Maria Alfonso was angry at God. It had been seven years since Maria lost touch with her faith. She felt that God had deserted her and that her prayers were not being answered. “I stopped praying, no longer read the Bible and didn’t go to church. I felt sad and lonely. Something was missing in my life.”
Maria grew up in Colombia in a large and devout Catholic family, attending mass every Sunday. Her parents decided to move Maria and her younger brother to Toronto in 2004 due to the ongoing conflict in their homeland. They had high hopes of carving out a prosperous and happy new life in Canada.
But the first year was hard on the family. “We didn’t speak English,” she recalls. “I had to leave my friends, and the winter was horrible. My parents couldn’t find jobs in their fields. There wasn’t an appropriate church in our neighbourhood so we didn’t attend. Everyone was depressed.”
Even though Maria had already graduated from high school in Colombia, she had to go back to high school in Toronto because she didn’t speak English. “It was awful. I felt that God had abandoned me and that I was so alone. I no longer felt God’s presence in my life.”
The Elements Combined
In 2007, Maria’s parents and brother moved to Florida. They wanted to live where the weather was more like that of Colombia and where Spanish was spoken. At the time, Maria was 21, so she couldn’t apply through the family’s visa. Instead of undergoing the lengthy application process, she decided to remain in Toronto.
Now married, Maria applied for and obtained a position at The Salvation Army’s territorial headquarters, in the officer personnel department. Although Maria had trained as a social worker, her career was focused on administrative work.
“I always wanted to work in a place where both those fields combined,” explains Maria. “I applied to The Salvation Army because I knew they helped the community.”
While she appreciated the Army’s great reputation in the social services arena, she was unaware it was a church as well.
Waking Up to Joy
Maria’s first day at her new position was a Thursday. Every Thursday, the staff at territorial headquarters are invited to a chapel service— regardless of their religious affiliation. Maria’s new co-workers invited her to attend.
“When they asked me, I thought, Why not go, at least for the social aspect,” she says. “But when I walked into the chapel, I knew that this was something special. That day, there was a lot of music, and the lyrics spoke to me. I started crying because my heart started to become full again. I realized that I found something that I was missing for so long. God was with me again and I felt His loving embrace.”
Today, Maria continues her journey with God. She’s reading the Bible, attends chapel and devotional sessions at work, and prays regularly. “I’ve changed my outlook on life and I feel happier,” she says. “I don’t feel alone anymore. I wake up every morning and wonder what I am going to do today to make the world a better place.”