The day of my baptism was the happiest day of my life. I had attended an evangelistic crusade in 2004 held by an independent Adventist ministry. During the next four years, I met so many loving Christians and made many friends who I considered family. My church life and Christian growth was, what I thought, phenomenal. Going to church and fellowshipping was everything to me.
But then problems started occurring and cracks in the ministry began to appear. I was very lost and confused. I was in denial about some of the things that were happening within the leadership. I thought to myself, God has led me here . . . my spiritual life is the best it has ever been . . . why is this happening?
When the ministry fell apart and everyone disbanded, I was very upset. I didn’t know what that would mean for me. I had gone from feeling a sense of belonging and safety, and now I felt lost all over again.
I attended other Adventist churches, but gradually I just stopped. God had been leading me on a wonderful journey from the time I was a child until now. What had happened, and what was going to become of me and my family? Where was God?
Growing up I was raised by a Catholic mother and a Buddhist father and baptised as an infant into the Catholic Church. My dear mum did a fine job of instilling into my siblings and I a strong faith and belief in God. I was taught to pray, and from a very young age I remember Christian books in the home, particularly Bible picture storybooks, which I loved to read.
Although my dad was very much into his Buddhist beliefs, I was never forced to go to the temple or be involved in Buddhist rites, so I have never embraced Buddhism.
My faith was strong as a child. As I entered high school, my beliefs were challenged. I was associating with friends who were non-Christian, and I became rebellious. It didn’t help that Mum and Dad had separated. I began to investigate astrology and started questioning my belief system and Christianity. I wanted to know why I was brought into this world; what my purpose was; why there was so much suffering in the world. I did not find my Catholic faith to be reassuring of salvation. I remember learning in Scripture classes that we had to be like Mother Teresa to go straight to heaven. I doubted I would ever be a woman of great faith and works such as she had been.
My teenage years were very difficult. My family had stopped going to church and I was doing a lot of things that many young people think are cool, but I was spiralling out of control. I was hurting myself, my family and most of all I was hurting God. I felt He had rejected me because of my lifestyle and that He was condemning me. I had so many questions, but I didn’t know where to look for answers.
It’s no wonder the Bible says, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). If I had followed that counsel, it would have saved me so much heartache.
My younger brother became interested in Seventh-day Adventism and began to make changes in his life. He was around 15 and I was 17. Some school friends had invited him to a seminar on prophecy and out of curiosity, he went along.
As you will know, little brothers can sometimes be obnoxious and very unpleasant, but I noticed that his attitude was changing, and he became nicer and kinder to be around. I was very surprised. My mum told me he had become a Seventh-day Adventist. He began going to church on a Saturday and he changed his diet to a plant-based diet and tried to tell me not to eat unclean foods, which I thought was ridiculous. I thought he had joined a cult.
I was 18 and spent a lot of time partying and doing things that were supposed to make me happy but were leaving me empty. I would lie in bed at night and think about why I was put on this earth and what would happen after I died. The thought of death really disturbed me, and I began to develop anxiety about dying; even to the point of being scared to cross the road in case I was hit by a car.
The turning point came for me when one night, my brother came into my room and asked me if I would like to talk about the Bible. In the past when he tried to talk religion I rejected him, because I was not ready, knowing that my faith in God was almost non-existent and my lifestyle was anti-Christian. Now, for some reason, I was ready. I was curious. We stayed up talking until the early hours of morning, talking about heaven, salvation, Jesus. What happens when we die? The second coming of Christ. Questions I had always wanted answered. He showed me answers from the Bible.
The next morning I woke feeling a joy and peace in my heart that I had never felt before. I felt loved. The feeling of knowing that God loves you, has forgiven you, chosen you and cares about you is an inexplicable feeling. I remember getting down on my knees and for the very first time I poured my heart out to God, asking for forgiveness. I thanked Him for His goodness and mercy, and that He led me to the truth. It was a wonderful feeling, and I remember it to this day.
It was a few months later that I attended a seminar on Armageddon and joined the independent church. By that time, I had married and had a baby on the way. After the church disbanded, my husband and I felt like castaways. We needed a firm anchor, but although we attended various Adventist churches, we could not settle into any of them. The next several years were very unsettling. In my heart I believed in the Adventist message, but after a while we began to slip into our old ways. We stopped keeping the Sabbath. Old habits resurfaced. Things which were previously seen as sinful and wrong eventually seemed okay and not as bad.
Fourteen years passed and God never gave up on us. In 2021 we experienced a second lockdown due to COVID-19. That time was traumatic and a very dark period for me. I cried a lot and prayed more than ever before. I wish it didn’t take trials and difficulties for me to turn to God, but that’s what tends to happen. You realise, without God, you are nothing and you cannot do anything.
I felt the need to go back to church. I felt God was leading me very strongly in that direction, and that now was the time. Do not delay.
I had met Andrew and Kim Russell, who had attended the same seminar as I had back in 2004, and since that time Andrew had become a minister. I reached out to Andrew, not knowing that he had been appointed as the pastor at the Hoxton Park church, just 10 minutes’ drive from my home. We attended the church in November 2021. The church family were warm and inviting and have received us with open arms. I feel as though I have come home. Hoxton Park church is my safe haven and my second home.
I want to end by saying that God is faithful. He is long-suffering and forgiving. Despite my shortcomings and my struggles in my Christian walk, He has never ever forsaken me or my family. He continues to provide for us. He answers my prayers. He guides me and shows me what direction to take when I’m feeling lost. I can rest assured that He is with me always and will never leave me or forsake me.
What a wonderful God we serve.
Minh Templonuevo attends Hoxton Park church in NSW and wrote this in collaboration with Sandra Lehn, church communication officer.