A while back, I had the opportunity to interview Doris and write this article about her testimony. Though, it will come out later via Extreme Nazarene, I thought it a good reminder of what Jesus has done and relevant today Easter Sunday.
A Testimony of God’s Freedom
On Sunday morning, the doors to the “Puerta Abierta” (Open Door) Church of the Nazarene stand open. Over the noise of the buses and semi-trucks passing by, the sound of worship carries through the open doors and into the dusty streets of Ibarra. Through the crowded worship service and over the hands raised in exaltation, Doris sings, proudly proclaiming the love of God. With eyes closed and hands raised, her voice rings out as she leads the worship team in the Sunday morning service.
Doris is one of the first church members and leaders of the Ibarra Open Door Church of the Nazarene. Though many members of the new church plant came through the open doors as unbelievers, blind to the miracles of God, Doris could already speak of the God who changed the lives of her family. This church leader’s testimony of a changed heart begins many years before the church began in 2013.
Doris is native to the Ibarra area. She was raised and lives now in the nearby city of San Antonio. According to the Ecuadorian National Institute of Statistics and Census, 80% of Ecuadorians claim Catholicism as their religion, and as a child Doris accepted being a part of this large statistic. She lived among seven other siblings and a mother who insisted they all adopt the cultural beliefs of Catholicism. Though Doris never felt personally connected to God through the Catholic faith, she followed the popular beliefs of a lost society.
Growing up in such a large family, Doris watched as her siblings graduated high school and began working in the community. Not considering a high school diploma necessary or important to her future, Doris chose to drop out before graduation. She married her husband Jose Luis and began a family and business together selling the delicious cakes she bakes from her own kitchen.
Though never important to her before, Doris and her husband’s Catholic heritage became key when the struggles began. Her husband became very ill and as Doris explains, “on the edge of sanity.” Braving the long lines and expenses, Jose Luis went to multiple physicians who all declared him healthy. Though he showed many signs of mental illness and felt as if he were going insane, no physician had an answer for them. He continued to struggle.
Not knowing what to do, Doris went to her mother for advice. Like the strong Catholic woman she is, her mother encouraged Doris to bring her husband to the Catholic Church for healing. Obediently, Doris followed the next step in searching for healing and followed her mother’s advice. Still, they found no answers to the strange illness that plagued her husband’s mind and emotions.
As customary in Ecuadorian culture and tradition, Doris and her husband decided to continue to search for a cure, meaning they went to a local witch doctor. Still, after searching out many different options, her husband found no relief to his torment. Finally, a family friend confronted Doris and told her the real reason her husband had been dealing with this “illness”. She had confirmed what several physicians had told them–this was not a physical ailment. The problem was rooted in something much deeper than anything physical; rather, it was a spiritual battle his body had been fighting.
Their friend encouraged this young couple that the only way to receive healing was to pray, confessing their wrongdoing to God and ultimately giving Him their lives. Unfortunately, for many years before, Jose Luis had dabbled in “black magic” and the consequences of being a part of this dark spiritual realm had caught up with him. Deciding to leave past beliefs and practices behind, Doris and her husband both made the decision to accept Christ into their hearts. Jose Luis had been sick for two years, but after accepting Christ he went to a spiritual retreat where he was finally freed of the evil that had plagued him for so long. During this moment of confession and adherence to God’s forgiveness, Jose Luis felt two black “shadows” leave him. (Shadow is the direct translation, but it is often used to describe demons or spirits.) Though he did not recover immediately, he could finally feel God’s freedom from a past of darkness.
At this point, out of eight children and many extended family members, Doris and her husband were the only Christians. Doris shakes her head as she remembers this time, where her faith was still very weak. She attended church but was inconsistent with her trust in God and ultimately unable to give her whole life to Him.
When her faith was at its weakest, one of her brothers was in a serious car accident. She questioned why God would allow this to happen to her and to her family. She called out to the Lord, stating that if He would only save her brother, she would fully dedicate her life to Him. Doris was soon able to see the grace and plan God had for the lives of her family. Not only did the Lord save her brother physically, but also because of the testimony of her husband, her entire family went to her Christian church to pray and call out for God’s divine intervention. After the service, the majority of her family had turned from their Catholic roots filled with paganism, rules and personal sacrifice and instead found a relationship with the one true God.
