by Nathalie Villanueva, the Philippines
The Villanueva family were devoted to one another and their church. Napoleon, the father, often worked far from home. After a while, a pattern of late-night socializing with his coworkers began. He began spending more of his paycheck and sending less money home.
Lolita, his wife, grew concerned by the dwindling checks. She knew something was wrong and went to see her husband. When she learned of his activities, she tried to reason with him but eventually returned home, frustrated and hurt.
Lolita found a Bible and began searching for guidance and comfort. One day as she read the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, the fourth commandment stopped her. “Remember the Sabbath day,” it said. She had always worshiped on Sunday. But if Christ died on Friday, rested on the Sabbath, and rose from the dead on the first day, Sunday, then the Sabbath day must be Saturday. She decided that if God had commanded His children to keep the Sabbath day holy, she would obey.
But she found it more difficult to obey the first and second commandments. All of her life she had prayed while looking at statues of Christ or a saint. “Lord,” she prayed, “I’m sorry, but I can’t pray without looking at You or a saint! Please give me a sign that I mustn’t pray to these statues!”
During the night, Lolita was awakened by the sound of breaking glass, followed by beating wings. She thought that the neighbor’s rooster had gotten into her house. But before she could investigate, she fell back to sleep. When she got up the next morning, she found that her statues of saints had fallen and were lying on the floor, broken into hundreds of tiny pieces. She fell to her knees and asked God to forgive her for doubting His Word.
Lolita found a Seventh-day Adventist church and decided to attend. She arrived long before services began and knelt quietly to pray. During the worship service, she wept. Afterward, a woman invited her to study the Bible. Lolita eagerly accepted and was soon ready for baptism.
Lolita invited her five teenage children to attend church, but they were busy. However, when they were free, they went with her. They found the church service to be long but enjoyed the afternoon youth meetings.
Napoleon returned home and learned that Lolita planned to be baptized. Out of respect, the family members attended church with her when they could. One by one, Lolita’s husband and children were baptized.
The Villanueva teens joined the Pathfinder Club. The club scheduled an outing to Mount Kitanglad, hoping to earn their mountain-climbing honor.
James Villanueva, age 16, eagerly started the six-hour trek up the mountain with his sisters and 12 other Pathfinders. Soon he found himself ahead of the rest and decided to wait. He stepped onto a tree stump to get a better view. Three wires, similar to those strung along the trail to guide hikers, hung above his head. He reached up and grabbed one of the wires for balance. When he saw his sisters approaching, he turned to swing off the stump. As his feet left the stump, a sharp pain flashed through his hand, and he crumpled to the ground.
James’s sister Nathalie saw him jump. She saw sparks shoot out from his hands as he fell. She raced to where he lay motionless. His hands and arms were so badly burned that the skin was peeling off.
“Someone get help!” she shouted. “James has been electrocuted!”
While someone ran for help, Nathalie tore off her shirt to make bandages for her brother’s arms. Toto, the Pathfinder leader, raced up the slippery mountainside. He ordered some Pathfinders to climb to the summit and call for help. He sent the rest down the mountain to summon an ambulance. Toto and Nathalie remained with James, praying that help would come in time.
Three men who worked at the summit came upon the accident scene. The men rigged a stretcher from a sleeping bag and began the dangerous trip down the slippery mountain.
It was dark when they reached the bottom. They placed James in an oxcart to carry him the two and a half miles to where an ambulance waited. James arrived at the hospital 12 hours after the accident.
Nathalie stayed with her brother until their parents arrived. The doctors wanted permission to amputate both of James’s arms, but Nathalie refused. When her parents arrived, she begged them to have James airlifted to Manila, where he could receive better care. But even there the doctors said that James’s left arm was too badly burned to be saved.
Through the difficult months following the accident, the family could have lost their faith. But prayers and the support of the church members helped to hold their faith intact.
James is already planning to go back and conquer Mount Kitanglad to earn his mountain-climbing honor. But in the eyes of many, he has already conquered more than a mountain.
Nathalie Villanueva is the daughter of Napoleon and Lolita Villanueva and the sister of James
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