Monique Finds God through Hardship

When Monique was 5 years old, her family moved from Corvallis, Ore., to the Pacific Coast resort town of Ixtapa, Mexico, where her dad got a job driving a tour bus. The family moved in with her father’s parents. It was not an ideal situation for raising a family. Dad was gone one to two months at a time. When he did come home, he was often impatient and verbally abusive. Mom worked 12-hour shifts as a waitress at a restaurant. So Grandma raised Monique and her younger sister and brother.

It was a stressful childhood. Grandma showed favoritism to Monique’s sister and blamed everything on Monique. There was no safe place for kids to run and play. Sometimes Monique and her sister would take off and explore the town. It felt good to be free, but it was dangerous — kidnappings were common in the neighborhood where Monique lived.

Mom knew that Ixtapa was not a good place to raise a family, and she was determined to find a way out. But how?

One day in the middle of Monique’s third-grade year, Mom came home from work frantic. Monique was watching TV. Mom said, “Get up! We have to go now!”

Grandma came in and said, “No, you can’t leave!” and she grabbed Monique’s little sister and held her tight.

Mom picked up baby brother and handed him to Monique, and, for a brief moment, the two ladies had a tug of war over Monique’s sister. But when Mom realized it was hurting the child, she stopped and proceed to flee.

Monique and her mother ran toward the bus station. They boarded a bus to Mexico City, where they found safe haven with Mom’s brother. Later that month Mom went back to Ixtapa and successfully rescued her 5-year-old daughter. A few days later the little family flew to Oregon to start a new life in the United States.

Although Monique is grateful now for her mother’s wisdom and courage, at the time she didn’t understand. It was hard leaving everything that was familiar, changing schools and relearning the English language.

Fortunately, Monique didn’t know that more challenging times lay ahead. A couple of years after they came to the US, Mom introduced Monique to a gentleman who was destined to become her stepdad. At first Monique wanted nothing to do with him. But eventually his kindness won her heart. Then along came a baby sister. And shortly after that, Mom was diagnosed with stage 1 lymphoma.

Altogether, it was too much. By the time Monique was in her early teens, she found herself sinking into a depression. She spent more and more time locked away in her room, moping and fretting. How could she ever come to terms with everything that had happened? Why did she exist anyway? What bad thing was going to happen next?

One day Aunt Ramona invited Monique to go to church with her. Monique had no interest. But her aunt kept on encouraging her, and finally, Monique agreed to try it.

That night they talked about Adam and Eve and the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covered them in the Garden of Eden. Monique was captivated! She went back to church again and again. Each time she discovered another answer to the many questions that she had been puzzling over.

About this time Mom had to undergo a series of cancer treatments. Monique’s new church friends helped care for her and her siblings, and each day they studied the Bible. Monique wanted to follow Jesus and join the church, and she urged her mother to join her. At first her Catholic mother was resistant, but eventually the Holy Spirit got through to her too.

On July 26, 2014, Monique and her mother were both baptized in the Columbia River. Following the baptism, Mom’s health started to improve. Monique praises God for His healing — the lymphoma has now been in remission three years.

That fall Monique enrolled as a freshman at Hermiston Junior Academy in Oregon. During that school year, Monique visited Upper Columbia Academy (UCA) in Spangle, Wash., for the first time. “From the moment I stepped on campus,” she says, “I felt peace. I told Mom, ‘This is my place!’” She wanted to transfer to UCA immediately, but circumstances prevented it.

Finally, the summer before her junior year, the pieces began to fit together for her to enroll at UCA. With great joy Monique filled out the application forms. When the acceptance letter finally arrived in her mailbox, Monique jumped up and down for joy!

Monique says, “I’ll never forget orientation day at UCA. I was both excited and terrified. They played the song 'You Make Me Brave' by Amanda Cook. The lyrics filled me with courage and helped me get my year off to a great start. I’ve kept the song sheet with the lyrics to that song, and anytime I feel fearful I sing the words over again. Before you know it I’m ready to handle whatever!”

When asked about the most impactful experience she had at UCA, Monique said, “Definitely, senior survival.” During the week Fred Riffel led the seniors through a series of experiences to deepen their understanding of God and to help them bond as a group. One exercise involved jumping backward off a platform and trusting your classmates to catch you. “For me it was symbolic of leaving behind my old life," Monique explains. "As I jumped off that ledge, I saw a light that shone on me. It was like God was shining on me. The experience was so powerful that I wanted to be rebaptized, and I was, the very next day, right near the place where I had jumped.”

Monique radiates love and joy. She shares it with hungry people when she hands out food boxes with her church’s food bank. Ultimately, she plans to continue to share love and joy through a medical career, perhaps as a surgeon.  

Monique’s family and church family are supporting her at UCA, and she is working two jobs — as a front desk receptionist in the girls’ dorm and as the head janitorial supervisor in the dorm. FoundationONE is also delighted to support Monique in her quest for God and a Christian education.

September 12, 2018 / Upper Columbia Conference
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