God was waiting patiently for people while Noah was building the big boat. And only a few—eight in all—were saved in the boat through the floodwater” (1 Peter 3:20, ERV*).
I became acquainted with church and the God we serve around the tender age of six or seven. It wasn’t because my parents were faithful church members, as is usually the case with kids finding religion at that age. In fact, my parents didn’t really know much about church. They didn’t know anything about the foundational teachings of this church that I had become aware of across the street from our house, nor did they know what its members believed and practiced. This was a Seventh-day Adventist congregation, and, other than being aware of the fact that they met on Saturdays, my parents only knew that these people were a religious group that differed from other denominations in a number of ways.
My mother had come from generations of cultural Catholics who went to church every Sunday without knowing why they worshiped on that day. My father was an atheist who fought alongside Fidel Castro in the wilderness of the Sierra Maestra, believing that Castro was saving the world by his political philosophy.
It was in the Cuba of 1967 that I first found my church. By then, the rude awakening from Castro’s romanticized dream of a better regime was taking its toll on everyone. People were starving. Our homeland was plagued by shortages of food, fuel, and other vital necessities. Private vehicles had disappeared from the streets, leaving people to rely on horses, mules, and overcrowded buses for their travels. Hunger and blackouts were the daily bread of our lives.
My father, who by this time was considered a dissident and a political enemy of the revolution for having renounced Castro’s ideology, was out of a job. He lost his position in the regime and was sent away for punishment to one of the many agricultural labor camps that Castro had established. We didn’t get to see him much for several years. My mother, my sister, and I stayed at home to survive as well as we could by ourselves.
I still remember my young sister and I searching in the crevices in the walls and floors of our humble home for whatever coins or pennies we could find. And what a joyous occasion it was to find those few pennies from better days left behind perhaps by fate—or by Providence—so that we could buy a loaf of bread or a can of milk.
During the rainy season, water poured down from the sky for days without end. Road construction, potholes, and sewer repairs were left unfinished for months. Without the proper barricades, these holes, swollen with dirty water, became a public hazard. Wind blew more dirt into the already muddy waters, which soon became deep and dark enough for a curious child or an elderly person to fall into during blackouts. It was a perilous adventure going out after sundown.
It was then, in the darkest hour of my childhood in socialist Cuba, that I heard the songs of hope being sung in this church across the street, and my young life took a detour toward the Light. Castro had long banned Christmas from being celebrated on the island, and he had made sure churches were shut down and priests and parishioners silenced. All church activities going on in Cuba at the time were monitored, and most people refrained from attending church. Thankfully, this persecution didn’t stop the faithful members of the Seventh-day Adventist church from worshiping their Savior and Lord.
Their faith would not be stopped. Their voices would not be shut down, and every Wednesday night and every Friday night, it was the same. These people would walk in total darkness to their little church across from our house and hold a prayer meeting by candlelight.
Darkness frightened me. Night frightened me. The songs of barn owls and night birds sent chills running up and down my spine and brought anxiety to my young heart. I lived in fear. I was a child struggling with hunger and loneliness, who didn’t have a father to take care of her. But the songs of the Seventh-day Adventists in those dark nights of my childhood had a miraculous power to save even a frightened child like me.
These songs of faith and hope drifted with inexplicable power across the darkened street to our humble home. I remember the strength their words instilled in me, their message of hope. I remember running to the only window in the house whenever I heard these people sing, and then remaining glued to the window as the words of their songs nurtured my spirit.
One hymn in particular seemed to have a special power over me. It had the ability to transport my young mind to another time and place and to a better home and a better future. “This world, this world is not my home,” it said, . . .
This world is not my resting place. . . .
Tho’ many would my progress stay,
And beg me not to watch and pray;
I dare not listen to their cry;
I seek a glorious home on high . . .
Come and go with me,
And seek this land of liberty;
Oh, do not stay, but tell me why
You do not seek this home on high.
Was this true? Was it really as these people said? Was there really another world, a better place to be?
I didn’t truly understand then what it was or why these songs mesmerized me the way they did, but one thing I knew: they assured me that I had more than what I thought I did. I had a heavenly Father who loved me and provided for me. I had a future indeed!
There was something profound, powerful, and mysterious in the nights of my childhood whenever those faithful Seventh-day Adventists sang their hymns. Unknown to them, it was the way God chose to draw me to Him at that young age.
In my hour of deprivation and amid the darkness of an uncertain future, the little church across the street became the Noah’s ark of my childhood. It became a place of salvation and hope and a place where all my fears subsided. And it still is.
Many years have passed since those days of my childhood, and I still love my church and what it stands for. More than ever, I feel the need to run to the safety of my Noah’s ark, the church, and its message of salvation through Jesus Christ. “For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:5).
As the uncertainties and events taking place in our world today accelerate our fears, as the public health crisis stemming from the spread of COVID-19 continues to become more serious with widespread death around the globe, how precious does a church family become, and how precious its message of salvation in Jesus!
Noah’s ark saw eight people through the deluge of the great Flood, and the church is Christ’s means by which we are safe from the wild waters of our times. Let us take heart. Let Christ and the priceless message of hope that His church represents sustain us through these uncertain times. The unruly winds and terrifying waves may say, “No help is in sight!” But even at its worst, the storm outside cannot take away the peace we can enjoy in God’s presence.
This storm too shall pass, and we can stay focused on the ultimate destiny that God has reserved for all who believe. Therefore, “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God, and trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I would not tell you this if it were not true. I am going there to prepare a place for you. After I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back. Then I will take you with me, so that you can be where I am.” (John 14:1–3, ERV).
Olga Valdivia lives in Nampa, Idaho, USA, the city where Pacific Press, the publisher of Signs of the Times ®, is located.
* Bible verses marked ERV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: EASY-TO-READ VERSION © 2014 by Bible League International. Used by permission.