Praising God, sharing the virus?

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Berta Torres (left) with daughters Alicia, Mirna, Cristina, Jenny, and Susana

151 people died from Covid-19 in California on Wednesday, July 8.  In the whole US, at least 890 people died that day with the virus, but not all have yet been reported.

My friend Berta Esther Hernandez Torres was one of them.  She was 71 years old, as I am, and about a month ago, she was healthy.  It’s just heart-breaking.

I was shocked when her daughter Alicia Hernandez Renteria called me Wednesday afternoon to tell me that her mother had been in the hospital for 12 days, mostly in the ICU, and had tested positive for Covid-19.

Her seven daughters were allowed to visit her last week because the staff at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach believed that Berta was dying.  “Actually, it was a miracle that they let us in,” Alicia affirmed.

When they were allowed in the room, two at a time, Alicia saw her mother with an oxygen mask covering part of her face.  She was wearing gloves and pawing at her face, trying to remove the mask “because the pressure of the oxygen forced into you is like sticking your head out an airplane window,” the nurses told Alicia.

Berta was “kind of awake.”  The earlier problems with blood clots and her heart had been solved, but her respiration rate was very low.  Her daughters and their church had been praying and fasting for a miracle.

“We’re asking God to finish the miracle,” Alicia told me.

A week earlier the doctors had told the family, “We need to put a tube in her throat.”

“No!” said Rosy.

But the sight of their mother in pain and panic, as if she were in a pool drowning, was terrible, so within a day or two they decided to let her have the intubation.  That included sedation, so Berta had been in a kind of a coma for four days. 

“We are asking God to give us an answer,” Alicia explained.  “We know God can make a miracle.  We’re praying for her respiration to go back to normal.  The nurses said she can be in this sedated state for up to 15 days, and then they will have to test whether she can breathe on her own.”

“I will pray for her and for all of you,” I replied. 

Alicia explained that her mother had been living with the youngest sister, Susana, whose husband is a doctor.  In early June another sister, Esther, living a block away in Irvine, became sick with the flu.  She recovered, but then her mother started to show symptoms of the flu too.  They didn’t want to take her to the hospital–no one wants to go there for any illness during this pandemic.

But Berta woke up one morning in late June and couldn’t breathe.  They had to take her to the ER.  After learning that her mother had Covid, Esther too got tested but the result was negative.

Berta had been worshiping in a church that did not stop holding services, Iglesia Poder y Unción de lo Alto in Santa Ana.  Her daughter, Rosy V. Hernandez, is the founder and pastora of this church of 60-100 people.  Another sister, Mirna Aguilar and her husband, lead another church and share in the lease, using the building on different days of the week. 

Rosy and other visiting pastors were against wearing masks two months ago.  Around Mothers Day I had debated with another sister, Jenny, on this subject.  More recently some had begun wearing masks; for quite a while they’d been sitting with one family group not close to another group.  Older members were invited to stay home; Rosy’s current sermons are available on Facebook live and older sermons can be found on YouTube.

Berta left home only to go to church or to see a family member.

I did not drive to Santa Ana and visit the church to see whether they were social distancing at the services.  The last time I attended church with them was March, 2019, when they moved into a big new building.  On that visit I did my best to understand Rosy’s sermon (in Spanish), sitting by Berta and talking with her between songs.  A translator stood by Rosy, providing an English translation.  Afterward we all went to Denny’s. 

Back in 1988, I had hired Alicia to babysit my two younger daughters during the week while I was working.  My oldest was in kindergarten.  I became friends with the whole family, and several sisters had worked for me.  Then we moved from Costa Mesa to Santa Monica, only visiting once or twice a year.

from a Facebook post by Rosy


When California’s governor issued stay-at-home orders because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Rosy and others believed that the government viewed churches as “non-essential.”  To Christians, however, gathering to worship and praise is essential.  See my previous blog post on this subject.

“That’s not good that Rosy’s church is still holding services,” I told Jenny when I learned this, but I was trying to be polite.  I was afraid of being forceful and having a condescending tone: “I know better than you.” 

Now, however, I wish I had called Rosy and said, “Your mother and other older members could die.  You must protect them.”  Actually, I couldn’t have called with such a strong message.  I would have to have driven down for a visit to talk about it.

At 6 pm on Wednesday Alicia called me again, sobbing.  I understood that her mother had died.  She was at home in Long Beach with at least one of her sisters, and they had had a call from the doctor.

