Noni stretched her back as she straightened from her work. She’d been putting in long hours at the café she owned trying to pay off debt incurred when the café was closed during the worst of the pandemic, but she still owed money and worried she would not be able to pay it. She thought of her son, who had been pressuring her to let him move to live with his father. Her eyes teared up as fear filled her heart. The future seemed uncertain, and she wondered what would happen to her and her family.
Just then, the door opened, and several people entered the café. She greeted them and immediately noticed their faces were pleasant and calm—peaceful even. She sighed. She would love to have such peace in her life. As she prepared their order, a group member struck up a conversation with her. She was surprised when he told her they had been walking around her town praying for the people there. They talked about Jesus in a familiar way, as if they were his personal friends. Noni had heard of Jesus only at big holidays like Christmas and Easter, and she had never thought of him as her friend. One of the men told her a story from the Bible and asked her opinion of it. This began an interesting and open conversation about spirituality and faith like none she had ever had.
Julio Arria was one of the men in that group. Born in Venezuela, Julio was the oldest brother in a family of five children. His family had attended a Bible study started by Team Expansion missionary David Linn, who moved to Venezuela in 1992. Julio’s family all surrendered their lives to Christ at that Bible study, which eventually became the Christian church of Guatire. For Julio, the choice to follow Jesus was the beginning of a career as well as the beginning of his new life. He began learning to serve under Alfredo and Tamára Páez, who are now missionaries in another area of the world. By age 16, Julio entered the university and moved to Caracas. There he joined the Hoy con Cristo Christian Church, pastored by Eric Barry and Diego Polanco.
“I learned a lot about getting to know Christ and the gospel from them,” says Julio. “I also learned to share my story with others.”
He began an apprenticeship with these two pastors. At the end of three years, he was ordained as a youth pastor and began working with the Barrys and the Linns to start a new church. It was there that he met Arminda, who Julio describes as “the most beautiful believer from the church.” They were married in 2006. In 2009, together with a team of pastors and missionaries, Julio and Arminda participated in founding of Evangelical Seminary of the Mission of Christian Churches. Since then, 235 people have completed their program and been trained to start churches in Venezuela.
A Clear Call
In Venezuela, the Arrias worked with churches that began even more churches using Disciple Making Movement principles. As this process spread in that country, Julio heard God clearly tell him, “You are going to dedicate the rest of your life to being a disciple and making disciples who in turn make disciples and multiply other churches.”
In 2018, Julio got the opportunity to travel to Otura, Spain, for more training. Julio met an old man in the city square and asked if there was anything the man would like Julio to pray about—his children or grandchildren perhaps, or challenges he faced. The man rebuffed Julio, insisted he needed nothing, and finally pointedly said, “Look for someone else to pray for!” As a shocked Julio sat in the square, he felt the Lord say, “These people have lived their whole lives without me; they are dead, and they need me.” When he returned home, he told Arminda the story, and together they began praying for the people of Spain. After some research, they found that only about 1 in 15 Spanish towns has a church. They decided to move to Spain and begin a ministry there under the guidance of Team Expansion.
Julio and Arminda have several advantages that make them uniquely prepared for ministry in Spain. They have experienced the full process of evangelism—beginning as unbelievers, experiencing the gospel, becoming disciples, and eventually planting churches themselves. They know the power of the gospel of Christ. Additionally, their heart language is Spanish, so they can easily communicate with the people. They are trained for ministry and are well-equipped for the job. Most importantly, they feel the clear call of God to Spain and have the support and approval of the elders at their Venezuelan church.
Following the Call
The Arrias moved their two children (Sara, 12, and Santiago, 8) to Granada, Spain, in early 2021. “My main job consists of making new relationships, making disciples who make other disciples, and training local believers to generate a disciple-making movement,” Julio says. Since there are few missionaries in Spain, the couple have focused on training national leaders to use the Disciple Making Movement curriculum, other curriculum produced by the missionaries in Venezuela, and the Jonathan training and Kairos courses. They hope to encourage prayer among the new believers, continue to train disciples to make more disciples, and build meaningful relationships in which they can share the love of Jesus.
In the meantime, back in Venezuela, Noni began to read the Bible with other Christians and to tell other people about her experiences with the Christians she met.
“I don’t know what these people have, but I feel so much peace when I’m around them,” she tells her friends. “It’s like every time they come to my café, I feel like I’m protected.” Noni and her friends are learning about the peace that knowing Jesus can bring to life!