Carmela’s Story

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Carmela sat in the empty church which was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  She was on her way home from the salon where she worked when she decided to stop in and pray for her brother, Guido who died five years ago from a heart attack.  She hoped and prayed that he was no longer in Purgatory because of all the prayers she and the rest of the family had made on his behalf and that he was in Heaven now.  Still, it didn’t hurt to still say prayers for him.

“Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace.”

After she finished praying, she said this prayer for her deceased parents whom  she knew were in Heaven.  “O God, Who hast commanded us to honor our father and mother, look in the tenderness of Thy mercy upon the souls of my father and mother and forgive them their sins, and grant unto me the joy of seeing them again in the glorious light of everlasting life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

She hoped that one day soon, Guido would join them. She remained kneeling for a while longer and then she made the sign of the Cross.   She rose to her feet went to the front and lit three candles, said a prayer and then left.  Outside it was a bit nippy and drizzling slightly.  She stopped at the supermarket to pick up a few items and then went to the modest apartment she shared with her teenage daughter, Maria.

The place was quiet when she opened the door and went inside.  Maria was still out with her friends.  She said that they were going to hang out at the mall for a while and she should be home by seven. The clock on the wall in the living-room struck five.  She went straight into the kitchen and set the grocery bags on the counter before she removed her jacket and hung it in the hall closet.  She washed her hands and got busy making her famous Manicotti Italian Casserole.

While the Casserole was in the oven baking, she went and took a quick shower.  By the time she was done, the Casserole was ready.  She removed it from the oven and shared it out.  She waited until the oven cooled a bit before she put the plate with Maria’s food inside the oven to keep it hot.  She sat down at the kitchen table and ate hers.  She hadn’t made it since Giuseppe died.  It was his favorite dish.  He always used to boast, “I got lucky when I married you.  You make the best Manicotti Italian Casserole on the planet.  Even better than Mama’s.”

Carmela smiled.  He was such a good husband and father.  It was hard to believe that ten years had passed since he died.  She visited his grave every week and put fresh flowers on it.  And she prayed for him every night.  She couldn’t imagine marrying again.  Giuseppe was her first and only love.  She wanted to remain his wife for the rest of her life.

After she finished eating, she got up from the table, washed the plate and the dirty things in the sink.  She fixed herself a cup of a cup of coffee and took it into the living-room.  She turned on the television and watched the local news.  When it was over, she turned off the television and went to the kitchen to wash the cup and saucer.  It was Friday so she went to get the dirty laundry.  She went to Maria’s room first and as she was about to pick up the laundry bin to take it to the washer, her eyes fell on a booklet lying on top of the bed.  On the front there was a picture of a man stooping down in front of a grave with a woman dressed in white standing behind him.  Over his head were the words, Are the Dead Really Dead?

Heart pounding, she dropped the laundry basket on the floor and picked up the booklet.  She sat down on the bed and began to read it.  She was half way through when she heard the key turn in the lock.  Maria was home.  Closing the booklet, she hurried into the living-room.  Holding the booklet up for her to see, she asked, “Where did you get this?”

Maria looked at the booklet.  “I got it from Anna who got it from her cousin, Lucy.”

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“Is Lucy the one who is a Seventh-day Adventist?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I want you to take this and give it back to Anna.  I don’t want this kind of literature in my home.”

“But, Mama, I read it and it makes so much sense to me.  I never believed that you can talk to and pray to the dead.”

“All my life I have been a Catholic and I believe what the church teaches.  The dead are in Heaven or Purgatory or Hell.  They are not sleeping in their graves as this claims.” She shoved it at Maria, shaking her head.

“They use scriptures to back up what they are saying.  Why is it such a bad thing to believe that the dead are in their graves?  Would Heaven be a happy place for them when they see their loved ones suffering?  Take Amy’s mother for example.  Would she be happy in Heaven if she can see Amy’s brother, Michael getting bullied at school because he has a learning disability?  What about Grandpa and Grandma?  How would they feel if they saw Uncle Guido struggling with alcohol addiction or how painful it was for us when Daddy died?  I thought Heaven was supposed to be a happy place but how could anyone be happy there when they can see so much suffering here on earth or their loves one burning up in Hell?  No, Mama, I can’t believe that God who is love would have people burning in Hell forever or stuck in limbo in Purgatory, hoping that the prayers of their loved ones will get them into Heaven and afraid that they might end up in Hell.  I believe what this Study guide says about death.  It is more in line with God’s loving and compassionate character.  I am going to ask Anna for more these study guides so that I can learn more of what’s in the Bible.”

