My journey to faith
In 1990, I enrolled in San Marcos University, the great intellectual center of Perú and the home of the forerunners of our national independence. I chose to study law, hoping also to pick up courses in history, politics, and philosophy.
That was the time when political unrest rocked the country and the universities. Beginning in 1980, the national government had to deal with violence and terrorism, which spilled over into university campuses as student organizations positioned themselves for and against leftist ideologies. In 1991 the government sent troops, tanks, and helicopters onto our university campus.
In spite of all this, my first year at the university was one of intellectual discovery, filled now and then with anxiety and spiritual confusion as I sought to reconcile being a Christian believer and being a thinker. My explorations into philosophy and science created a conflict between my deeply rooted Catholic beliefs and recently acquired rational inquiry into life and its meaning. Can faith and reason coexist? Is faith compatible with science? Such queries eventually led me to abandon my belief in God. The vacuum was filled by an increasing enchantment with materialistic-Marxist philosophy. As a result I dismissed the concept of the eternal God, but saw it as continual evolution of matter. I subscribed to qualitative leaps in the process of evolution, which finally produced human life and consciousness. It was not God who had created the human beings, but vice versa. Christianity was simply a belief system that spread along with other mystic sects, and became popular as an historic accident. Conveniently enough for me, no Christian was prepared to refute my positions convincingly. The typical Christian “defended” God with a priori doctrinal, dogmatic and/or sentimental statements.
Moving to action
Meanwhile, I decided to move from words to action, joining a socialist organization at the university. About the same time, we found ourselves caught in the crossfire between the state and terrorism. Christian students were not exempt, since religion was considered the “opium of the people” and Christians were “enemies of the Revolution.” Seventh-day Adventists, especially, were considered “a foil of Yankee imperialism.” On one occasion, after a long day’s hard work, Adventist students had painted a mural of an open Bible on campus. Two days later they found it totally covered with black paint depicting a red hammer and sickle, with the words in the center, “Out of San Marcos, swine!”
In 1995, as a sworn Marxist-Leninist with a record of political activism, I was chosen as student representative from the law school, and represented the student body for the whole university. At this climactic point of political activism and ideological high pitch, I became acquainted with a fellow student, Ysabel, an Adventist. Burdened with overwhelming responsibility as a student leader, I often sought Ysabel’s help for notes and syllabi covering classes I was forced to miss. Her unprejudiced and helpful attitude toward one who relentlessly criticized religion led me to examine her “peculiar” beliefs. I tolerated many of the doctrinal positions, but stopped short when I heard about belief in the devil as a personal being. I also considered unacceptable Adventist no’s—no drinking, no dancing, no smoking, no, no, no! I could not accept their fanatical observance of the Jewish Sabbath as day of rest. “Adventists are a sect,” I told myself.
About then, the Adventist Student Center invited me to attend one of their seminars. My respect for differing ideologies led me to attend. I was very surprised at the carefully reasoned positions establishing the relationship between faith and science, between revelation in the Bible and scientific research. My curiosity was greatly aroused, as well as my consciousness of fundamental weaknesses in the logic and reasoning of socialist discourse in general and Marxism in particular, which by that time had become very clear to me. The seminar presenter had referred to rolls of manuscripts discovered in 1947 near the Dead Sea which greatly supported the historicity of the Bible. That was my first cue. I then remembered that there was a book at home regarding that very topic.
Truth is not a theory, but a person
Early in 1996, I began reading that book. It raised many serious challenges. It would be sectarian and dogmatic cowardice for a freethinker like me to deny it: Those rolls of Qumran confirmed the antiquity and faithfulness of the text of the Book of Isaiah. That might not have meant much, if it were not for the prophecies it contained regarding one who considered Himself the Son of God—Jesus of Nazareth. Were these predictions fulfilled? I had to verify for myself, and there was only one way to do it.