Doris had seen her family struggle with so much over the years and had seen God’s faithfulness in many of their lives. Yet, Doris’ time of personal trial was yet to begin. Doris describes the following time in her life as “tormento” or torturous. One day, she had left her home to sell the cakes she had baked, as she and her husband normally do. During the delivery, she was brutally raped by two men. Her life spiraled downward in torment, affecting her family and six year old daughter. She wanted to blame God for the affliction and agony that had been imposed upon her. Her character became explosive and filled with anger towards her family and others who loved her. For years after, there were many low points where she wished those men would have killed her, because of the pain and guilt that she now carried around inside of her was too much to live with.
Doris carried around this torment for over a decade. She continued to blame God for her anguish and for the mark she was leaving on her family. Her spiritual life struggled and waned. She had witnessed God heal her husband through years of prayer and spiritual guidance. She could testify to a family who had nearly all been changed by God, yet her personal toil stayed persistent. Doris was blind to the help anyone, including God, could give her.
Through some unfortunate circumstances, Doris and her husband chose to leave the church they had been attending. She prayed earnestly to God for one month for His guidance in finding the correct church for herself and her family. At the end of this time, her sister told her about a new Christian church plant in Ibarra. Not knowing what a Nazarene church was, but trusting in God’s intervention and her friend’s encouragement, Doris called the pastor of the Open Door Church.
At this point, the church had just begun its work in Ibarra. Pastor Yoan along with two 40/40 Church Planters, Michaela and Abi, went to visit Doris. Doris welcomed them into her home and because there was still no church building, the Rodriguez family hosted the first church service in their home.
Excited about the church and gaining more disciples, Michaela and Abi encouraged Doris to attend their first “encounter” or spiritual retreat. These retreats occur every few months and focus upon encountering God and learning the basics of Christianity. For the month leading up to the event, Doris was apprehensive about going to the encounter. In the end, she decided to attend.
Up until this time, God had still not yet healed Doris’ pain. She had seen God work miracles in the life of her husband, brother, and family, but God had not yet reached out and touched her own life. She was unable to bridge the gap between herself and God that had formed after years of coping with guilt and pain. Over ten years after her rape, she attended the spiritual encounter, and Doris did indeed encounter Christ and the freedom He had set aside for her. In one single moment, as Doris describes as “libertad” or liberty/freedom, she shares how she felt two dark shadows leave her.
In that one moment, she knew for certain that the guilt and pain she had carried around with her for more than ten years, the torment that affected not only her, but also her family, and the hardened heart that had become her had all left forever. She could physically feel all of the sadness and guilt leaving her body, and she was left with the peace that comes from nowhere else but the Holy Spirit. She felt God’s comfort, joy, and love surround her, and she still exudes these attributes today. Doris proclaims complete freedom that only Christ can offer. On that day, she had prayed that she wanted to be different and God answered by changing her “manner of being, speaking, acting and thinking.” Her past was filled with guilt and difficulties and though there are still many trials and tests in her future, she holds firmly to this freedom God has given her.
Doris now firmly believes that though she has gone through terrible evils and hurt, God set apart this church for her. He knew that this church would have strong pastors and leaders who could guide her out of the web that had so long entangled her. She once wished that she had died in the horrible attack inflicted upon her, but now Doris comes close to tears as she tries to explain the peace and love she has found through Christ’s freedom. If she had been killed that day, she would have never given birth to two more boys and experienced the joy of her family and the freedom of Jesus Christ. The feeling of worthlessness, along with the explosive anger she had towards those around her has never once returned. After more than ten years of struggle, she has finally found freedom–freedom from years of pain and agony. This peace and freedom from God has never fallen short. She claims “total freedom” over the rape and struggles of her past, now wanting to share with others her story of liberation.
Michaela and Abi continued to encourage Doris and transmit the love of Christ through their discipleship. When asked, Michaela claims she cannot remember anything she taught Doris, but only recalls the knowledge and encouragement that Doris has poured into her own life. Doris, ordinarily a timid person was shy in becoming a leader in the church. Juggling three children, her own business and a house of prayer, Doris faithfully completed the leadership training process. Every week, for a year, she faithfully attended classes, determined that she would finally receive the diploma she once missed out on.
A year later, Doris stood in front of a congregation so large that all the seats were filled and the congregation spilled out the door into the streets. People stood on tiptoes peering through open windows, as a once timid Doris proclaimed her pride and gratitude in receiving her first “diploma.” She had become one of the first leaders of this ever-growing church and was now hosting the first house of prayer in Ibarra. She now leads the house of prayer Michaela and Abi began in the Rodriguez household, directs worship every Sunday, and has taken over the cleaning ministry of the church. She says, “I can give more. I will always be learning what God is teaching me and learning from His miracles.”
As Doris shares her story, her prayer for her brothers and sisters around the world is as follows:
3 John 1:2-4
Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.