Sunday, August 16, 2009

And now...the details of the surprise...


Please don't skip to the end of the story...it will ruin it for you... enjoy our day as it unfolded the way we all experienced it...

Angela Rojas was raised in Miami and at the age of thirteen started getting into trouble. Her mother tried her best at raising her but as a single mother with three jobs in order to keep the family afloat financially it was difficult. Her mother was actually very strict and had house rules, but the fact that she worked three jobs gave Angela way too much time alone to get into trouble. She began running with other kids who were also getting into trouble and she soon met a young man, nineteen years old, named Bladimir Lainez, who lived in the same apartment complex. She was fifteen when she began dating him behind her mother's back. By the end of her sophomore year in high school, she was pregnant. Angela gave birth to her son when she was 16, and left and moved in with with Bladimir. She stayed in school despite having the responsibilities of a baby, but became pregant yet again and gave birth to her daughter. Somehow even though she was a senior in high school with a baby and one on the way, she managed to stay in school and graduate. She was soon eighteen years old, with two little babies.

Bladimir Lainez was no stranger to trouble. He was involved in drug dealing in Miami. Not just a few little drug deals here and there, but big time drug business, all the way from Miami to LA, to Mexico. This was his family's "business" and he was raised in it. Although he lived with Angela and tried for a while to be committed to both her and the children, it didn't last long. They were just two kids trying to raise two kids and didn't know the Lord. Their relationship was volatile, and they separated for long periods of time.

Years later, Angela moved to Tampa. She was invited by a friend to Northside Assembly of God. She found our church very different from what she was raised in (the Catholic church) and saw that it was about a real relationship with Jesus, and not ritual or religion. Soon Angela had made a commitment to follow Jesus and underwent a huge transformation. She knew she wanted to live for the Lord completely and began praying that the Lord would send a man of God into her life who would be her partner in marriage and also serve as a Godly role model for her children. She never imagined that this young man might be Bladimir. He was as far away from a Godly man as you could possibly imagine. He was still drug dealing and living a life of crime, and had even gone to prison for a while. On another instance he almost lost his life when he was shot several times in a drug related incident.

Just when Angela least expected it, Bladimir called and said he wanted to join her in Tampa, and come back into her and the children's lives. She explained to him the radical changes she had gone through and told him, "I've committed my life to Jesus Christ and things are different now. If a man comes into my life, he's going to be a man of God." He decided to find out what it was that she was talking about and soon walked through the doors of Northside himself, just out of curiousity. Coming from a Catholic background as well, he too was a bit shocked at what he found.

When Bladimir arrived at Northside it was originally with the thought of doing whatever he had to do to get back with Angela. He gave church attendance an effort but their relationship was still rocky and eventually he decided that it just wasn't working and he was going to give up on a relationship with Angela and church going, and move back to Miami. His plan was to go full force back into the drug business just as he had done prior to moving to Tampa. But he figured before his departure to Miami, he would stop in at Northside for one more service to say goodbye to the friends he had made. It was the Wednesday night Fusion service and he arrived and I happened to be the one who met him at the door. I quickly told him we had started new groups that night and pointed him toward Bernie (one of our small group leaders) and told him to join them for the group discussion and prayer. The Holy Spirit worked through Bernie and he sensed something was happening with Bladimir and a confrontation was needed. That night although Bladimir intended on just stopping in to say goodbye to everyone, the Lord had another plan. Bernie spoke a word of wisdom and it really challenged Bladimir. He came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit in the small group that night, and the walls in his heart started coming down. That night was the beginning of a shift, from just making an effort in coming to church for Angela's sake, to finding out where he truly stood in his relationship with the God.

Bladimir didn't go back to Miami. He stayed in Tampa and God began to do an amazing work in his life. Finally one Sunday morning when my husband gave the altar call, Bladimir stepped out in the aisle, and responded to commit his life to Jesus. This time it wasn't about getting back with Angela, but a response to the relentless call of the Holy Spirit in his life. Weeping, he surrendered all to Christ. Following that he was baptized in water at our church water baptism at the beach. It was truly another moment of change as Bladimir went down in the water, symbolizing the fact that the old was gone, the new had come. Everyone including Angela could sense that yet another level of transformation occurred that day. And the changes just continued! Next he responded to an altar call to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. As hands were laid on him he immediately received his prayer language and spoke in tongues. This brought about a new power and boldness that was undeniable and continues to build. He told my husband just this past week that he can't sleep at night because he just wants to pray in his prayer language and can't stop. He said, "Pastor, is there something wrong with me?" My husband said, "Oh no, just the opposite!" Almost everything was finally right.

