For Paola, however, the adventure had begun years before, when she was only 16 years old herself. During a missions conference, she saw a map of the world marked with places where people didn’t know God. “It broke my heart that there are people who have never heard of Jesus even once in their lives,” she recalled. “I thought: I want to go to people who have never heard about Jesus and help them to know the good news.”
A few years later, she met Daniel. The son of missionaries, Daniel knew he wanted to serve God overseas. In fact, this mutual desire brought them together.
Throughout their early years as a family, Paola and Daniel prepared their sons for a future overseas. They spoke often of what it could mean for their family to serve amongst people who had never heard of Jesus, far from Latin America.
“We knew if we worked overseas, we could earn money to live and then wouldn’t be a financial burden for our church in Latin America. We thought: why do we have to leave our professions when we go? We can use our skills there and make it part of our ministry,” Paola explained.
The transition was difficult at first, as Paola struggled to acclimate to a new country, culture, language and ministry––all while helping her sons do the same. “Being a mom is to try to get everyone in a good place spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally. When you are at home, you are preparing the house to receive them, and when they are home, you are preparing them to leave.”
As her sons adjusted, making friends and plugging into their international church’s youth group, and her husband took on new challenges in his job, Paola wondered about her own purpose.
Before moving to the Middle East, Paola knew that there was a reason for her whole family to be there. After arriving, however, she discovered that it took time to adapt and learn about the local culture.
Reading her Bible one day, she came across Ephesians 2:10. “That verse says God created us for good works and that He prepared [them] in advance.” She began to pray about what God wanted her to do in the Middle East.
“I think this time of waiting was also good for me to seek the Lord, to pray and to see that all these answers come from Him,” she shared.
First, she studied Arabic. Her new language skills—even if not perfect—opened doors to relationships and to the culture. Then she started meeting other moms at her children’s school and began visiting local ladies to practise Arabic, learn the culture better and make friends.
Once when Paola was visiting a local friend, the woman told her she loved Spanish, Paola’s native language. That interest drove Paola to take an online course so she could learn how to teach Spanish as a second language. “God used that in an amazing way,” she recalled. “I had many ladies coming, asking me to teach them Spanish, and through that, it was an opportunity to share life, to be friends… and through that friendship, to share about Jesus.”
When a man at their international church asked Paola to start a Spanish-speaking Bible study for his Latino wife, Paola realised God was asking her to invest in the Latino community as well. Now, when she meets Arab women who want to learn Spanish, she connects them to other Latino believers. “I could see how these two things finally came together in the same ministry and how God had a purpose for everything,” she said.
At the age of five, Paola had been told by a pastor that Jesus wanted to be her friend – a relationship she grabbed onto then and continued to grow in throughout her life. In the Middle East, she discovered that the ladies, both expat Latinas and local Arabs, suffered from loneliness. Far away from their families, the ladies from Latin America spent countless hours alone at home. “If they don’t have friends, they are alone the whole week,” she explained. Local ladies, too, looked for ways to fill their empty hours.
From her own experience, Paola recognised an open door to tell them about her friendship with Jesus and the way He had transformed her life, back home in Latin America and in the Middle East. “This is a great opportunity to speak about Jesus, the love of Jesus, the concern He has for ladies and how He can fill their loneliness and their desire to [have] a purpose in life,” she said.
“You discover that people are waiting for …someone that will be concerned about their problems, will walk together through the different stages of life and, of course, [will teach them] the Bible,” Paola shared.
“I had more and more opportunities to do Bible studies with ladies, even more than the ones I had in my country because of the need here, so I think all [the] things—working with kids, with ladies, with teenagers—that I did back in my home country helped me to understand the life of people, and then here I learnt more about different cultures, so [in] all this together, I see how God was shaping me and preparing me to do His work here.”
With the restrictions caused by the new coronavirus, Paola moved her Spanish teaching online. Technology allows her to keep in contact with her students during a time of physical distancing. Her women’s Bible studies have adapted as well, and by switching the meetings to a virtual platform, Paola continues to guide Spanish speakers in their discovery of Jesus. She schedules one-on-one discipleship calls and also connects informally with believers and non-believers.
To further her education and understanding, Paola used the forced downtime to enrol in an online seminary class on theological studies. Meetings may not be in person for the time being, but limiting her outside movements in accordance with government mandates has not impacted Paola’s involvement in ministry.
Published: Tuesday, 09 June 2020
Credit: Nicole James & Kate Toretti