“We ought to obey GOD rather than men.” Acts 5:29
Every Sunday morning would start with the gentle and kind voice of my mother trying to wake me up from my deep sleep. “It’s time to get up. We don’t want to be late for church”, she would always say while I snoozed for one or two more minutes sure that she would soon come back for more of the same. I would later get up and almost blindly follow all of my mom’s instructions. “Take a shower first, then eat. I’ll later help you get dressed”, she would say. While in the shower, I would usually ask myself why we had to get up so early for church and why it was that we could never miss any of the Sunday services. My questions, however, were always kept to myself. They were not allowed to leave the rustic and unpainted walls of our cold bathroom.
Deep in my heart I knew how important, and rather essential those church gatherings were. I just didn’t like to wake up early on Sunday. Maybe it was because my classes during the week were also early in the morning and the days I grew up to know as ‘the weekend’, Saturday and Sunday, were the only two days I had to ‘rest’ and technically ‘sleep-in.’ However, despite of my constant reluctance to wake up on time, my mother would always be kind and, in many ways, tolerate my childish indolence.
As I grew up, church remained a big part of my life. I got involved with many activities like mass Evangelism, and even met a handful of friends through my active involvement in our local churches. I learned that my going to church had become more than a mere routine. Church, church life, church friends, all of that had become part of my identity.
During high school I continued to be involved with my local church. It was customary for my mother and I to attend at least three services a week. It was a good custom and an experience I grew up to treasure the more I couldn’t relate to the world around me. It’s fair to say that at a time when some things were reasonably uncertain in my family and also in my academic career, one thing was about to occur that would change my view of church quite radically. My faith was about to go through a change I had not been expecting — I thought I was an ornamented vessel, but I was really just mere clay.
It all started in the summer of 2008, when my father bought us two new satellite TV receivers and had them installed throughout the house. During the months that followed I had one of the two TV decoders in my room. During those weeks, I explored that little pale gray box as much as I could. Among the almost 50 TV channels I would sometimes glance at, only one caught my attention. It was Novo Tempo, a Christian channel which broadcasts from Brazil. Little did I know when I first started watching it that my life was going to change so drastically.
I watched Novo Tempo, the Brazilian version of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s very own Hope Channel, every day for two years. It challenged my understanding of Christianity and invited me to learn about God on a personal basis. It seemed to be the answer to my unuttered prayers. However important Novo Tempo was for me, I remained skeptical and reluctant to make any decision in favor of the message they presented without thoroughly thinking about its implications. As I continued to wrestle with the teachings presented on TV, I finally decided to visit a Seventh-day Adventist church for the first time. It was the Central SDA church of Luanda, my hometown in Angola.
As I arrived at the church for the first time, on a rather sunny Wednesday afternoon, the old paintings on the walls and the rustic texture of the outer fence did not necessarily welcome me. The church building seemed quite old and in need of maintenance. Soon after I entered the building I realized that it was indeed undergoing some repairs. While yet wading through the walls of the church and trying to make sense of the place, I met a person or two in between the loud shouts of the schoolchildren playing on the church patio.
Roughly three months after my first visit, I attended my first Saturday-morning service at that same church. The experience was far from what I had expected from watching sermons on TV. At first glance, the people were not as nice, and the preaching did little to prevent me from sleeping in the pew. Yet of this one thing was I sure, God had sent me there. And despite the first impressions of the brethren, on that same day, after the service, I met friends that would walk the narrow path alongside me while also sharing my burdens and joys.
In the upcoming weeks, I’d rush out of school to attend either the Wednesday or Friday vespers at church. Then, after each meeting, at around 7:30pm, I would run to catch either a bus or a cab to head home on those semi-dark streets of my hometown. I was living an adventure! At that time in my life I had more faith than ever before. Yet one thing wasn’t right: my parents didn't know of my discoveries. So it was that my fear of facing their opposition over my decision of leaving our family church grew suffocatingly stronger.
After I finally gained the courage to talk and reason with my mother, it seemed clear for the both of us that the best thing for us to do was to keep praying while letting God have His way. My mother did not stop me from going “my own way.” Rather, she made sure to remind me that “Not every one that saith [...] Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven […]” My dad, on the other hand, despite being the person who indirectly introduced me to Adventism through the timely purchase of that satellite dish, after learning that I wanted to become an Adventist, did not give me much room for maneuver. The only time I remember talking to him about my decision was a Sunday morning I had missed church. That day, upon his arrival from church, he asked me a very unexpected question: “I hear that you want to become an Adventist. Is that true?” As he spoke those words, it seemed to me obvious that my answer could mean a lot. Thus, I replied, “I’ve been thinking about it.” My father didn’t say a word and walked away. Next time we talked about church he uttered the words “If, by the time your mother and I are back tonight, you’ll not have gone to church, you’d better leave the house.” That Sunday morning changed my life. After hearing my father say those words, I pondered on their implications for a couple of hours. I knew, by then, that it was no longer just an issue about ‘church’. It was evident that “we ought to obey GOD rather than men” Acts 5:29. Then, as the hour of my parents’ return approached, I was overcome by deep anguish within my soul. I packed my senior year notebooks, some pants, a pair or two of shoes, my Bible, then went my way. I was seventeen at the time.