“There we were, with such a strong sense of God’s calling to long-term mission in Peru,” Maricela said, “and at the same time, we were being told, ‘Don’t go!’”
Pablo and Maricela Chavez have been pastoring an MB church in California for almost sixteen years. Originally from Mexico, they are familiar with the challenges of immigration and culture shock, difficulties faced by all who leave their homes, families, and communities for a new land.
The words “Don’t go!” were also painfully familiar.
“We began the immigration process when I was only ten,” Maricela shared. “It was rough. The worst part was facing those that we were leaving behind. To them, I was a traidora, a traitor.” In those first months in the US, Maricela would dream that she was back in Mexico and then wake up, feeling trapped. She took some comfort in knowing that all the members of her family agreed that God had called them to immigrate, and eventually settled into her new life.
Years later, Maricela met her future husband on a trip back to Mexico—a relatively new Christian named Pablo who was trying to discern the call of God upon his own life. Although it became evident that he was going to marry this beautiful lady, at first he was appalled at the thought of leaving Mexico. However, as the couple prayed, Pablo saw that the Lord was indeed leading them in this decision.
“My friends were furious,” he related, “saying that all I cared about was the money. My mom was terrified. She heard so many stories of our countrymen going to the United States and becoming alcoholics or getting messed up with drugs. I promised her that I would follow Jesus, no matter what.”
As he prepared to leave with Maricela, his mother gripped him and looked deeply into his eyes. “She told me, ‘Remember your promises!’” Pablo paused. “I could hardly meet her eyes. I couldn’t even face saying goodbye to my grandmother.”
Not all from the Mexican community opposed their decisions. Pragmatically, many encouraged them to better themselves and pursue higher education, stability for their future children, and fruitful ministry opportunities. As a couple, they did exactly that. “To our friends and family back in Mexico, we were soon living the American dream,” Pablo smiled. “Then, God gave us a different dream.”
The call to pursue full-time ministry in Peru came as a shock to their Latino community in California. “We were just responding to God’s leading,” Maricela said. “But some saw this decision as not just foolish, but ungrateful. Again, I was a traidora.” Even her own father and sister were upset, urging them to reconsider.
“I could understand their hurt,” Maricela added. “My dad sacrificed so much for our family to be established here in the US. It must have seemed like we were just throwing it all away like so much garbage—education, house, car, jobs, ministry. My mother was quiet for months. We were taking her grandchildren away!”
Pablo faced challenges of his own, as the church he had been pastoring voiced their hurt and confusion. They wanted to know if they had done something wrong, or if Pablo was no longer happy with them. Many felt that they were about to be abandoned by the pastor who had so impacted their lives. “Why are you leaving us?” they asked, “Stay!”
Pablo and Maricela heard the love and longing behind the words, even as they gently disengaged themselves from leadership in the fall of 2020. They worked diligently to identify and establish a transitional pastoral team. “We told the church, we are not leaving you,” Pablo said. “You are sending us!”
The ensuing months were rocky, as Pablo and the new leadership team navigated the transition. At times he felt guilty for causing such a disruption in the church he loved. “But as a church, we have also learned a lot,” he said. “We began to see some patterns that needed to be changed, and our interactions with Multiply exposed us to healthy leadership models, eldership governance, and community discernment. We are all growing together.”
The growth process continued to be messy. “But life is always messy!” Pablo said. “Sometimes, we wonder how we can leave in the middle of the mess. Then we remember that Jesus is calling all of us, calling us to Peru and calling the church here to reach their own neighborhood.”
For Pablo and Maricela, whether the cry of “Don’t go!” is tender and yearning, or critical and confused, it will always be drowned out by God’s call to “Go!”
PRAY / GIVE
Please pray for churches in North America as they help their people discern the call and send them into global service.
To become a part of the support team for Pablo and Maricela Chavez, go to multiply.net/chavez