Bladimir's relationship with Angela had not been right over the years. By this time they had been living together on and off for 11 years. However, when he had come to Tampa, Angela explained to him that since they were not technically married, and were now striving to live for God and do things the right way, they could not sleep together again until joined in marriage. At first, making this new commitment to purity was very strange to Bladimir. He had never attended a church previously where the Word of God was preached in a way that was relevant to things people faced in their everyday lives. He had never even heard or been aware of the fact that sex outside of marriage was not God's plan. He also thought it rather strange that it would be wrong for him to sleep with a woman he had already been with for 11 years and had two children with. But all of it became very clear to him one Sunday morning when my husband and I were preaching a tag team message as we often do, and I specifically addressed the issue of couples living together, or having sex outside of marriage. At the point of hearing this very frank sermon and the scriptures explained he understood why it was so important and was equally as committed as Angela that he carry out his commitment to sleep on the couch until such time as he and Angela got married. He humorously shared that he "found more quarters in the couch than you could ever imagine!!"

Two weeks ago, Bladimir and Angela approached us about getting married, as soon as possible. Their desire was to include the Northside church family in a big way since the church has really become their family and been so instrumental in their journey. We decided to make joining them together in marriage a part of our preaching series this month and quickly set about working on an AMAZING SURPRISE illustrated sermon for today. We had just two weeks to pull off an incredibly inspiring service/ceremony and grand affair of a reception, but with the help of six other church members who were sworn to absolute secrecy, it was accomplished, all glory to God!!! An important thing to note is that over the past year since that Wednesday night Fusion meeting when Bladimir's heart began to truly change for the first time, Angela has seen him turn into the man of God she had been dreaming about, and prove himself over time. Although the wedding was pulled together in two weeks, the marriage decision was not made in haste.


Here's how the day unfolded and all the details (I love details!!!):

Angela and Bladimir's families from Miami and also their friends from outside of the church were all invited but also sworn to secrecy. Along with a wedding invitation they received a special letter from Larry and I explaining the surprise and asking for their cooperation. When coming into our service today they acted like first time visitors who were just there for church.

Church began as it usually does with praise and worship, and the choir singing. The place was PACKED! After such, we began the illustrated message. It started with a video that we had produced of Angela and Bladimir's testimony. From their salvation experience, to present day, we showed in a powerful media presentation what God had done in their lives. At the conclusion of the video, we said, "We have been a part of Bladimir and Angela's story up to this point and today they have another event that they would like to share with us...not from the past, but in the present..." and at that point the wedding prelude music began...

The theme for the wedding was purple tulips -- Angela's favorite. Everything for the wedding ceremony ~ vases of purple tulips, unity candle arrangement made with tulips, communion table, plaster columns ~ had been hidden in a side room adjacent to the sanctuary. The three couples who were involved in helping us plan (Tom & Cathy Garland, Eddie & Candy Rivera and Bernie & Lisa Currie) did just as we rehearsed the night before and immediately brought it all out and set it into place in less than a minute. You should have seen the people's faces when all of this was brought out...I had the view from the platform and it was so awesome!!! A slide went up on the big screen with purple tulips, with their names and Isaiah 61:10. 10 ~ "The Lord makes me very happy; all that I am rejoices in my God. He has covered me with clothes of salvation and wrapped me with a coat of goodness, like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding, like a bride dressed in jewels."

The ushers quickly passed out wedding programs that had purple tulips and photos of the couple. An aisle runner was set in place and pulled by the ushers. The candles were lit. Bladimir walked out from the side door into the sanctuary, looking so handsome in his suit and the entire congregation erupted in applause. Then the children walked down the aisle - their son as ring bearer, and their daughter as flower girl.

Angela walked the center aisle wearing a gorgeous wedding gown that a friend had allowed her to use. (Of course she carried a bouquet of purple tulips!) Her friend had the wedding dress professionally altered and cleaned in a week's time as a gift to her. As Angela walked down the aisle the place erupted in applause and praise to God, again. It was such an emotional moment. The people were already standing and applauding long before she came down the aisle and just continued until it died down and Larry told them they could be seated. Larry had prepared a meaningful marriage ceremony and I don't think there was a dry eye in the place! They had requested that I sing, "God Bless the Broken Road" during the lighting of the unity candle. How did I ever get through that without sobbing? I don't know...

Everyone was invited everyone to the reception.

Backstory: We had started Wednesday night after church setting up the fellowhip hall and taped it shut until today with "caution" tape to prevent anyone from going in and ruining the surprise. It was decorated in tulips and all things purple. And it was amazing, or as Candy said repeatedly, it was "GRAND"! Our little team who planned this put our creative hats on in order to pull off something absolutely stunning on a shoestring budget. As a labor of love, we gave the couple this wedding and reception as a gift. I had agonized over what to do about the cake and wanted "just the right idea". One night as I was researching about wedding reception ideas I came across the idea of a cupcake wedding cake tower. Seeing pictures on line I fell in love with the idea and quickly contacted three helpers (Candy, Lisa and Cathy) and asked them if they would pull together with me in making several hundred cupcakes and designing and decorating it. They were all thrilled to be a part. Misty Mackley (our children's pastor's wife) quickly volunteered to pitch in, as she always does. (Thanks Misty!) We began working on an unforgettable cake. All week long Candy was also assembling the absolutely stunning flower and candle arrangements and bouquets for the day as well as creating a design for the cake.

