Esperanza Alvarez-Muñiz has never been afraid to question God. In everything, she asks for His guidance—and it usually takes the form of a sign or a test. "I'm a very shy person," she says, "so whenever I felt God wanted me to do something, I would always test Him." Two years ago, God led her to the position of assistant dean of Lamson Hall—and she began asking God the hard questions.
Esperanza came from a primarily Catholic family in the Dominican Republic, although her mother was an Adventist. Esperanza was born asthmatic, and throughout her teenage years her attacks became chronic. Unable to do the same things her friends were doing because of frequent hospital visits, Esperanza grew miserable. At one point, she felt she would rather die.
One day, when she was 19, Esperanza had an asthma attack so severe she didn't think she would live. Esperanza was able to ask her mother to pray for her. "I didn't hear the prayer," she says, but when her mother finished praying Esperanza was able to breathe with difficulty and waited until an ambulance arrived. When she recovered, she realized that although she wasn't paying attention to God, He was ready to answer her prayer in an instant. Esperanza began going to church because "He had been good with me, and it just went on from there." She was baptized within several weeks.
Esperanza wanted to work with young people. She taught high school and Pathfinders, but she felt God was calling her to do more. While preparing a youth Sabbath school program, she was encouraged to attend a ministerial training seminar led by José Cortez. So she asked God if it was His will, and to provide a ride if that was the case. When she attended the seminar that weekend, a call went out for young people to do the work of preparing the next generation. Esperanza again asked God what His will was. "Okay Lord," she said, "He didn't say 'women.' So if you really want me to go and prepare, he's got to say it—because in my Spanish culture, women are not into ministry that way." And sure enough, José asked for men and women. After talking to José, Esperanza decided to come to the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. Her family was shocked because she left a good job with good pay to study for the ministry, but they have noticed God has led every one of Esperanza's steps.
While attending the Seminary, Esperanza worked as a student dean at Lamson Hall. When she graduated in 2007, there were no positions available, so she returned to New York City to teach. The next year she was married and received the call to come to Lamson as assistant dean of women.
Two months after her marriage, Esperanza was diagnosed with a tumor that grew rapidly and was determined to be cancerous. "Dreams shattered and I almost lost my faith. You could say it was challenged in a deep way," Esperanza says. Her family had watched God lead throughout her life, but when she received her diagnosis, her family had a hard time comprehending why she of all people would get such news. "She's the one who's been doing all the good things—why her?" they asked. "That made some of my family members really mad at God," says Esperanza. Her sister and husband were "numb." She thought, What do I say to them? There are no words for me to comfort them. Where's my faith? Should I keep my faith, not only after I lose my ability to have kids, but now this? At times when she could not read the Bible, she asked her sister to read her Psalm 46. "And as she read it to me," says Esperanza, "I was at peace. I said to them, 'You know, I might have to go through a second surgery and chemo, but I know I'll be back. The Lord would not give me something so beautiful to take it away.'"
Esperanza recently got the results of her latest checkup. The tests are clear and she is cancer-free. Her health is still monitored, but "I'm not scared," she says. "I feel that it's not my time. I still have work with the young people."
Her experiences are gradually bringing Esperanza's family to God. She prays for them every day, and one by one they are seeing God in her. Esperanza's father would always wonder why she was spending so much time involved with her church instead of living her life, but she would continually tell him what God had done for her. Before he passed away, she told him what Heaven would be like. She says he "loved the idea that we would be together forever, and with Jesus, someone who had died for him." Esperanza's sister has begun reading the Bible and going to church, and she continues to pray for the rest of her family.
Samantha Snively is a student news writer in the Office of Integrated Marketing & Communication at Andrews University.