It’s easy to maintain your faith when times are good, but in challenging times—such as the Pandemic we’re now in—our faith gets tested and is proven to be true or false.
Vanessa Joy Domingo
Has the past year caused you to question your faith and your belief system? From experiencing the horrors of a global pandemic, hardship for those who were unemployed for the past eight months, to grief from losing a loved one this year… does your faith still shine though?
Do you feel your faith is measured by your attendance at church? For Emmanuel “Manny” Alegre Baltazar, his biggest challenge was adjusting to COVID-19 restrictions when it came to his daily routine of attending church at the Christ the King Catholic Church in Kahului. “Initially, going to church every Sunday and even other days of the week is my routine schedule. It’s hard for me to not go to church as my worship place to thank and praise God.” Manny needed to adjust to restrictions decreasing the number of parishioners allowed to attend and requiring a reservation system. He felt the weight of his responsibilities as an involved member of their church. “I had to ensure that every protocol and guideline were strictly followed. It was important to educate every parishioner. Communicating with them about our new guidelines was the challenging part. But as days passed, parishioners became more aware and equipped with knowledge and instructions on making the worshipping at much better and safer during this pandemic.”
The restrictions, however, did not make him feel any less close to his faith. “I never found any conflict between my beliefs and my experience so far in 2020. I believe that God can do all possible things. With COVID-19, I learned to bring myself closer to God by reading the Bible at home and meditating in our house altar.”
Christian Samantha Riglos and her husband Jorge also went from actively attending large fellowship gatherings to reinforcing their faith in smaller groups. “God created us to be in relationship with one another and it was hard not being able to do life with people like how we are used to. During the beginning of the pandemic, we had to see how things played out as far as what we could and couldn’t do for gatherings. We wanted to gather and have fellowship but at the same time, we needed to do our part to keep each other safe by not gathering in big groups.”
In May, the couple celebrated their first wedding anniversary and recognized the strength in their bond lies in their shared faith and religion. “We both understand that no matter what life throws at us (yes, even a worldwide pandemic) that God is sovereign over our lives. That God is a loving Father who really does take care of us and loves us immensely. I feel like we don’t really have a ‘worry bone’ in our body because we know who our God is. Our relationship with God, individually and as a married couple, is what keeps us going every day. We live for the one who gave His life for us.”
With our daily routines being disrupted by the pandemic and unemployment forcing people to stay home—some have experienced the challenge of finding themselves again through their faith. Alvin Acosta expressed his difficulty with his financial struggles and finding faith in what he was experiencing. “I was temporarily laid off from my job for eight months not knowing how I can provide my family rent and food. We had to wait months until we started receiving our UI (Unemployment Insurance), but it was not enough to provide our essential needs. My wife (Michelle Acosta) and I experienced a mix of emotions during the pandemic. At first, we did feel conflict between our beliefs and what we were experiencing. We grew up attending Sunday services in the chapel and it was a whole different system that we had to face,” he explains. Changing from in-person to virtual services felt odd to them. Like Manny, they felt closer to their faith by being able to go to their church in person. “If we didn’t have the pandemic, we feel that it’s better to experience sharing our religious faith in person because we are able to share and preach the Gospel throughout the world by sharing and inviting people to attend our services and to have salvation.”
This year, Alvin and his wife Michelle took the opportunity to become part of the music and media ministry of their church—Christian Pentecostal Missionary Church of Christ—4thWatch. “We knew doing the work of God will bring us closer to Him.” Together, they took part in broadcasting and reaching out to other parishioners online. He feels that doing so not only helped their relationship with God but also each other. “Be strong even during this hardship trials. We know that it is difficult living in this pandemic, however, be steadfast and have faith. Our religion helped both of us to get through 2020 by building strong relationships together with God. We believe that through Him everything is possible.”
