northern mariana islands

Vivian came to love Jesus through her brother’s transformed life. Photo: John Vega

Typhoon Soudelor hammered Saipan while I was on my way there to serve as a missionary through Adventist Volunteer Service. Many of the islanders suffered, but the disaster hit the poorest people the hardest. They had no homes, no jobs, no money, no food, and no hope.

I had accepted a call to serve as a Bible worker, but when I arrived in Saipan, my assignment was temporarily changed due to the emergency. I spent the first two months helping the Adventist Community Services (ACS) center distribute food and water in a warehouse. After work, I visited neighbors to help in any way I could and to pray with them. That’s how I met my Joel.

The first time I saw Joel, he was standing in front of his demolished house with his girlfriend and their children, hanging cow legs from a metal wire and cooking them with a blow torch. He had gotten the legs for free from a local slaughterhouse; they were the only source of nourishment he could find.

I talked with Joel for a while and then gave him several cases of emergency meals. He was so happy to receive them. I told him that they were a gift from Jesus.

I visited Joel often during the next few weeks, and we became friends. We talked a lot about God, and when I invited him to study the Bible with me, he eagerly accepted.

When my services were no longer needed at ACS, I partnered with the elders at one of the local churches to begin my ministry as a Bible worker. I loved my job! We planted a church, and I serve as the spiritual leader of this new group of believers.

Joel and I continued to study together, and one day, he told me that he felt his life was “no good.” He wanted a new life in Jesus, but the chains of addiction and a lifetime of sin wouldn’t let him go without a struggle.

Greater hardship came when Joel lost his contract worker status and was forced to return to the Philippines without his children, who were United States citizens. I looked out for the children after he left, and often they would use my phone on Sabbath mornings on the way to church to say “Happy Sabbath” to their dad.

Joel and I stayed in touch, and I saw on Facebook that he was getting his life together. He quit drinking and was going to church with his siblings. But sadly, he became sick and died unexpectedly. It happened so fast; I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t make sense of these events and wondered why God had permitted them.

More than a year later, I was at the Saipan Central Church one Sabbath when a well-dressed, smiling woman approached me and asked, “Are you Brother Kris?” She introduced herself as Joel’s sister Vivian and told me that he had returned to the Philippines a changed man.

One of Joel’s last acts, she continued, was to tell his family that he had found Jesus in Saipan. He had learned that God has a last-day church and that Jesus is coming soon. Vivian then came to Saipan to visit her brother’s family and to learn more about what had transformed his life.

It turned out that God had timed Vivian’s arrival perfectly! Our church had planned a series of evangelistic meetings for the following week. She attended each night and was baptized, beginning a new life in Jesus and joining our church family. I could see hope in her smile and the peace of God in her eyes.

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God did have a plan after all. He took Joel with all his struggles and made him a powerful soul winner for his family. I never want to forget this experience that taught me that He’s always in control, turning the trials of this world into precious memories and successes.

There will be a day when I see Joel in the kingdom with Vivian and the rest of his family, smiling and happy together, never to part again. Come soon, Lord Jesus.

Adventist Volunteer Service facilitates church members’ volunteer missionary service around the world. Volunteers ages 18 to 80 may serve as pastors, teachers, medical professionals, computer technicians, orphanage workers, farmers, and more. To learn more, visit

Kris Akenberger
is a volunteer Bible worker living in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands.