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Confessions of faith: Cristina Urbanek

Technology offers opportunities to teach a woman from Peru more about God’s grace

How does a native of Lima, Peru, become a confirmed member of a WELS church in Wisconsin? By the grace of God, through an unexpected relationship—and with a little bit of help from technology.

Brand-new relationship

Cristina Loayza grew up in Lima, a city of more than nine million people, the majority of whom are Catholic. Although she attended Catholic school for 11 years and her education included religion courses, she didn’t know how to apply the Bible to her life. In fact, asking questions about the Bible was not encouraged. Cristina admits that she and her family gradually drifted away from church until a very pivotal event in her life: the death of her grandmother in 2016, when Cristina was 24.

“While my grandmother was dying,” Cristina recalls, “she worried about purgatory. She was scared of dying.” Cristina began asking deeper questions about faith, salvation, and life after death. Where did her grandmother’s soul go when she died? To heaven or to purgatory? Cristina struggled to find the answers.

At about the same time, Brian Urbanek, a professional videographer and member of Pilgrim, Menomonee Falls, Wis., traveled to Lima. He was there to do video work for WELS Latin American Missions. On one of his last evenings in Peru, Brian asked to be introduced to a native Peruvian, someone around his age who could show him the sights, sounds, and tastes of Peru. That someone was Cristina. Two days later, Brian returned to the United States, but he and Cristina didn’t forget each other. Their relationship deepened as they started to communicate daily via text message. Over the next year, the two also made multiple trips to visit each other.

At Cristina’s request, she and Brian began to read the Bible together via video chat. She started asking questions, particularly regarding life after death. She recalled the questions and fears that her grandmother had before she passed away. Brian shared the good news from God’s Word that upon death, the soul of a believer goes directly to heaven. And then he shared the best news of all: Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, based solely on Jesus’ sacrifice—not on anything we need to do or can do. Cristina remembers feeling a great sense of relief: “Wow! Our salvation is already granted. I wish I could have told that to my grandmother before she died.”

Long-distance learning

As Cristina’s questions about religion and the Bible became tougher, Brian began texting her questions to his pastor, Eric Roecker, at Pilgrim. As Roecker provided answers to Cristina’s questions, she wished that she could somehow participate in Pilgrim’s 10-session Bible information class, called Answers. But how could she be a part of that class from 4,000 miles away?

Brian and his pastor had an idea. What if Cristina could participate in the class via live, interactive video? Back in 2017, connecting this way was possible, but certainly not the norm. Would it work? They decided to give it a try.

For each Answers class, Roecker set up his laptop on a stool facing him as he taught from the front of the church. Using the video chat feature in Facebook Messenger, Cristina was able to see and hear not only the pastor teaching but also his interaction with other class members. In addition, she could ask her own questions.

The entire process was low-key, yet effective. “We didn’t have fancy equipment,” remembers Cristina. “We only had a computer on a stool.” But this unique process of connecting and learning about the Bible had a profound effect on her. “It made me value the experience of the class more than if I had even been there in person,” she says. “Going in person would be normal, but since this took extra effort, it was so special.”

Brian and Cristina Urbanek

Roecker agrees. “For the class, it was very special. It helped everyone appreciate that people have the same challenges and questions about God no matter where they live or what culture they are from,” he says. “They discovered that the Bible provides the same universal answers to those questions, whether the person asking is living in Lima, Peru, or Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.”

Not long after Cristina completed the Answers class, she came to Wisconsin and was confirmed into God’s family at Pilgrim with Brian by her side. Three days later, they were married in a civil ceremony in Wisconsin. Several months after that, the two were married in a religious ceremony in Peru, surrounded by family and friends. What made the day even more special was that the ceremony was presided over by their friend and shepherd, Pastor Roecker.

Crystal-clear plan

In addition to sound biblical teaching, Cristina treasures belonging to a larger, supportive faith community. “Church isn’t just a building—it’s people. We celebrate God’s Word as we unite in faith,” she says. “In WELS, I have that. WELS gives the tools for people to become part of the church and a community in God’s Word.”

She continues, “I think I was led by God to meet Brian and through him to start to learn more about what is true in the Bible. Literally, it is written that you don’t have to do anything to earn your salvation. You are already saved. I was guided by the Holy Spirit throughout this process. And I’m so glad that I was.”

Sometimes as Christians it may be hard to see God’s plan for our lives. But for the Urbaneks, God’s plan for Cristina’s life has been crystal clear.

Looking back, Brian marvels that “so many little things lined up so perfectly. That shows me it is clearly the work of God. There is no way we could have met in this way—by mistake—in this world with billions of people.”

The Urbaneks also praise God for his gift of technology, which made it possible for Cristina to take the Answers class. They are so grateful for Roecker’s willingness to ensure that Cristina was supported and connected to God’s Word and her new church family.

Roecker feels similarly blessed through the experience, “This was one of the most amazing experiences in my ministry,” he says. “To be a part of God’s plan to help Cristina get to know him better was such a privilege. That a young man like Brian would so quickly begin having spiritual conversations with his new girlfriend from Peru was inspiring, as was Cristina’s interest in discovering what God has to say.”

He continues, “I was especially thrilled when the Lord saw to it that Cristina made a trip to Wisconsin just after she completed the class so that she could be confirmed at Pilgrim. It was an earthly glimpse of John’s vision in Revelation 7:9, where he saw ‘a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.’ Seeing Cristina standing before the altar at Pilgrim gave us just a glimpse of that greater vision that we will one day see. The members of Pilgrim were beaming as this young woman from Peru joined their congregation.”

Both Cristina and Brian regard God’s plan for their lives with a mixture of awe and thankfulness. They don’t take his blessings for granted. And now they continue to joyfully share the love of God with Cristina’s family and friends and with their new baby boy, Santiago. What a beautiful legacy of faith. What an inspiring testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit.

To watch the 2018 Pilgrim Connection featuring Cristina’s story, visit YouTube. 

Author: Ann Jahns
Volume 107, Number 07
Issue: July 2020

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This entry is part 38 of 68 in the series confessions-of-faith

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