Carmela stared at her.  “So, you’re going to turn your back on your Catholic faith?”

“Mama, I was never a devout Catholic like you and the rest of our family, except Uncle Guido.  I never felt an emotional connection to the traditions and teachings.  I went to Anna’s church last week Saturday and I felt so connected to the people and was so moved by the sermon that I was sorry when it was over.  I felt this hunger to know more.”

“You went to a Seventh-day Adventist Church?” Carmela demanded, incensed.  “How dare you go there without my permission?”

“Would you have let me go if I asked you?”

“No! And for good reason.  Maria, they teach all sorts of negative things about our church such as the Papacy is the Anti-Christ and that the church is the whore of Babylon mentioned in the book of Revelation.  They claim to be God’s remnant church because they keep the Ten commandments which were nailed to the cross and because of some woman named Ellen G. White whom they say is a prophetess.”

“Mama, I really want to go to Anna’s church this Saturday.  The youth are doing the worship service and afterwards there’s a lunch and–”

Carmela’s mouth tightened.  “Forget it.  You’re not going.”

“But, Mama–”

“You heard me.  Now finish taking up your dirty laundry and put it in the washer.  When you’re finished have your dinner.  It’s in the oven.”  She turned and walked out of the room, livid.  “Ragazza sciocca. Tornando indietro alla sua fede. Beh, non ce l’ho. Non finché vivi qui.”

Maria didn’t go to church on the Sabbath but she watched the service on line the next day while her mother was at Sunday Mass.  She did that every Sunday and when she turned 18, she decided that she wanted to be baptized and be a member of Anna’s church.  When she broke the news to her mother, she yelled, “Se ci riesci, voglio buttarti fuori da questa casa” before she stormed out of the apartment.

After she left, Maria went to her room and knelt beside her bed and prayed.

Carmela took the bus to the cemetery and she hurried towards Guiseppe’s grave, tears of anger streaming down her face.  When she got there, she knelt down.  “Oh, Guiseppe, your daughter will be the death of me.  Do you know what she is planning to do?  She’s going to get baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist church, of all the churches.  I warned her that if she goes through with it, I will throw her out on the streets.  I don’t know what else to do.  Guiseppe, what do I do?  How could I let her turn her back on our faith?  No one in our family is a Protestant.  Per favore, caro mio, dimmi cosa devo fare.”

She waited for a reply, her hands clasped tightly in front of her and her eyes squeezed shut.  There was silence and then she heard a male voice ask, “Why do you seek the dead on behalf of the living?”

Her eyes flew up and she looked wildly about her but she was alone.  No one else was there.  Trembling, she asked, “Whose voice did I just hear? Was it the Lord’s or an angel’s?”

“It is I, Jesus.  Maria has chosen a good thing which will not be taken away from her.”

“What should I do, Lord?”

“Do not cast her out.”

Carmela made the sign of the cross and stood up.  She went away, her heart racing and the words of the Lord running through her mind.  When she got home, she called Maria.  “I’m sorry about earlier,” she said.  “If you’re serious about getting baptized and joining Anna’s church, I’m not going to stop you or kick you out but I won’t be there.”  And she walked past her and went to her room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Maria raised her eyes heavenward and gave thanks.  A couple weeks later she was baptized and Anna’s parents invited her to their home to celebrate.  Maria became a member of the church and involved in the Youth Ministry.  She even taught Sabbath School sometimes.  She became a literature evangelist and handed out tracts.  She became a vegetarian much to her mother’s chagrin but there was no opposition.  Maria cooked her own meals.

Carmela saw how happy her daughter was and she stopped lamenting about her leaving the Catholic church.  She continued to attend Sunday Mass.  One Sunday after Mass, she was talking to Father Ricci and she mentioned something about Eve.  One of her regular customers at the salon had lent her the movie, Genesis: The Creation and the Flood which she watched on Saturday.

