His guiding hand

Looking back on the wrong turns, detours, and zigzags of my life, I am deeply thankful to realize how God has been guiding me step by step.

I was born in Guaqui, a small town in the highlands of Bolivia. My father attended a Catholic school and served for a time as altar boy. He kept a few images of saints on a shelf at home and frequently used Latin phrases he learned in church.

As a boy, I was curious, fascinated by language and interested in reading. While taking religion classes in the elementary school, I was able to learn the entire catechism by heart. The local priest was so impressed that, when I was ready to begin my secondary studies, he urged my parents to take me to the capital and enroll me in a Catholic secondary school so that I could eventually become a priest. Those plans, however, never materialized.

I chose instead to become a teacher, and while attending normal school I lost interest in religion. During those years, many Latin American countries were in turmoil, shaken by political demonstrations, uprisings, and revolutions. Prompted by my love of freedom and a passion for justice, I began attending leftist discussion groups where the history of our countries was analyzed from a Marxist perspective. Soon the Cuban revolution gave us hope that similar changes could also occur in my homeland if we acted courageously together. In a few years I moved from nominal Christianity to militant atheism.

A vivid vision

When I completed my teacher training, I traveled to Havana with a group of political activists. There I received a scholarship that allowed me to continue my advanced studies in Cuba. I threw myself totally into study and research, not only of literature but also of political ideas. One night, when I was about to go to sleep, I had a vivid vision. For a fleeting second I saw Jesus dressed with a red robe, looking at me with a kind expression. I was stunned. How could a militant Marxist receive a vision of Jesus? In whom could I confide and discuss the meaning of what I had seen? I decided to keep silent and file away that unforgettable vision.

Eventually I returned to Bolivia, ready to organize revolutionary cells and change the status quo. Only a full revolution would free our homeland from oppression, ignorance, and backwardness. I made contact with similar groups in neighboring Peru. We were ready for everything, but progress was slow. At that time, Che Guevara, the legendary revolutionary, was caught in the Bolivian jungle and shot, abandoned by the professional politicians who had sent him there. We were saddened and disenchanted. I wondered if I had been following a mirage in my search for freedom and meaning in life.

In 1974 both my parents died, and I returned to my hometown. I felt lonely and aimless. My nights were wasted in debauchery. One night I decided not to go out and to stay sober. Looking for something to read, I found an old Bible that had lost many of its pages. Starting with the first chapter of Genesis, I moved on until I reached the story of the Tower of Babel. Years before I had mocked that story, but that night it made a deep impression on me. Had I also been defying God?

A clear voice

The following year, while teaching in a public school in the town of Rosario, I met the principal of the Adventist school and we became friends. One day I asked him for something to read, “as long as it did not speak about God.” He loaned me The Seventh Day, by Booton Herndon. I was fascinated by the prophecy of the 2300 days, the story of the Advent Movement, and the meaning of the Sabbath. I read the book in one sitting, all through the night. As the first rays of dawn entered through the window, I began hearing voices that mentally tormented me. It was as if demons wanted to prevent me from following the truth. My friends were deeply concerned, but did not know how to help me. On September 7, I fell on my knees and for the first time in my adult life I prayed to God for deliverance. In the midst of my confusion I remember hearing His voice saying, “You must serve Me.” Suddenly, I felt an inner peace. One of my teaching colleagues was the son of a Protestant minister. “What church should I join?” I asked him. His honest reply was, “The Lord will show you the way.” And that was what happened.

On one occasion I had served as courier, taking a letter from an acquaintance to the Adventist Mission headquarters in La Paz, the capital. Someone hinted that the letter had not been delivered. I felt deeply offended. The next time I traveled to the capital I inquired about the letter and was told that it had indeed reached its destination. When I asked where I could buy a Bible, they directed me to the Adventist Book Center. I was surprised by the variety of books available and asked the attendant to recommend one to read. He showed me a copy of The Great Controversy by Ellen G. White. With curiosity, I paged through it and my eyes fell on the chapter titled, “The Bible and the French Revolution.” For someone steeped in revolutionary ideology, the title was intriguing. I bought the book and read it, jumping between chapters. As I reached the last page, I had made a decision: I was going to become a Seventh-day Adventist.

I asked the local Adventist pastor to lend me a Bible study guide and I went through it lesson by lesson. My mouth savored slowly the delicious teachings of the Bible. As I reached the end of the series I filled out and signed the form requesting baptism in the Adventist Church. My brother was shocked by my decision. On December 27, 1975 , I was baptized in the waters of the Mauri River, near the place where I first knew the gospel.

The guiding hand

During the following year I immersed myself in reading the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White. Nothing could distract me from that in-depth study—not even the news. I wanted to understand God’s message through the Scriptures and to establish a deep personal relationship with Jesus. But there was also much I needed to unlearn.

In 1977, after teaching for 12 years in public schools, I joined the staff of our Bolivia Adventist College. I was not interested in how much I was going to be paid; my desire was to attain a fuller understanding of God’s will for my life and to serve Him wherever He needed me.

While teaching at the Adventist College in Bolivia, I was able to defend in political circles the value of Christian education. I declared that Adventists had established rural schools years before the government had thought of doing it. Adventist teachers had been pioneers for authentic freedom.

Now, 23 years after my conversion, I see how God’s hand has guided me all through life, in spite of my mistakes and willfulness. With the Apostle Peter, I acknowledge that joy and hope are found only in Jesus Christ, “‘for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’” (Acts 4:12, NIV). My wife Ruth and I have a Christian home, a son and a daughter—Edson Claudio and Nidia Esther. As director of the education department in the East Bolivia Mission, I am honored to promote the values and objectives of Bible-based, Christ-centered education. I know by experience that one can find true peace and everlasting freedom only in Jesus Christ.

Claudio Durán Muñoz is the education director of the East Bolivia Mission. His address: Casilla 2495, Santa Cruz de la Sie-rra, Bolivia.