My name is Jose Luis Siles Ugarte. I am the elder of the Free Seventh-day Adventist Church in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. I am married with 3 children, Jonathan, 8, Angel, 6, and Luisiana, 4 months. I would like to share my life, how I met the Lord, and how I enrolled in the training program for ministers and church leaders course of Steps to Life Ministry.
I was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and grew up and lived all my childhood there. I come from a poor family with poor resources. My parents are Catholic. Since childhood I have always liked the church and enjoyed getting involved with Catholic church activities. I started first as an altar boy and then taught the catechism in the childhood program. I also participated in missionary work. I have an older brother who is a Catholic priest who helped me financially with my seminary schooling. He told me that when I finished my studies, I also should be a Catholic priest. At the present time, my brother officiates at a Catholic church in La Paz.
I have always been very attached to the things of God. Even though I was unknowingly within a ‘wrong’ religion, I had the desire to serve in the work of evangelism. The first meeting I had with the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) religion was when my sister and her friend visited us. They kept the Sabbath and did not eat meat, which seemed very fanatical and very strange to me. I couldn’t understand how they believed in that. Shortly afterward, we moved to a remote area of Santa Cruz where we met with a person who was part of an independent SDA group that had come out of the SDA organization. The preacher preached that Sunday worship is the mark of the papacy. That meeting left me very intrigued. The next day I started researching on my own to understand if what the brother told me in the meeting was true, since I felt that he was insulting my church by calling the Catholic church the beast.
To my surprise I found out that what the Catholic church teaches and believes is a lie. Although I was wishing what I had heard was wrong, I soon realized that I was blind and deceived by the Catholic church. I was so hurt. That night I prayed to my Lord with my heart open, Lord, I am going to worship you on the seventh day Sabbath. The next Sabbath morning I dressed myself as a Christian and attended my first Sabbath service. Shortly thereafter, I was baptized into the independent SDA group, where I met a person who became my wife. She shared the same desire I had to serve the Lord. A year later we were married. Together we are growing as Christians, but with many tests and challenges to our faith and to our marriage relationship. We did not have any counseling support within the group because there were no people designated for counseling couples or for young people to talk to who needed counsel. Because that lack in the church always worried me, I was wondering how could we as a church do the work that we need to help people like us. That year I told my wife that we needed organization in the church. I saw many brothers who were discouraged or tired of the routine. I called for a Saturday night meeting to address the issue of church organization. I told my wife that night at home that this situation had motivated me to work with the church more closely that year. Three months later the church gave me the opportunity to work as a youth director.
I started with six young people in my department. In the course of two years, the group grew to almost 30 young people. However, the adults were decreasing in numbers; so by the end of year we were told to close the young people’s class and join with the adult class.
The next year I served as a deacon, when the church got hit hard with all kinds of winds of doctrines, such as Christ is not part of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit is only a power, 1844 ends in the cross, the nature of man is perverted, man cannot be holy, the Holy Spirit is not part of the Godhead, the resurrection of the Pope John Paul II, and many more mistaken ideas believed in ignorance.
I felt very confused and discouraged by the situation in the church, but did not have the knowledge to defend my beliefs. I knew that these were false doctrines, and felt bad not to be able to defend my beliefs with “it is written.” This situation encouraged me to seek knowledge from my church family, but that did not c0me quickly. Many in the church were difficult to deal with. I told the church that we needed help. They responded that they had felt the same vulnerability.
At that same time, my personal life and family were being attacked from every direction, creating a situation that was very difficult in the church, to the point that the group was separating. Some left the church and others considered returning to the churches they had come from. I was invited to do the same but decided to remain in the church. After the controversy had endured for two weeks a friend of my father-in-law called to say that he knew of a pastor from USA who would help. I gave my father-in-law the contact information to request help from the American pastor. I was told that we had asked for help before from a pastor from Venezuela and this was how we got in this situation in the first place, but we agreed to present the idea to the church. The church agreed to bring Pastor Domingo Nunez from the USA.
When Pastor Nunez came he had to deal with many strange doctrines in the church. He encouraged the church families to follow the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. The following times that Pastor Nunez came, the brothers in the church were strengthened and renewed their faith in the word of God given through his servant, Pastor Nunez. It was a great help to have his support and advice to organize ourselves as a church and work as such.
Then he invited the members of the church to enroll in the course for Bible workers and invited me to enroll in the training program for ministers and church leaders. I was very happy with the idea, recognizing that this was what I needed and was what I had prayed about.
I thank God that I now have the opportunity to learn more to be able to help the church grow and be organized. That makes me so happy. I have learned quite a bit as I scrutinize each lesson very well. As a result I am increasing my faith and increasing my knowledge regarding many doctrines.
I thank God that I have received this blessing to be able to follow the course. My desire is to finish it and continue supporting the work. I’m now finishing the third unit and soon begin the fourth unit. With each lesson I have corrected past erroneous beliefs and expanded my knowledge. I enjoy sharing with the church what I am learning.
I thank God that today we are an organized church through the counsel provided by Steps to Life through Pastor Nunez.
Thanks to Pastor Nunez and Global Evangelism, we have Sabbath school quarterlies in Spanish from which we have learned so much truth. Thanks also to Sister Hilde Nunez for sending materials for children.
The church has now managed to organize each department and wants to grow more in God’s grace. Also we are happy to be affiliated with and part of Inter-America and Global Evangelism of the General Assembly of Free Seventh-day Adventists. This year we are learning gradually how to defend our faith and learn the true doctrines of the Adventist church. Thanks to God we have received much blessing. We thank also Steps to Life Ministry through Pastor Nunez for the many visits that he made to support us in a disinterested way. I hope that this testimony has encouraged you to keep trusting in God and also ask that you please pray for our church. Although small, we want to grow and be a center in Bolivia for many more churches to be born.”