Father Esposito’s expression changed and he said, “Mrs. Romano, the story of Adam and Eve was not to be taken literally.  It was merely a story in the Bible and should not be taken as fact.”

She stared at him, stunned but didn’t get into any further discussion with him.  “Thank you, Father,” she said.  “Good-day.”  She turned and hurried away, her mind reeling from shock.  She went home and opened her Bible to Chapter Three of the Gospel of Luke where the the Genealogy of Jesus was.  There was Adam’s name and he was called the son of God.  How then, could Father Esposito claim that Adam was not a real person?  And Jesus Himself alluded to both Adam and Eve when He said, “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.”

She closed the Bible and sank heavily down on the sofa.  Why would Father Esposito claim that the story of creation was just a story?  What else in the Bible should not be taken as fact?  She went into the den and logged on to the computer.  She did several searches until she came across a site called, Steps to Life and a book called, Is the Virgin Mary Dead or Alive by Danny Vierra.  At first, she didn’t want to read it but she felt strongly impressed to.

She read the first chapter and her heart lurched when she read the part about the priest who taught his religion class telling him the same thing Father Esposito told her about the story of Adam and Eve.  Heart racing, she continued reading.  She read a few chapters that evening and every evening until she was finished reading the entire book.  Afterwards, she did the online Bible Studies by Marshall Grosboll

By the time she was done with the Bible Studies, she knew that she had a choice to make.  She could remain in the church that she had been born and raised in or she could leave.  As she prayed earnestly about it,  the words, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” came to her.  She had discovered God’s truth and she had to embrace it.

She told Maria everything and her daughter was thrilled.  Together they went to Anna’s church and one Saturday, Maria watched with tears in her eyes as her mother gave her life to Christ.  The following month, on Carmela’s 45th birthday, she was baptized.

Carmela thanked Jesus for talking to her that day in the cemetery and her customer for lending her the movie about Genesis.  Those two events changed her life.  And she was proud of Maria for choosing that “good thing”.

The way to God’s truth is always there.  Some find it sooner and some later.  The important thing is to find it.  And when you do, it will set you free.

Sources:  Our Catholic Prayers; Town and Country; Catholic News Herald;

Tamika’s Story

I was turning tricks since I was 15.  My father was in prison for manslaughter and my mother was a coke head.  I didn’t have any siblings.  I was the only child.  I thought of dropping out of school and finding a job so I could save up enough money to blow this city but I then I decided that I wanted to make quick money.  I was an attractive looking girl.  I’ve had many boys and men hit on me.  So the plan was that I would go to school during the day and turn tricks at night.  I knew exactly where to go.  It was a prime spot where rich men drove up in their fancy cars.  So, I started out walking the streets and getting into cars which took me to dark alleys.  I made a lot of money which I hid in a box under my mattress.  When I had enough, I would leave home and go to another state where I could start a new life.

One of my johns was a foreign businessman.  I met him when I was 17.  I suspected that he was German because of his accent.  It reminded me of Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List.  He took a real liking to me and several times he picked me up in his black sedan.  He didn’t take me to an alley but to a quiet spot on a bridge or at a lookout place where you could see the city below.  It got so that he didn’t want me to have other johns so I went only with him and instead waiting for him in the usual pick up area, I waited outside of The QG department store.  Then, he bought a fancy and very expensive penthouse apartment uptown and that was where he and I would go every night.  I didn’t mind.  He was very attractive, probably in his early or mid-forties and he was rich.  He bought me jewelry, a fur coat and expensive dresses.  I later found out that I was the first and only prostitute he had ever been with.

He was a very intelligent and he exposed me to the finer things in life.  He lent me books by German classic authors such as Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht and German-Swedish poet, Nelly Sachs.  He started taking me to the opera, museums and the ballet.  Sometimes we enjoyed fine dining and a couple of times we took weekend trips to Ocean City, Calvert Cliffs State Park, Deep Creek Lake and Chesapeake Beach.  We drew some attention wherever we went but he didn’t seem to care.  I always worried that I might run into one of my former johns, though.  Then, I figured that they would probably wouldn’t even recognize me because the lighting was always poor when I was with them or if they did recognize me, they would act like they didn’t know me.  I was glad that I was off the streets and that I had a man who was taking care of me.

