From the convent to the campus: The end of a search and the beginning of a new life.
At 22 I was Claudia no more. After six years of rigorous training at the convent in Caraveli, Southern Peru, my superiors declared that I was ready to take the vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty. With a commitment so total and with a decision that I felt was final, I took the oath and was given a new name: Mother Fernanda. But something altogether new and unexpected awaited me. Little known to myself, the Master Architect was drawing other plans for my life.
I was born in 1972 in Lima. My father worked in a cotton processing factory, while my mother cared for the home and for all of us—three boys and two girls. Ours was a devout Catholic family. Some of my relatives are involved in full-time religious service. An uncle is a priest and a missionary, and a cousin is the mother superior in a convent.
Religious devotion caught my interest early in life. Even as a child, I felt called to devote myself to God’s service and to help others. That feeling grew stronger and stronger while attending a Catholic middle school. But how does one know for sure God’s call to serve Him? For an answer, I turned to my religion teacher, a nun. Her counsel helped me to decide to become a nun. I was 15.
My father was startled and angry at my decision. “You are too young,” he argued, “to take such a serious step.” But I felt convinced that God was calling me to a conventual life. Torn between obeying my father, whom I loved and respected, and following God’s call, I was not sure how to rearrange my life. One day I visited a friend’s home, where I met several nuns who encouraged me to follow my inner call. Later they came to our home and, after a long discussion, persuaded my father to let me go. He signed the papers that allowed me—a minor at 16—to enter the convent. It was a deeply moving moment for us all. Dad was crying, feeling that he was losing a daughter.
That evening, silence reigned in my home as I packed my bag. The following morning I was on my way to the distant convent in Caraveli. At the convent, life as a novice was strict. One must learn to serve God with all one’s being. There were 200 of us in the convent, which also served as our school. I quickly settled down, rather happy.
The daily routine was demanding. We woke up at 4:30 to a brief devotional and individual prayers. At 5:30 we had chapel, where we prayed and meditated as a community. After mass, we had breakfast at 7:00, followed by classes in theology and dogma. Lunch at 1:00 was followed by individual study and various duties. We rotated among various services—cooking, baking, cleaning, and so on. After supper we had an hour free to sew and mend our clothes, and to write to our family. At 9:00 we prayed and had our invocations. Lights were off at 10:00 p.m. Another day ended to give way to a new one.
Each one of us had our individual cells. I liked best the silence and solitude of my time in meditation and prayer, away from noise and distractions. The study was intense, and I accepted all teachings with eagerness, because I wanted to become a model nun. My dream was to be a missionary, taking the Catholic faith to isolated villages that had no priest and where religious life was almost nonexistent. My model was—and still is—the Apostle Paul, who after his conversion carried the gospel to many places, risking his life in the fulfillment of Christ’s mission.
During my first few months at the convent, my father visited me at least once a month. Almost in every visit, he used to ask me, in a confidential tone, “Have you changed your mind, Claudia? I brought money for your ticket. Come home with me!” On one such visit I told him that my decision was firm and that he should not speak to me about that subject anymore.
Meanwhile, I moved quickly from novice to aspirant to postulant. After six years of training, I took my vows and began wearing the nun’s habit. I became Mother Fernanda.
A visit home
Confirmed in my calling and armed with a new name, I returned home for a few days with my family. Everything seemed new and different, as if I had lived for six years on another planet. When I left home, my younger sister was just a toddler, and now she was a grown girl. What happiness to embrace my parents, sister, and brothers! Friends and relatives dropped in to see the new nun and catch up with all that has happened. Life has a way of changing so much in a few years.
As my two-week holiday was coming to an end, I became quite ill. I was rushed to a hospital. Everyone at home was scared. I was too. Tests showed that I had stomach ulcers, and my heart was not in the best of shape. The physician prescribed a full range of prescriptions, including a month of rest. A month is too long to be away from the convent, and my father called the mother superiors for permission to let me stay home and regain my health. The mothers suggested that I should return to the convent to recover. My father dismissed the idea.
And I stayed home, hooked to a tube that fed me liquids. One day my mother’s sister came to visit me. Aunt Martha is a Seventh-day Adventist. She was very concerned about my health, and asked if she could bring the Adventist pastor to pray for me and to encourage me in my recovery. The following day, the mother superiors arrived from Caraveli ready to take me to the convent. My father insisted that I would go only after my complete recovery. After a heated three-hour discussion, the nuns left very disappointed.
Later that day the Adventist pastor came to visit me. He was young, friendly, caring, and jovial. His wife and he were totally devoted to sharing the good news of the gospel. The pastor read a passage of the Bible, made a few comments about the power of God to heal, and then prayed for my recovery. Soon the mother superiors contacted my family again, demanding that I return to the convent immediately. But I could not return, as I was still recovering. Even as my body was regaining its strength, something deep within me was changing. I began reading the Bible with a new understanding, sensing that the Holy Spirit was my divine Teacher.
A new world opens up
Soon I started visiting an Adventist church. The hymns there were touching but totally new to me. I also began participating in a group study of the Bible, making my own comments on the passages that were discussed. Later I accompanied the pastor and his wife to an evangelistic program in a nearby town. The experience was very satisfying. God seemed to answer several of my questions. I felt encouraged to know Him better at a more personal level.
One day, as we were driving back to Lima, I asked the pastor what was required to become a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. His wife and he were taken by surprise. I insisted, “Do I need to change my Catholic Bible for yours?” They laughed. “You need to be baptized,” the pastor said. “Well, there is the river. I’m ready!” I replied. “Not so fast, Claudia,” the pastor responded. “We must study the teachings of the Bible in depth and you need to make a decision that is well thought-out.” I agreed and began attending another evangelistic series. The study of the Bible convinced me of the truth as it is in Jesus. I joined the Adventist Church through baptism.
A new world opened before me. After years of regimentation, I could make my own decisions about my life. Everything happened so fast that it was scary! Although neither I nor my family had the necessary funds, I enrolled in February 1997 at Peru Adventist University, near my home town. Since then I have worked and studied, and soon hope to be an elementary school teacher. I believe I will be able to share God’s love with small children in school. During the summers, I combine the selling of Adventist books with witnessing to others for my faith.
Meanwhile, I have shared my new faith with my parents. My mother and sister were the first to accept the Adventist teachings, and a little later my father also joined the church. My happiness is immense, and I continue to pray for my three brothers. I live each day, letting God be the basis of my joy and hope, even as He guides my everyday life experience.
How does one know for sure that God is calling one? That question drove me on a seven-year search—from the turbulence of my teens to the security of a planned life in a convent, to the assurance of freedom and hope. Meanwhile, I know that God’s call can be certain only as we search for ourselves the truth in the Scriptures, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and have the courage to accept it.
Claudia Camasca continues her studies at Universidad Peruana Unión. Her mailing address: Casilla 3564; Lima 100; Peru. E-mail: A9810129@alumnos.upu.edu.pe