No Chance Encounter
When God calls you, He will remind you of that.
Tania Acuna wasn’t having the best time at the General Conference session in San Antonio this past July. Events of the past few days had left her feeling pretty discouraged, wondering what role she, as a fifth-year religious studies and psychology major at La Sierra University, would have in the church she believes she is called to serve. A lot was on her mind as she wrestled with feelings of being powerless and voiceless, truly questioning her purpose at the session and in the grand scheme of things overall. But Acuna, who is also this year’s Student Association president at La Sierra, put a smile on her face and continued her booth shift that day, enduring, as she said, “a slowish time.”
A woman named Jejida from Kenya strolled by. To attract attention to the booth and hand out as many “freebie” items as possible, Acuna literally stepped in front of her to offer her a “widow’s mite,” which was one of the school’s archaeological-themed giveaway items. “As I turned the card holding the mite around to give her more information, Jejida whispered to me, ‘I am a widow too.’ ”
Acuna was taken aback at the comment. “I didn’t know what to say,” she recalled. “I just met her, and you could just feel the pain and tension in her voice. I assumed she just needed to talk about it.”
As the two conversed further, Acuna, who is hoping to enter seminary and be a pastor someday, learned of the hardships her new friend had endured as a woman without the protection of a man in a culture that places a lot of a value on that. Jejida spoke of the pain of seeing so many couples strolling through the convention center hand in hand; of the longing she felt seeing families getting to experience this General Conference session together.
It broke Acuna’s heart. “I don’t care how old you are; everyone experiences loneliness at some level. I’ve experienced it myself. Those were some of the thoughts I’d had. Jejida wasn’t alone by choice; this happened out of tragedy.”
After more conversation and a short embrace, Jejida, who leads a ministry for widows and had made it to the session on her own, asked Acuna to pray with her. “It changed everything,” said Acuna. “I was with her maybe 10 minutes, and that encounter was just so meaningful.”
After they finished, Jejida had some words of encouragement for her young friend. “She told me she would always remember this moment and our university. She told me she believes God loves me and looks after widows,” Acuna said.
What are the odds that this woman would wander by a booth to accept a token of her own personal story, befriend a young woman looking at her own future in this church, and remind her that God is looking out for all His children?
“Sometimes hours in the booth can be pretty tedious,” says Larry Becker, executive director for public relations at La Sierra. “But God brought Tania and Jejida together in the massive exhibit hall to share a moment of His grace right in front of our booth. I’m glad we were there.”
Acuna, who has a heart for women’s ministries, will interview for jobs with conferences next spring. Whatever happens going forward, Acuna believes that the moment was God-sent. “This was just a reminder that this is my calling right now. This short time with this gorgeous woman made not only my day but also the entire trip. If all I do for the rest of my life is help the poor and pray with women like this, with those who are hurting, it’s enough. I will continue my journey as an Adventist, because my call is to my people.”
Jejida’s faith in God’s care for her and the timing of her visit to La Sierra’s booth so clearly inspired Acuna to renew her own trust in the Lord’s leading in her life. Regardless of what obstacles we face in our own walks, God is there to remind each of us of the divine purpose He has for us—a purpose He will help us fulfill.
For Tania Acuna on that hot Texas morning, 10 minutes was all the Lord needed to show her—powerfully—that her call was real. “May we find courage and hope and do as the [biblical] widow,” Acuna said. “Let us continue giving everything we have, being confident that God will honor and elevate that. This gives me hope.”
Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor of Adventist Review and was blessed by interviewing Tania in San Antonio.