Like Alvin, Princess Bumanglang Cainguitan of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Wailuku struggled with the economic uncertainties and being unemployed because of the pandemic. “It’s stressful because we are all unsure about when the economy will recover. We are fortunate to live here on Maui because there are nonprofit organizations that extend help to those in need. During these difficult times, it is key for us to help one another. Hopefully, the economy can recover, and everyone can go back to work soon.”
Her faith did not waver in the face of her financial experiences. “I believe that in life, things happen for a reason. God has a purpose and gives us lesson for all our downfalls, it is key to trust His purpose. Our experiences will mold us to become better versions of ourselves and make us stronger for our next battles,” she explained.
Being involved in her church as a young adult helped strengthen her belief system. Her church provided activities and opportunities to help kids and young adults to share and discuss a variety of topics. Although she is not as involved as she used to be, she does appreciate being able to attend worship services and a weekly Compline service led by her church’s youth and young adults streamed on Facebook by her church. “A lesson that I want to remind other people is to appreciate the little things in life in our lives. The year 2020 may have changed our lives drastically but it is important to still be grateful. It can be as simple as showing gratitude to those who work as frontlines in retail, restaurant or supermarkets when they assist you. Appreciating the little things in life helps for us to have a positive outlook in our day.”
As the head of the family, Paul Chua a parishioner of Christ the King Catholic Church was concerned about being able to provide for his wife, Geraldine and his daughter, Gabby. “I work in the hotel and being the head of the family I felt so stressed … and feel like I was a burden to the family … and what if I can’t totally get back to work … How can I provide for my family? Those are the things I kept thinking about.”
Despite the stress and worry, Paul and his wife kept faith. “Our faith and beliefs are our strongest weapons to fight whatever struggles that we are facing with the crisis. Through prayer we know that we can surpass the pandemic crisis. We keep our faith and beliefs to Him. We know that He’ll not give us any struggles if He know that we can’t survive it. Keep believing in Him.” They aim to instill the same beliefs in their daughter and focus on how prayer and faith in God has made them stronger together as a family. “We have our own struggles in life but keeping our family together helped us in overcoming these tests. Don’t let the bad vibes and negativity around you win over your positive beliefs.” In the end, the pandemic brought a blessing in disguise, time together as a family. “We’ve been hiking with our daughter; she loves to hike,” said Geraldine. “If it wasn’t for the pandemic, we would have probably never seen the beauty of Maui.”
Although the loss of routine and financial stability was a common experience for many during the pandemic, some experienced the loss of loved ones. “The biggest challenge for me is when the head Pastor Ramil Castillo of our church in the Philippines (who’s also a Mentor, Spiritual Father, and also one of the closest people in our family) died this last October. Although it wasn’t from COVID, it broke my heart to have him taken away from us so suddenly. The feeling of not being able to go home to the Philippines to see him because of quarantine made it hard for me and my family. He’s a big part of my life and a great influence of my spiritual life,” said Sarah Jane Larin, who identifies as a born-again Christian.
How do you find faith after losing the one you love? How do you cope and how do you move on? “Honestly, I felt that my beliefs were suddenly shaken when all of these incidents happened especially this year 2020 but while I was listening to one of the sermons in the Philippines, God reminded me that no matter what happens, He will never leave us nor forsake us. Maybe sometimes we cannot understand why these things are happening in the world but He reminded me that He has a purpose for everything. I’m still thankful because He proved that He’s still in control of everything because He protected us during this pandemic. Nobody got sick and got affected by COVID in my family and for me, that is one thing that I should be thankful for,” she added.
Melody Sales who attends Koinonia Pentecostal Church also experienced some struggle with her faith during her quiet moments at home while raising her newborn Brayden Sales. In November 2019, she and her husband Bryan endured the pain of losing two of their triplets and faced the difficulties of adjusting to changing hospital protocols with COVID, finding a home on O‘ahu during the beginning of the year and then transitioning back to their home on Maui once Brayden was cleared to be released. “When the boys passed, I had never questioned God so hard in my life. I didn’t understand and it wasn’t fair. And there was a time where I just felt so clouded and numb, there was nothing my auntie (who is my pastor at our church) could have said that would have made me feel better. I guess you could say I probably lost my faith in that short while.”
