“Figuring it out” is a big part of a church-planting missionary’s job. Each routine and norm needs to be decided and built into habit. How will we, Puerta Abierta Cordoba, serve communion? Set up the chairs? Celebrate Mother’s Day? Every first is a new opportunity to form the church culture. Recently, we were able to plan our first wedding with a very special family. We pray God will use them to continue forming the culture of the church after we leave.
Last December, Emilse was enjoying a summer day in the park with her sons when she met Rachel, one of our 40/40 missionaries. Emilse had converted to Christianity a few years earlier, but had been without a church or much guidance for a while. She was seven months pregnant and living with her boyfriend. I should insert here that living together is much more normal in Argentina than getting married. The government grants marital benefits to couples who have been living together for a very short amount of time. Unless you have been taught that marriage is a sacred commitment before God, you really have no reason to get married. With a growing church of new believers, we expect to have many more marriage celebrations in the near future.
Anyway, back to Emilse. She was already in love with God and loved everything about our church model and doctrine. Rachel and Damaris quickly started a house of prayer in her apartment and began sharing the gospel with her friends and family members. The biggest obstacle was Marcelo, Emilse’s boyfriend. He didn’t want anything to do with God, the church, or the missionaries. We prayed that God would do a miracle in his life, but we couldn’t have dreamed everything that God had in store.
Emilse and Marcelo’s son, Ezio, was born in February. The baby dedication was Marcelo’s first time in church. If memory serves, he came late and left early. We kept praying, and he slowly continued to soften. By God’s grace and Rachel and Damaris’s persistence, he began attending the house of prayer. By the time May rolled around, Emilse was able to convince him to attend an Encounter with her. Both had life changing experiences, and Marcelo decided to commit his life to Christ. He attended the next Encounter two months later as a leader, and God freed him from his addiction to cigarettes. Emilse and Marcelo have been faithfully and eagerly attending their discipleship classes every Saturday.
The process of putting God in the center of their relationship hasn’t been flawless, but it has been done with great faith and bravery. When they decided to get married, we were in the middle of buying and remodeling a new church building and had no idea how a wedding would work in the space. In true South American fashion, all the details came together in the last two weeks before the ceremony. Emilse is an includer and wanted to make sure everyone played a role. Responsibilities large and small were doled out like candy, and somehow everything managed to come together. Or we just forgot things and didn’t realize it.
We ended up using the Methodist church down the street because ours just doesn’t have enough space… yet. Marcelo is the oldest of his siblings and cousins and the first to get married, so his entire family came to celebrate. Emilse doesn’t have any biological family in Cordoba, but her church family was well represented. Rachel and Damaris were bridesmaids alongside Irma, the maid of honor, who faithfully attends the house of prayer and is looking forward to participating in the next Encounter in December. Pastor Junior and Pastora Jaci performed the ceremony together. After the vows, they asked Marcelo to pray for his future with Emilse. He used the opportunity to not only pray out loud, but share in front of all his friends and family about Jesus’s teachings on sacrificial love. We were shocked and proud of him and so so grateful for God’s powerful love.
The wedding itself was a ceremony with a dinner reception afterwards. In the moment, it felt like an American wedding, but now I’m realizing all the “special” customs we love to include were missing. There was no sign in book or candle lighting or bouquet tossing. There was a bouncy castle and a foosball table, which are really a lot better than our typical activities. The entire atmosphere was more relaxed than you might expect in the States. The ceremony started about an hour late. When everyone sat down for the dinner, Marcelo realized he had forgotten to pick up the food. He and a couple guys left the church, walked to the catering place, and brought back the dinner. Everyone had a great time because we all enjoy each other’ company.
Emilse and Marcelo continue to grow in their marriage, their relationships with God, and their leadership in the church. Emilse was recently named leader of the NMI of our church. Marcelo will attend his third Encounter in December. This time his sole purpose will be to watch and evaluate the speakers so that he can teach one of the sessions in the February Encounter. After a year of unforeseeable growth and change, they are excited to see what else God has planned for them and their family.