Immediately following the ceremony Tom Garland quickly ran to pull all of the tape off of the fellowship hall doors. Pastor T had projected the photo of the new Mr. and Mrs. Bladimir Lainez on the screens in the fellowship hall, and started the smooth jazz music. The attendees walked into a beautiful room filled with a sea of hundreds of purple, silver and white balloons, purple tulips, and purple lilac scented candles. The cupcake tower was an AMAZING sight to behold as well as the beautiful table we had prepared for the purple grape punch to be served, and the bride and groom's table which was all designed by Candy. I know I keep using the word amazing, but truly it's no hype...it really was!! We also had a table with framed photos of the bride and groom as well as a large framed and matted copy of the wedding invitation. All of the guests signed the matted area, and it will now hang in the couple's home and serve as the "guest book".

I had the idea to make large gourmet pretzel sticks as favors. On Thursday, Cathy and I spent almost all day making pretzel rods, dipped them in white chocolate, and then covered them in dark purple and lavender sugar crystals we had special ordered a week ago. They were gorgeous! They were placed in clear "pretzel bags" that we got from Michael's and tied them with purple ribbons and a card on them that said "Bladimir and Angela, August 16, 2009." [Cathy and Tom spent hours late into the night on Friday assembling them once we finished making the pretzels. Thank you!!!] People were CRAZY over them. They were beging for more than one but there was a large attendance and so we limited it one to a person. We received many comments that it was a wedding favor people really liked that didn't end up getting left on the tables or in the trash, as happens at some weddings.

At the conclusion of the reception this afternoon, the guests all took a balloon and we went outside to send Bladimir and Angela off with a balloon ascension! Everyone went out with one balloon however we had the newlyweds hold both sides of the arch and release it into the sky. We did so, again with applause, and a few of us even jumped up and down and screamed for a while we were so excited!

The couple took off to have a special honeymoon at a local place. Larry had met with Bladimir and privately made special arrangements with him for this.

WHAT AN AMAZING DAY! In two weeks everything was accomplished from the 40-minute testimony DVD taping, editing and production, meetings with the bride and groom, creating invitations, all wedding clothes, alterations and dry cleaning, personal ceremony created, wedding music prepared, multi media for ceremony, decor for reception, reception music, reception media, flowers, cake, punch, programs, photo session for programs, favors, runner, garter, bride and groom glasses, pillow for rings, bouquet, photographer, videographer, rehearsal, and a ton of other details that would take forever to list!! Almost all of this came from donations and our small team's creative ideas to make it happen.
It wasn't just about decorating a cupcake tower or making favors, but LIVES CHANGED. What a witness this also was to all of Bladimir and Angela's unchurched family and friends who came and saw the outpouring of love from their church family. We will never ever forget this amazing day. I am going to be doing many photo postings over the next few days so keep checking back...

Lourdes Manners, a photographer in our congregation took all the wedding photos as a gift to the bride and groom. I will share some of them here as I receive them from her. Pastor T, who does filming and editing is creating a DVD of the entire thing including the testimony portion, wedding and reception for anyone to order who would like one.



Thank you for sharing our joy.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Deanna,
Since we got back from church, I've been checking in about every 30 min. to see if you posted your wonderful news! Now, I can hardly type for the tears streaming down my face. God is so good! Thank you, thank you for sharing this with your readers!!! I pray all of you are blessed 100 fold for blessing Bladimir and Angela! And if I ever get in a jam, you can be sure I'm callin' you! LOL You guys are miracle workers!!! With the help of the Lord!!! Again, thanks for sharing. You should contact Lifetime. They may want to make a movie!!! : )
Lots of love and best wishes to Angela and Bladimir!
Ruth, PA

Sharon said...

Oh Deanna!! I wish I could have been there. I do dearly love weddings and would have LOVED to be there to help! Thanks so much for sharing. You have such a special and God-given gift of writing! I love you so very much!
XOXOXO

Tara Sloan said...

So awesome D... this is priceless! You and Larry really stepped up on this. What a blessing! And what a testimony!

Debbie said...

Things could not have been more perfect! What a testimony! This is going to change lives!!!

Phyllis said...

WOW, AWESOME! WHAT A BEAUTIFUL BLESSING AND TESTIMONY! I'M FORWARDING THIS TO EVERYONE IN MY CONTACT LIST ACROSS THE NATION. I LOVE YOUR OBEDIENCE TO GOD'S CALLING; YOU TRULY ARE CHANGING FAMILIES...ONE PERSON AT A TIME! BLESS YOU, ALWAYS. Phyllis