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She knew that her husband, Jesse, once a troubled kid who grew up on the streets and ran with a gang, had recently started talking about God. She was glad he was less angry now and more committed to making things work between them, but she really didn’t want to hear about God.
“I never knew my real father growing up,” Jesse explains. “My mom took us to church when I was a kid, and I knew about Jesus, but I pulled away in my teen years and got involved in a lot of bad things.
“As I got older,” he says, “I only got into more trouble. Over time I had two sons, whose mothers I never married.” As those and other issues from his past came back to haunt him, Jesse says, “they took me to a very dark place.”
“I couldn’t do it anymore,” he says. “I almost gave up everything—my marriage, my life, my kids—almost walked away from it all because I believed life could never be good and I could never be happy again.”
But right in the middle of that very troubled time, memories of what Jesse had learned as a child about Jesus began to pull him back from that darkness and give him a reason to fight for his marriage to Yadira and for his children. Although he had pushed God away during a rough time in his teen years, he now realized that he needed Jesus in his life.
“It was then that I gave my life back to Christ,” Jesse says, “From then on, I was going to live the way Jesus wanted me to—the way I knew I should. I got rid of a lot of negative stuff in my life that influenced my attitudes and fed my frustrations. My language changed. I used to be angry all the time, ready to snap. But with God’s help I’ve got a lot more patience.
“Even the kids noticed the hard-core rap music was gone,” he says, “and I was playing oldies and Christian radio in the car instead.”
Not long after Jesse invited Jesus back into his life, the need for assistance with a utility bill brought Jesse and Yadira to Wheaton Bible Church. It was a rough time financially for their family of seven—four of Yadira’s children and one of Jesse’s—and they needed help paying an overdue electric bill. They had been given the names of several churches and other agencies that might be able to help, and they chose Wheaton Bible Church from the list.
“They sat down with us and talked to us and reached out to help us,” Jesse says of that first meeting at the church, a little over four years ago. “And something clicked while we were here. It felt right. So from that time on, when our work schedules allowed, we started coming to the church on Sunday mornings and bringing our kids. We always felt welcome here.”
Even so, Yadira says, “Why we were going to church wasn’t crystal clear to me.”
Just as Jesse was seeing God work in his own life, he knew Yadira needed Jesus too. “So as I was listening to Christian music and eliminating negative things from my life, I started telling her about it and about how I felt. ‘You should read this,’ I’d tell her, or ‘Look at this.’ But she was saying, ‘Don’t push me. Please don’t push me.’ It was hard, but I saw that I had to take a step back.”
But even with her reluctance to hear about God, Yadira agreed with Jessie that their marriage was seriously troubled and they needed help. They had reached a point where outside pressures and circumstances from their past were tearing their relationship apart.
“I loved my wife very much, but we were going through some very hard times,” Jesse remembers.
As they came to the church on Sundays, they heard a little about the Re|Engage marriage-care program, but they had never pursued it. One Sunday morning, however, an announcement on the monitors in the Atrium caught their attention.
“We realized that we needed to look into something to help us,” Yadira says. “Our kids saw a lot of arguing and a lot of questioning about if we were going to be together and how long our family would last.”
Both agreed that they needed help, so one Monday evening not long after, Jesse and Yadira came to Re|Engage.
“We were very nervous that first night,” Yaya admits. “I was scared.”
She and Jesse didn’t stay long that first week, but the following Monday evening they were back, and after the teaching time that begins each meeting, they joined a group of newcomers in what’s called an “open” discussion group—but they were quiet that first night and said little about why they were there.
The following week was a different story. When the small-group time arrived, they learned that there was room for one more couple in a newly forming “closed” group that would be led by Chris and Denise White. Joining a closed group involves making a commitment to work through the entire sixteen-week curriculum together.
“They told us there was a new group with only one spot left, and something told us that was the spot for us,” Jesse said, “so we signed up right away.”
In that group, Jesse and Yadira were ready to talk. Chris White later told Jesse, “For two people who have a hard time trusting others, you sure opened up a lot.“
“In our hearts,” Yadira said, “we knew it was now or never . . .”
“. . . so we might as well let it all out,” Jesse said, finishing her sentence.
Often in a small group, it takes someone to “break the ice” and open up. In Jessie and Yaya’s group, they were the ones who got the deeper conversation started.
“We felt really comfortable,” Jesse said, “and the group connected right from the beginning. We realized we weren’t the only ones who were going through things. When you look at everyone else, they might look great on the outside and look like they don’t have any problems, but even if the issues are not the same, everyone is going through something.”
The couple points to specific exercises that opened their eyes over the follow-ing weeks, and they mentioned tools they learned as the weeks went by—but it was a lesson on forgiveness that was life-changing for Yaya.
The discussion around their table that evening got Yaya thinking about deeper issues that had been festering in her life. As Chris facilitated the discussion, he sensed that something was at the root of Yaya’s difficulties in the area of forgiveness.
Later that night, as the couple stopped at Target on their way home, a thought struck Jesse. “You know what I think might be bothering you?” he asked Yadira. “Maybe some of the trust issues you have with God are because you see God as a father like the father who abandoned you and hurt you. Maybe you feel like you can’t trust another father to really be a father to you.
“That’s when she broke down and let it out,” Jesse says.
“Yeah. Right there in the toothpaste aisle,” Yaya adds with a smile.
“My father was an alcoholic and a drug addict who left us for another woman when I was nine,” she explains. “I was so afraid and lost—especially seeing what my mom went through. She was moving us all the time since I was little, so I was never in a proper school long enough, and my education was horrible.
“I was only fifteen when I had my first child, and by sixteen I had my second. All that plus two bad marriages, and abuse from both my exes, made me feel that God didn’t care about me and that I was all alone. I was so mad at my father who abandoned me that I think I just took my frustration out on God.”
When she met and married Jesse, Yadira was convinced she had found true love. But when things got rough again, she had feared that this marriage might be over too.
Shortly after Yadira’s moment of insight at Target, their Re|Engage group met in one couple’s home for a “halfway celebration,” marking their first eight weeks together in Re|Engage.
“That night was when she gave her life to Christ,” Jesse says. “It was awesome!”
“There with Chris and Denise, and with the support of our group and my amazing husband, I came to Christ,” Yadira said. “‘I’ve been lost for so many years,’ I told them, ‘and I’m ready!’
“From that moment, I saw life with a new set of eyes. I felt alive for the first time, and the hole in my life is now complete.”
Yadira shared the story of that night and her new life in Christ during the Sunday-morning worship service when she was baptized.
Jesse, also baptized that day, concluded his personal faith statement with
Jesse and Yadira are deeply thankful for Re|Engage and for the people they met there.
“Without Re|Engage, I think we would be separated by now,” Jesse says. “We just didn’t have what we needed to
Life isn’t suddenly perfect, and their problems haven’t all evaporated, but now they are on the same side, working together, not against each other.
“We used to point our finger and say, ‘Well, if you would do this or do that,’ or ‘If he didn’t have this in his past,’” Yadira says. “But we’ve learned to come together and communicate. Re|Engage gave us the tools we needed to work at life as a couple.”
Both agree their marriage has changed in too many ways to list, but the most significant change of all—the thing
they were missing the most, Jesse says, “was God in the middle of our marriage. Ever since we brought God into our marriage, we are not separate.
We are one.”