There were times when we didn’t see each other because he had to go away on business.  I missed him like crazy and was always thrilled when he came back.  When he showed up at the penthouse, I would throw myself at him and we would kiss each other wildly and end up in bed where we spent most of our time.  I wondered sometimes if he was in a relationship.  I didn’t notice a wedding ring but he could have removed it.  I was afraid to ask because I was afraid of the answer.

When I graduated from high-school, I applied to three universities and got accepted to all three.  He offered to pay for my tuition.  I chose John Hopkins University.  When I told him that my area of study was Computational Medicine, he seemed a bit surprised.  I explained to him that I loved computers and have always been interested how human diseases are identified, analyzed and treated.  I showed him the books on Human Disease which I had borrowed from the library.  The whole thing must have seemed strange to him because I used to turn tricks.  I never had unprotected sex with any of my johns because I didn’t want to contract HIV/AIDS or get pregnant.  I never kissed any of them nor engaged in fellatio.  I was a prostitute but I had my standards.  I was lucky I was never met with any danger or violence as some girls have done.  I think Someone was watching over me.

One day I was in the kitchen fixing dinner when my mother stumbled in.  She looked awful.  “So, where you got them fancy clothes from?” she demanded.

I turned to face her.  “Mama, you have no right to go into my room without my permission.”

“Don’t you sass me, Girl.  I got every right to do what I want in my house.  Now, answer me, where did you get them clothes?”

“I saved up and bought them.”

“Where did you get the money to save up?”

“I got a job after school,” I lied.

“What job?  Where?  How come you didn’t tell me ’bout it before?”

I didn’t answer.

She came closer to me and studied me.  “You lyin’,” she said.  “Where did you get the money?”

“Mama, please leave me alone.”

“You been turnin’ tricks?”

“No, Mama.”  That was true.  I wasn’t on the streets any more.

“Did you rob somebody?”

I looked at her.  “No, Mama!  I’m not a thief.”

“Then, you got yo’self a Sugar Daddy.”

“Mama, you don’t know what you’re talking about.  I’m fixing dinner.  Why don’t you sit down at the table and have some?  You don’t look like you’ve eaten all day.” I tried to help her over to the table but she slapped my hand away.

“Don’t give me that,” she snapped.  “You’ve been holding out on me.”

“No, I haven’t, Mama,” I denied.

“Give me some of that money.  I deserve it for all them years I struggled hard to raise you after yo’ Daddy got thrown in prison.  Give me some of that money.”

I got angry then.  “So that you could waste it on drugs?  No, Mama, I’m not going to feed your drug habit.  You need help.”

She drew her hand back and slapped me hard across the face.  “Don’t you talk to me like that!”

I threw the spoon down, turned off the stove and rushed out of the kitchen.  I ran out of the house, hailed a cab and went to the penthouse.  I spent the night there.  When I went back to the house, my mother wasn’t there.  I decided that I would going to move out.  I had had enough of her and her drug problem.  I quickly threw all of my clothes and jewelry in the suitcase.  I put the money I kept hidden under the mattress in my satchel.  I went to get my fur coat but it wasn’t there.  I searched my room and the entire apartment but couldn’t find it.  Then, it dawned on me that my mother must have taken it.  She was probably could to sell it for money to buy drugs.  Hatred and fury welled up inside me and grabbing my suitcase, I stormed out of that miserable place I had called home for 19 years.

I moved into the penthouse and when my man came there the following night after returning from one of his business trips, I told him what had happened.  “I can’t believe she sold my fur coat,” I wailed.  “I loved it because you gave it to me.”

“Don’t worry about the coat,” he said.  “I can buy you another one.  But, your mother…she needs help.”

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“When I told her that, she slapped me.”

“She slapped you because of how you spoke to her, Tamika.  She’s still your mother and you should still show her some respect.”

I didn’t answer.  I lowered my eyes feeling a little ashamed.  I got up from the sofa and stood in front of him with my head bent like a school girl who had done something bad, standing before the principal.

