couldn’t be spared to live longer. And to my shame, I even wondered that if someone had to die, why her and not my oppressive father.

God’s Fingerprints

My father was diagnosed with cancer two years later. He came to live with my family, and I was able to witness the Lord’s mercy, grace, and perfect timing. Now my father was in a home where there was Bible study, prayer, and church attendance.

My pastor-husband and two children witnessed to my dad in such a way that, because of pride, he would not have listened to his own wife and daughter. As he saw his health deteriorate, he asked me to read the Bible to him and pray for him.

Mama’s deepest desire was not to live a long and healthy life, but to live a life that honored Jesus, her Savior and Best Friend. The way my father changed in later years was evidence for me that God had honored that desire.

Cristina Jencks lives in Apopka, Florida.