That night I did something I would never have done otherwise. I reached out and took from a corner shelf in my personal library that forgotten book, the Bible. Using the index, I went to chapter 53 of Isaiah and read it several times. The harmony between the details described in that prophetic book, written several centuries before the Gospel, matched the facts in the latter. The very foundation of my materialistic philosophy of history began to crumble. If something called “prophecy” existed at all, it meant that my whole house of cards had to come tumbling down. What mental capacity could foresee the future if Being (visible reality) was determined by Conscience (God), and not Conscience by Being as postulated by Marx and other materialists?
What if this was true? Had I been denying the very Son of God during all this time? Wasn’t I the public leader of the university’s best-recognized socialist organization, and after many years the leader of the wave of the future in the student movement? Unbelievable! What would they say about me? From militant atheist to a little lamb in a religious “sect”? But truth was truth, regardless of my personal preferences and convenience. The truth of something did not depend on the number of people recognizing it as such. Also, I would be the one injured living a life based on self-deception.
It would be best to remain calm and reach a decision, I told myself. “You must re-open this question about the existence of God. Research it, go back to square one.” No end of questions boiled in my mind. How to account for so much injustice and exploitation, if God exists? How can there be a merciful God, if He is indifferent to pain? Why centuries of a victorious Inquisition, if many of the martyrs were on God’s side? I didn’t understand it. I only knew that Isaiah 53 was there. I could see, as in a dream, a serene and smiling face, somewhat youthful but mature. That was a momentous night! Saul again fell and rolled in the dust. At last I knew that truth is not a theory
but a person—the Person of Jesus.
“Do you know the Lord Jesus?”
I kept to myself the grave doubts that assaulted me. I asked questions here and there, opened the Bible, searching. I was astounded that many freethinkers around me wanted to skip over some fundamental facts out of fear of the truth or out of simple prejudice.
Once I was invited to a small group that was studying the topic of righteousness by faith in the Bible. I was impressed with the fact that being a Christian was not just being a consistently moral person. I realized that the “opium” of Marxist doctrine could not be identified with the Bible’s teaching. God was very understanding and realistic in not expecting of us perfection as a result of our own effort—that is impossible!
About that time there was a week of prayer held by Pastor Alejandro Bullón. My responsibilities made it impossible for me to attend regularly, but I persevered and was present one evening. The topic was the conversion of Paul. This was too much! Had the Holy Spirit led me there to challenge me? I took a taxi home, and, surprisingly, the driver asked me, “Do you know the Lord Jesus?” I looked at him, and said, “Yes, I think I do, now.”
In spite of the difficult moments I faced in 1996 because of my political activities, my knowledge deepened, and I began to keep the Sabbath, attending church so regularly that I was considered a member. I investigated the doctrines for myself, grabbing every Adventist book I could lay hold of. One of these was The Great Controversy, which completely changed my old socialist philosophy of history.
The doctrine of the gift of prophecy manifested in Ellen G. White was one that I found particularly difficult, especially because many of my Adventist friends did not know much about it. Some maintained that some statements were inspired, others not. Some said the Testimonies applied only to the time when they were written. But I couldn’t be baptized unless I accepted this doctrine for the simple reason that it was part of the baptismal vows. I confessed Christ as my Saviour and kept the commandments, but would I be a real Seventh-day Adventist? Providence led someone to place in my hands a copy of the excellent book E. G. White, Prophet of Destiny. After reading it and reflecting on it, my most difficult questions were resolved.
My church attendance brought out the expected hostile reaction from my former comrades. But “if Christ be for us, who can be against us?” One of them, witnessing my conversion, also rediscovered his original faith, and although he is now sick in bed with a painful illness, he shares our hope in the promise of the resurrection. I was baptized August 30, 1997. At present I serve as Sabbath school teacher and director of religious liberty in my local church. I’m also a lay preacher and the president of the Adventist Student Center at the University of San Marcos. I rejoice in my friendship with Jesus. And together with my colleagues at the university, I fight the good battle of faith looking for the glorious return of our Lord.
Marco Antonio Huaco Palomino, having completed his degree in Law, is preparing his thesis on religious liberty rights. He currently serves as legal advisor for ADRA Perú. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org