Boy meets girl. It’s how most love stories begin, but in our story it’s followed by: boy seeks out translator so that he can talk with girl. You see, Abiel and I met while on a mission trip. I was the gringa missionary girl and he was the Mexican ministry host. I had made it through Spanish II in high school and at best could compose an elementary sentence in Spanish – Abiel spoke zero English. After what I can only imagine was love at first sight, we naively thought that the language difference was our only barrier to a successful relationship. Twelve years, four kids, and a church plant later and I can tell you that that there is nothing further from the truth!
Love is an incredible motivator, so we both soon learned each others native language, conquering our communication barrier – only to realize the culture barriers that laid ahead. Being raised in different countries with different languages and different cultures set us up to be like two ships passing in the night (twelve years ago this colloquialism would have to be explained). It was hard and sometimes felt impossible, but sometimes God calls us to crazy things that don’t make sense and are not logical. Yet, in faith, we step forward knowing that his will is best and he will provide a way. And so we stepped forward. Rather than fighting one another into submission to one culture or another, we chose to learn from one another and to create a combination of who we each are and where we come from. Over time, we began to see our differences as a gift rather than a burden. Creating a bilingual, bicultural family where we get to choose the best of both of our cultures and move unconsciously between two languages has shaped us into more understanding and compassionate people. It has stretched and grown us to be more like Christ, being able to see people different from us and press in to learn from them and understand them, so that we can love and serve them better.
Out of these experiences was born the vision for Ciudad de Gracia, our fifth child and church plant. Ciudad de Gracia is a Spanish speaking church with a bilingual, multigenerational, multicultural (ten different countries represented) congregation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Latino population is the largest minority population in the United States and makes up nearly 50% of Albuquerque – and this community faces many barriers. We are passionate about providing a way for Latinos to encounter God and the freedom that the Gospel provides. Our experience as a couple and as a family has uniquely prepared us to walk with the recent immigrant that is just beginning to adjust to life in the US and searching for something ‘more’, as well as with the second or third generation immigrant that was born and raised in the US in a Latino home and sometimes struggles to find a place where they fit. What we know is that these struggles become blessings and draw us closer to the heart of God who sees all and loves each one.
When I look at Jesus’ ministry on the earth, I see he made an intentional point to not stay close to only those who were like Him, but instead to embrace those who were different from Him, including His ethnicity. Galatians 3:26-29 shows us that we are created in the bigger image of God, and not just our ethnicity. This does not diminish our differences, but instead shows us that ultimately we are all united in our differences through Jesus Christ, who destroyed all barriers in His work on the cross. Revelation 7 shows a perfect example of how this should be displayed by showing us a glimpse into Heaven. The passage says that “every nation, tribe, people, and language” will stand before the throne and honor Him. This shows us that God’s intention for His children is not division brought about through diversity, but instead to unify us through His blood in order to honor Him together, no matter what our cultural differences are. We believe that the Kingdom of God is evident when we create diverse cultural churches which can accept and appreciate the differences of one another. Never did I imagine, all those years ago, when this girl met that boy, that I would get to experience this glimpse of heaven first hand. But I do, every day – in my family and at Ciudad de Gracia. It’s a beautiful (sometimes messy) gift, and I rejoice to have received it!
Emily is a Project Manager with Stadia. After years of preparing, planning, and praying, Emily and her husband, Abiel, planted Ciudad de Gracia, a Spanish-speaking Stadia church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in January of 2017. Having first-hand experience of starting churches, Emily’s desire is to partner with church planters to help them be the very best for their community. Her other full-time job is being mom to the very best four kids: Gabriel, Lucas, Liliana and Marco.