“Oh Alicia, I’m so sorry,” I said.  She was incoherent but saying things like “If it’s her time to go” and “I told God, ‘If it’s your will….'”

“God did not want her to have Covid,” I said.  “But God saw her suffering and at that point took her home.”

“Yes,” Alicia said.  “She is not suffering now.” 

“I will pray for you all,” I said.  “It’s so hard to lose your mother.”

“We’re all going to go to church now,” she said finally.

I hung up and sat there, crying myself over this totally needless death caused by the carelessness of our president in January and February and his confusing messages.  So often he called the corona virus a hoax.  Alicia and her family had been listening to news sources that claimed it was just another flu and that the government was trying to control Christians and keep them from worshiping.  After all, many of them had service jobs that were considered “essential.” 

“They want us to go to our jobs for 40 hours a week but not to church for a few hours?” Alicia had commented.  “That doesn’t make sense.”  Economically as well, many felt that they had to continue working.  Few had the kinds of jobs you can perform online; another problem was making sure each member had the equipment and expertise to attend church via Zoom or YouTube. 

The lower classes, especially the black and brown workers and their parents, are expendable to those like our president who care only about the 1%, the stock market and the economy.  In retrospect, Berta was clearly in danger.  We were the same age, but I could stay home comfortably, attending church and classes via Zoom.

The next day I began writing sympathy cards to the seven sisters but soon realized that sharing on Facebook would be better.

When I went online Thursday, I saw that most of the sisters were posting messages about their mother’s victory and happiness:

“Today I arise and am so happy!” wrote Jenny.  “I celebrate my mom because she’s more alive than ever. I’m even jealous of the good one, my mother, because she received the title of ′′ETERNAL LIFE′′ yesterday.  Bravo! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 👏🏻 Applause for her because she was crowned for her victory!  She made it, passed the tests and graduated with honors!  What a happiness!  She now has an ear-to-ear smile and laughter for her triumph!  Let us strive to follow in her footsteps.”  [Note: this is an automated English translation of Jenny’s words in Spanish.]

In fact, the message is that Berta died for Jesus.  “If we suffer for the cause of Christ, we will enjoy Jesus for eternity,” says the chorus of her favorite song (see below). By going to church and praising God, Berta was witnessing to Jesus and defying the government that was saying “Don’t go to church.”  She became a martyr for the faith.

That’s the narrative.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Berta’s favorite song was “No Retrocedas” (“Don’t Back Down”).  Here it is sung by Simiente Escogida (Chosen Seed) on YouTube–a light, cheery tune about hellfire and damnation, suffering and joy.

No retrocedas, no, hermano querido.
Que por mirar atras
La mujer de Lot
Se convirtio en estatua de sal.

Es mejor sufrir para gozar

Que gozar para sufrir.
Si sufrimos por causa de Cristo,
gozaremos por la eternidad.

No ames al mundo

Ni las cosas que estan en el,
Porque el destino cruel des los transgresores
Es el infierno de fuego eternal.

Es mejor sufrir para gozar

Que gozar para sufrir.
Si sufrimos por causa de Cristo,
gozaremos por la eternidad.


Don’t back off, no, dear brother.
Because for looking back
Lot’s wife was turned
Into a statue of salt.

It is better to suffer in order to enjoy
Than to enjoy only to suffer.
If we suffer for Christ’s sake,
we will enjoy for eternity.

Don’t love the world
Nor the things that are in it
Because the cruel fate of the transgressors
Is the hell of eternal fire.

It is better to suffer in order to enjoy
Than to enjoy only to suffer.
If we suffer for Christ’s sake,
we will enjoy for eternity.


Notes:

The previous single-day high in California was 122 deaths on May 19.

Los Angeles County alone reported 60 Covid-related death on Wednesday, but Berta died in Orange County, where Covid-deniers are rampant and where the Public Health Director resigned on June 8 after death threats from some who refused her order to wear face masks.

Provisional death counts include all deaths that are received by the National Center for Health Statistics and coded as Covid-19, whether or not they are confirmed by testing.  It can take 1-2 weeks for all the deaths on a particular day to be recorded, and even then many people who die at home do not get counted as Covid-related.

See also:

LA County records highest daily coronavirus death toll in a month. – Los Angeles Times.

Protocol for Places of Worship in Los Angeles County, updated July 9, 2020



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