“I have a friend who used to be a drug addict but now he’s a pastor.  Perhaps, I could get in touch with him.”

When I looked up at him, there were tears in my eyes.  I realized then that I was madly in love with this incredible man who wanted to help my mother, a woman he had never met.  “Thank you,” I whispered before I reached up and put my arms around his neck.

He held me tightly and then when he drew back, he murmured, “I want to marry you, Tamika.”

I stared at him, stunned.  “Why?” I asked.

Weil ich dich liebe.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Because I love you.”

I swallowed hard.  “I love you too, Dieter.”

He caressed my cheek with his knuckles.  “I want to take care of you.”

“And I want to be your wife,” I said in tears.

He smiled that winsome smile of his before he lowered his head and kissed me.

The next day, he officially proposed and two weeks later, we got married.  The penthouse became our home.  He relocated to the office in Baltimore.  In two and a half years I will be graduating from John Hopkins and am thinking of doing my Masters.  Dieter is very supportive and proud of me.  We have both decided that after I have completed my Masters, we will plan on having children.

His friend, Jakub, the polish pastor and former drug addict visited my mother and he was able to get through to her.  She’s now in a rehab center getting the help she needs. Dieter and I began to attend Jakub’s church where we were warmly welcomed by the congregation.  We began to study the Bible with Jakub and a year later, we gave our lives to Jesus Christ and were baptized.  Now, I’m actively involved Women’s Ministries and Dieter is an elder.  We are extremely happy that we found each other and Christ.  My mother is doing well and she is currently doing Bible Studies with Jakub.

I have learned that no matter where we are or how far we have fallen, God will always find a way to reach us.

Sources: John Hopkins; Adventist Mission

Women’s Fellowship

Years ago, I was part of the Women’s Ministry at my church and one of the things I really liked about it was the fellowship.  We would hold programs like “Lunch and Learn” where women would come together at someone’s home and a pastor or a speaker is invited to share a profound message with us.  Then afterwards, we would enjoy a potluck while uplifting Gospel music played in the background.  I have enjoyed the Women’s Ministries’ yearly three day retreats where I was blessed with Friday night vespers, a Sabbath school program and worship on Saturday morning and workshops in the afternoon.  On Sunday we had breakfast and more workshops before we closed the wonderful three day event with prayer.  Women’s Ministries also offer seminars where women come together and share their testimonies.  It’s during these times when women dig into God’s Word, encourage, pray for and fellowship with each other.  Women’s Ministries have truly been a blessing for me and countless of women.

Can you imagine not having a Women’s Ministry or not being able to fellowship with other women?  Nor can I.  It would be hard for the thousands of women all across South Asia not to be able to attend a weekly Women’s Fellowship group.   Through this group, they learn God’s Word, memorize Scripture, pray, reach out and worship the God who reached out to them–Asia’s most unreached group.  God is working to change thousands of lives.

Many of us know what it’s like to fellowship with other believers and how being a part of a prayer group or Bible Study class has helped us in our spiritual growth.  Women in Asia need the same close fellowship as many of them come from families who don’t know Christ.  Wouldn’t it be great if they could find a fellowship group where they can pray and study God’s Word?  Well, you can help to make this possible.  How?  Through prayer.  Gospel for Asia has put together this list of prayer requests:

  • Pray for Women’s Fellowship so that more women can be reached
  • Pray for women to understand Christ’s love and acceptance
  • Pray for more leaders
  • Pray for transformation of lives and families
  • Pray for God to empower women as they share
  • Pray for the Women’s Health Project and the Women’s Literacy Program

Women’s Fellowships are usually led by a woman missionary, a pastor’s wife or a godly believer in the church.  A growing congregation needs someone to lead and mature women are best suited to teach the other women.    Their experience and wisdom will help to guide the younger women.

Likewise, older women should be reverent in behavior, and not be false accusers, not be enslaved to much wine, but teachers of good things, that they may teach the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,  and to be self-controlled, pure, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored – Titus 2:3-5.

As Christian women, we have duties towards each other.  So, let us encourage one another through prayers, ministries, Bible studies, fellowships and worship.

 

Source:  Gospel for Asia