Maribel Beyuma Chao has been on a mission her whole life, but now she has followed Jesus all the way across the world.
The Christmas tree at St Hilda’s Church in Manchester only needed five meters of Christmas lights to cover it. So when 50 meters turned up, there was a bit of confusion. By the time the pastor realised his mistake, members of the church were already getting creative with the abundance of unexpected lights!
Maribel, the church’s Incoming Mission member from Bolivia, was delighted. God had delivered much more than they had asked or imagined! They joyfully decorated the entire church building with festive lights until it looked like the most Christmassy place in Manchester.
Laughing, the church agreed that Maribel could try out the Christmas programme she had proposed for the community after all. Perhaps God would do more there as well, despite the pandemic. And he did…
“I’M GOING TO BE A NUN WHEN I GROW UP!
It wasn’t easy for Maribel to leave Santa Cruz for a placement in Manchester. She had a successful catering business, a counselling ministry, a flourishing church community, a supportive family, and three beautiful dogs! But God’s been leading her on a journey of mission her whole life.
“I grew up in a Catholic school, taught by the sisters – they were some of best teachers a student could ask for,” she says. “As part of our education, we were taught about caring for others. The nuns took us into the community to learn about the needs around us.”
Talking with a child on the street, the young Maribel was shocked to hear that their parents had left them alone for the day while they went off to find work. This was worlds away from Maribel’s upbringing.
“I knew I wanted to help, so I told my parents I was going to become a nun!” she smiles. “But my parents persuaded me to go to university instead.”
In her last year of studying, Maribel met a missionary couple from the USA, who helped her truly get to know Jesus and start to follow him. They also connected Maribel with another missionary working in Bolivia who needed somebody to be a translator as she travelled the country sharing the gospel. Maribel gladly went along; it was an experience that would stick with her.
Years later, Maribel got to know a couple of Latin Link members in Bolivia, who asked her to consider a mission placement in the UK. By then, Maribel was very involved in her local church and declined a couple of times. But she just couldn’t shake off a voice saying, “don’t forget England!”
So one day, Maribel applied to Latin Link. But just as she was due to go to Manchester, the pandemic stopped her from getting there. Stuck in Santa Cruz, Maribel set her alarm for 4:30am every Sunday morning so that she could attend St Hilda’s Sunday morning service online. She managed to get to know people well from afar and felt a natural connection with this community across the world. She couldn’t wait to get there at the end of 2021.
THIS CHURCH IS FOR THE COMMUNITY
Maribel’s home church in Bolivia is always active with members involved in over 25 ministries around the city. When they see a local need, they get involved; the church is well-known as a lynchpin in the community.
It was a surprise for Maribel to discover a different situation in Manchester. Although full of passionate, long-serving members, St Hilda’s didn’t have the support or resources to reach the community in the same way.
The first time she visited a local primary school with others from St Hilda’s, the headteacher told them that the church wasn’t that important to people anymore. They had been going into that school every week for years to share Bible stories – but there wasn’t a connection beyond that.
With her experience from Santa Cruz, Maribel knew that the church could be so much more to these children and their families – they just needed to build relationships.
That’s when Maribel had her Christmas idea. “I love Christmas!” she says. “I wanted to develop a programme of festive activities for the community, bringing church to them.” But with the pandemic still rumbling on, the church weren’t so sure. They thought that a lot of people still wouldn’t want to come to events.
It took the abundant Christmas lights to give them a new sense of optimism and agree to give it a try. And God did much more than St Hilda’s had dared to hope. The parents did come; they brought their kids along, chatted, had a lot of festive fun, and seemed pleasantly surprised to find out about the church and what was going on there. People from inside and outside of the church started to connect.
BUT WHO WILL GO?
“Our pastor at St Hilda’s has a lot of dreams to grow and to reach more people. But who will do the work?” Maribel asks. “We need to train people and prepare the church for what God clearly wants to do.”
She believes the key to the strength of her church in Santa Cruz is good discipleship; helping each Christian to truly understand their identity in God and put their spiritual gifts to use for his kingdom.
Missionaries took the time to invest in Maribel in this way when she was a new Christian at university. Now on mission herself, she felt called to pay it forward. With the church’s support, she set up three new discipleship groups at St Hilda’s. She hopes some of the fruit of this will be a renewed connection with the local community and its needs.
THROUGH DIFFERENT EYES
One of the reasons St Hilda’s church has hosted several Latin American mission workers is that it has a growing community of Spanish speakers. But some of them don’t feel confident making friends with the English speakers across the language and culture barrier.
Maribel is just the right person to help. “I know that part of God’s call is for me to connect people of different cultures,” she says. “Back when I travelled around Bolivia translating for that mission worker, I was connecting her with the communities we visited. In Manchester, I can do the same thing connecting these two cultures within the church.
They’re all parts of one body. I’ve put English and Spanish speakers into one of my discipleship groups together because that’s a great place for them to form deep friendships.”
She’s also seeing the wider community through different eyes than the rest of the church. For instance, Maribel heard about Fatima from Ecuador who can’t go to church right now because she has a baby, and some of the church’s creche facilities are still closed due to the pandemic. She’s often found herself isolated and had prayed that she could get to know more about God and meet
more English people.
Maribel stepped in and invited her and her baby to join the discipleship group. It’s had a really positive impact on her life.
As a Latin American living in the UK, Fatima is often checked in on by a secular organisation that supports Latin families through transition. When they asked how she was coping recently, Fatima was excited to tell them about her new church family, the discipleship group, and the new English-speaking friends she’s made. The organisation were surprised and is now keen to learn how the church could support other Latin migrants in Manchester. It’s another new door that St Hilda’s hadn’t expected God to open.
WHY THE UK CHURCH NEEDS MORE MARIBELS
Our churches have much to gain from the experience and passion of the Latin American Church.
For some time, Latin Link has had a vision to enable more Latin Americans to serve here; to expand our multidirectional mission and send God’s people ‘from everywhere to everywhere’.
For Maribel, these last few months in Manchester have made her want to encourage her Bolivian friends to look beyond their own culture too. They love God, they serve him, they engage with mission throughout their city, country, and continent. But Maribel now sees the need for Latin Americans to go even further – ‘to the ends of the earth.’
“We have the right tools, we have the love of the Lord, the passion, the fire,” she says. “The church in Bolivia is alive right now. Only a few years ago, we came together across denominations and held mass prayer gatherings on the streets every day when the president tried to ignore the election results – and many people became Christians. I’d love to help more people bring that energy over to the UK.”
Is your church ready for a Latin perspective? Click here to learn more about Incoming Mission.