Confessions of faith: Bernabe

A woman finds safety and comfort in the gospel message.

Julie K. Wietzke

The world is a dangerous place—for the body and the soul. Ivette Bernabe from Queens, New York, knows that firsthand.

Bernabe, like all of us, want to feel safe from the bad things of this world—whether it be drugs, abuse, hunger, or poverty.

Sure Foundation, the WELS congregation in that neighborhood, is working to protect people from the spiritual hazards of the devil, the world, and sinful flesh.

Sometimes those worlds collide. Now Bernabe truly has met the One who can shield her from all real harm and danger.

“She is in a safe place for her soul,” says Tim Bourman, pastor at Sure Foundation.

Bernabe has been in New York City since she was five years old. Her dad moved her there from Puerto Rico when her parents split up. Her mom soon followed, moving to the United States to get custody of Ivette and her sisters and brothers.

Her mom brought them up as Catholic, but she didn’t have time to take them to church regularly. “She was raising us alone,” says Bernabe. “She was working two or three jobs to raise us.” She says the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to their apartment to hold Bible classes. The family lived in the Bronx until her mom remarried when Bernabe was 13 years old, and they settled in Long Island.

Life went on. Bernabe got married and soon after had a baby girl. Her marriage ended, however, when her husband brought drugs into the home. She decided to visit her brother and sisters who had moved back to Puerto Rico. It was there she met Luna, who taught her how to read tarot cards. “You literally felt a presence. This is a spirit,” says Bernabe. “I was young. It was so interesting. How can some cards tell somebody’s whole life?”

Bernabe says she was raised knowing she shouldn’t be doing this, but she couldn’t stop herself. She continued reading the cards for fun until they “told” her that her then seven-year-old daughter was in danger. It was then that she realized the cards weren’t helping her, and she decided to stop. “We need to pray to God for protection,” she says. “The devil won’t protect you.”

Bernabe spent most of her young working life selling wares on the street and in markets to make money. She did quite well and eventually made enough to buy a four-apartment home in Queens. She tried many religions—Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hare Krishna—to see what they were like, but “it never did nothing for me,” she says. “But I didn’t know this until I went to the Lutheran church.”

Bernabe met Dan Olson, a pastor at Sure Foundation, at a street fair where the congregation set up a booth to meet local residents. She says she was drawn to his beautiful little girls who were with him. They talked and exchanged contact information, but Bernabe wasn’t ready. She had been attending a Jehovah’s Witness church and wasn’t looking for another congregation.

Olson kept her phone number and called her once or twice a year to see how she was doing. Seven years after they first met, the timing was right. “I don’t get rid of people’s contact information because you never know what issues God is putting in their lives when it’s the perfect time for you to call,” says Olson. “She was so thankful I called.”

Bernabe started coming to church—and also asked lots of questions. “Pastor Dan made me understand so many things. I felt so comfortable. How could I not want to stay there?” she says. “It was different [from other religions].”

Olson says Bernabe thought that to get close to God, you had to be a good person. “One of the main things she struggled with was how you can have salvation completely free without having to earn it,” he says. “It’s the typical non-Christian idea of how to get to heaven.” He says Bernabe would ask him to pray for her because she thought that since he was a pastor he was closer to God. “I told her, ‘You can pray too. Your prayers are just as powerful as mine.’ ”

He said that after years of teaching and patiently answering her questions, she finally understood that she—like all of us—was a sinner but that forgiveness was hers through Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection.

“I wish everyone would know of God like I know,” she says. “It’s such a good feeling.”

It’s a message that Bernabe can’t keep to herself. “She’s very excited about the gospel. She’s one of the best listeners, and she leaves as a different person every week,” says Bourman.

“In her whole spiritual history she never has been engaged with the gospel the way she is now. She knows it, and she wants her friends and family to know about it.”

Bourman says that’s common in the neighborhood. Many live their entire life in the area and make lifelong friends. They want to share what they discover—especially the message of hope the gospel brings. Bernabe already has brought her close friend to church. Her friend was confirmed, and her friend’s immediate family was baptized. Bourman says they now are talking to her friend’s brothers and sisters. Bernabe also shares the Word with her children and grandchildren. She’s in church every week, and she appreciates the lessons she learns in the sermons and the Bible classes that further help her understand the sermon message.

Bernabe’s life isn’t perfect. She says she still is trying to learn how to forgive. She is going through a messy divorce. She has had health issues (but she says, “Thanks to God, all is good”). Money struggles still happen. But now she knows the One who can keep her safe. “What do I have to worry about?” she says. “God will protect me.”

Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 103, Number 10
Issue: October 2016

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