Typhoon Soudelor brought destruction to the island of Saipan. But more than that, to the poorest of the island, it brought sickness and famine. When your house is destroyed, it is bad, but when your place of employment is destroyed, it is worse. No home, no job, no money, no food, no hope. This was the position of my friend Joel Enriquez when I met him. I was serving with Adventist Community Services; my job was in the warehouse, distributing water and food.
After work, I would visit neighbors, helping people, and praying with them. When I met Joel, he was in front of his demolished house with his kids and the legs of many cows. Joel was hanging the cow legs from metal wire and cooking them with a blow torch. They had gotten them for free from a local slaughter house. The cow legs were all they could find to eat, and they were very hungry. I left and returned with some cases of emergency food for Joel and his family. They were so happy to have good food to eat. When they thanked me, I told them the food was a gift from Jesus. We became friends and we studied the Bible together.
I remained in Saipan as a Bible worker for a local church through Adventist Volunteer Service. After weeks of study, Joel came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and was convinced that his life was “no good.” He needed and wanted a new life in Jesus, but the chains of addiction and lifetime of sin would not let go without struggle. Greater hardship came when Joel lost his contract worker status and was forced to return to the Philippines. He was scared and desperate, but he went back to the Philippines, forced to leave his children, who are Untied States citizens, behind.
I continued to minister to his family after Joel left. Often his family would use my phone Sabbath morning on the way to church to say, “Happy Sabbath” to their dad in the Philippines. I could see on Facebook that Joel was getting his life together. He reconciled with his wife. He quit drinking. He was going to church with his family. Then to our sadness he became sick and died unexpectedly. It happened so fast I couldn’t believe it. I could not make sense of these events. Why had God permitted these things to happen? I struggled with disappointment. I could not see it, but God always has a plan. All things are working together for good for those who love God and are living according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)
More than a year later, I was at the Saipan Central Church for Sabbath and a well-dressed, smiling woman came up to me after church and asked, “Are you brother Kris?” She told me that she was Joel’s sister, Vivian. She said that her brother Joel had come back to the Philippines a different person, and that at the end of his life, things were much different than at the beginning. His last act in this world was to tell his family he had found the truth in Saipan—that God has a special people and a last-day church, and that Jesus is coming soon. Vivian was here in Saipan to check up on Joel’s family, and to learn more about the truth that had transformed her brother’s life.
Our Unlock Revelation Series started the following week. God had timed her arrival perfectly. Vivian was excited to come every night and was baptized—beginning a whole new life in Jesus and joining our church family. You can see the Blessed Hope in Vivian’s smile, and the peace of God in her eyes.
God had plan. He took Joel, that man with all his struggles and challenges, and made him a powerful soul-winner for his family. God is amazing. I never want to forget this lesson that God is always in control, turning the trials and difficulties of this world into precious memories and successes. There will be a day when I see Joel in the Kingdom with Vivian and his family, smiling and happy together, never to part again. Come soon Lord Jesus.
Kris Akenberger has been serving as a volunteer Bible Worker in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands through Adventist Volunteer Service since 2015.