She did, however, remain open to reconnecting with her faith. “Eventually, I think seeing and realizing that Brayden continued to fight was where I knew I had to change my mindset. I grew up in the church and raised by parents that went to a Bible college and I believe it’s all I knew to do when backed up in a corner like that—like where else am I to go if physically, I can’t control the situation? So, I focus on it spiritually,” she explained. Being away from close family and friends proved to be difficult during the pandemic. With Brayden born prematurely, their home held off on welcoming family members that were excited to meet him. The time alone with him also gave her time to reflect on the past year so far. But preserving her relationship with God kept her sane. Despite the changing world, she feels reassured God never changes. “Being isolated from family and friends, from being around them every week to absolute zero contact for months, it was tough,” Melody explained. “Having phone contact with family members and close friends that have become family over many years of attending church together helped her. “It makes a big difference that we share the same beliefs because while we may not ‘talk Bible’ all the time, we remind each other to be better and we tend to find encouragement from each other. Not that my other friends don’t do the same, it’s just different with them, we connect more on a spiritual level where God is the center.”
There are days where Melody reflects on what could be if all three of her boys were home with her and Bryan. “Some days are sad and some days we laugh just thinking about how outnumbered I would be.” As Brayden continues to get stronger each day, Melody hopes the world will be able to go back to normal and allow people to see the ones they love and be together without worry or fear. For those seeking words of wisdom to get through pain and isolation during COVID, she lends this piece of advice: “Find something you believe in. It may not necessarily be God but so that you can always go back to it to keep you grounded, positive and hopeful for all things.”
Derick Sebastian, a Christian of Hope Chapel in Kīhei, is a local singer and encountered difficulty with staying motivated. Always ready to spread cheer, smiles and his passion for music, his plans for the year came to a halt. “My live music engagements were all completely canceled and it was easy to get upset about the entire situation of uncertainty but I prayed about it a lot. I knew that God wanted to re-shape me and pivot in my music journey … and so I did. This entire COVID-19 was truly a blessing in disguise.”
“The entire world including the media was instilling nothing but fear … but the Bible says to live in faith and never lose hope. Every single day during the pandemic … I made a commitment to win. Whatever I was doing, I fought to be productive because God doesn’t want me to just be good … He wants me to be great,” he explained. Using his religion as a key foundation to help him stay grounded and clear minded, he journaled every single day, praying and asking for God’s guidance and allowed himself to be vulnerable and surrender to what he was experiencing. Instead of allowing himself to drown in the disappointment of not being able to perform and share his passion, he focused on his experiences to learn from them. “Life is a journey … and we all need to embrace both the ups and downs … because all these experiences shape our very own character which means more than anything. People won’t really remember your accomplishments, accolades, titles, etc., they’ll remember on how you made them feel. In life, it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.”
It is hard to imagine what happened this year—the onslaught of chaos from a global pandemic, the loss of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, the fight against racial inequality, “murder hornets” that terrorized our country for a bit, the death of “the Black Panther” Chadwick Boseman, the raging wild fires on the West coast that engulfed California to Washington state, the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and President Trump testing positive for COVID-19. I’m sure the year was even more difficult with our own obstacles—unemployment, family sickness and death, and being isolated from the ones that we love. Despite the world feeling like it was turned upside down this year, it is encouraging to find stories of people throughout our community who still have faith and hope for good things to happen.
Vanessa Joy Domingo is a graduate of Maui High School and is employed with the County of Maui—Department of Management, IT Services and Coldwell Banker as a Realtor. She hopes everyone celebrates safely during the holidays and wishes everyone a holiday season full of love and hope.