December 27, 2022

School Experiences Stir Student’s Faith, Baptism Decision

Christian Figueroa grew up Adventist, but he needed something more to make a decision.

Darla Martin Tucker, La Sierra University
La Sierra University chaplain Jason Decena (left) baptizes student Christian Figueroa in June 2022 in an outdoor baptistry on the campus of La Sierra University. [Photo: Jared Gonzalez]

Christian Figueroa grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, regularly attended church with his family, and understood Adventist beliefs. But it wasn’t until experiences at La Sierra Academy and La Sierra University in Riverside, California, United States, that his own spiritual life and identity fell into focus, leading to his decision to be baptized.

The third-year biochemistry and pre-dentistry major and Pasadena, California native enrolled at La Sierra University through the influence of his brother, Jeffery Figueroa, a Riverside dentist and an alumnus of the university.

The window into a deeper and stronger personal faith cracked opened with a first chapel service Christian attended when he arrived at La Sierra Academy’s high school. Later on, he was further influenced through the spiritual support and encouragement of his girlfriend, whom he met at La Sierra University. Then a religion class last year at the university inspired a flash of divine insight, furthering Christian’s journey. He was baptized in June 2022 by La Sierra University chaplain Jason Decena in an outdoor baptistry on the campus’s Founders’ Green.

“I grew up in the [Adventist] environment. But I never felt that I was fully integrated into it,” Figueroa says. “What inspired me was actually coming to the school[s].”

He enrolled at La Sierra Academy for his senior year of high school and attended a Friday afternoon chapel service his first day. “I cried that day because it was so moving for me to see people that were genuinely invested and actually meant what they were doing.”

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Silvana Abornoz (left), director of The Wash Project at La Sierra University, and biochemistry and pre-dentistry major Christian Figueroa pose for a holiday photograph. [Photo: courtesy of Christian Figueroa]

Figueroa attended community college for a year and then enrolled at La Sierra University, where he met his girlfriend, Silvana Albornoz, whose work organizing a homeless outreach through the campus’s Spiritual Life office made an impact on Christian’s burgeoning faith. The Wash Project brings food, clothes, toiletries, and other items each Friday to a large population of homeless families and individuals encamped in a dry riverbed in the region.

“I felt that this program helped me do God's work physically,” Figueroa says. “I think that’s definitely what got me to that point where I was like, [campus chaplain] Jason, let’s do this.”

Over the summer, while assisting his family in starting a nursery business that involved hammering out a business plan and working through a thousand decisions, Figueroa contemplated the reasons his faith had become so important to him.

“It was always like an on-and-off relationship with God and the religion itself for most of my life,” he said in an interview this past fall. “The whole point of it [baptism] was to take ownership of my faith. My name is Christian, and I've always had this struggle of, ‘am I really?’ ”

Figueroa also notes a religion class he took at La Sierra last year with Kendra Haloviak Valentine, during which she relayed an epiphanic moment experienced by one of her students, who likened the choice between good and evil as a choice between someone whose goal it is to destroy human beings and Someone who loves and adores them even though they’re not worthy.

“So, taking ownership of that, that was a huge moment for me because I had never thought of it that way,” Figueroa says. “I always thought like, I know I’m not worthy, but whatever, I'm still here. But hearing it from someone else's mouth made it quite clear for me.

“And why don't I take ownership? … I don't deserve it anyway. But why don't I just treat it like it’s mine.”

The original version of this story was posted on the La Sierra University news site.