Leo and I met sometime in late 2013 or early 2014. He insists that we met earlier than I remember and that I was a bit snobbish and was only speaking English with a group of foreigners. I don’t quite remember it that way, obviously, but he could be right. I first remember him in a course that we took together at Iglesia Centro de Fuego in early 2014. We were both attending the same church at that time and that course is where I feel like I got to know him by name in a small group setting. Admittedly, I might have met him before that. I’m not always the best with names, something that I should work on!

I was on home assignment away from Peru for a few months in 2014. When I returned to Lima I decided to start attending a new church plant, La Ciudad. Because of that, I didn’t see Leo for a while. It was probably around May 2015 when I first saw him again. I was hanging out with my friend Gretchen (a Californian) and she mentioned that her husband, Jack (Peruvian), was out with his friend, “Aldo.” At least, that’s what I heard her say. Jack has a friend Aldo, and I guess my brain just misheard and replaced the name with something plausible.

While I was still with Gretchen that day, Jack and Leo walked through the door. I thought to myself, “That’s not Aldo. Who is that? He’s cute. I know him, but it’s not Aldo. Come on brain.” Then Leo spoke to me by name and I was baffled. I knew I should know who he was, and after I realized he wasn’t Aldo I still knew I should know him, I just couldn’t put it together since we were out of context and it had been a year since I’d seen him! That’s what having two whole lives full of people (in the US and in Peru) will do to you – name/face overload with slow recall. It was probably 10 minutes before my brain finally kicked in and I said to Gretchen, “Oh, Leo! From the course at church!”

Fast forward a month or so: Gretchen and Jack were planning a mission trip in July 2015 through Iglesia Centro de Fuego to Jack’s birthplace in Aucayacu, Peru. Gretchen was going to be about 7 months pregnant and couldn’t go. She asked if I’d go to help with the administrative aspects of the trip and I agreed. At one of the planning meetings Leo walked in and I realized we’d be going on the trip together. I can’t honestly say what got my attention that day, but I left feeling like I had a crush on him! Consequently I set about praying for the Lord to take away that interest – Satan loves to distract people from their true purposes on short-term missions by romantic relationships and I couldn’t have that!

In Aucayacu I was determined to put aside my feelings of interest in Leo, and I continued to pray to that end. Contrary to my efforts to ignore him, I noticed the first night at dinner that he was the first person up from the table gathering dishes and setting about helping wash up. The first thought that crossed my mind was what my former roommate and I used to say when her then-husband-to-be did something she wanted to encourage: “That’s so sexy.” I then reminded myself that I shouldn’t be noticing such things and silently prayed that the Lord would take away my interest in Leo.

In the days that followed on the mission trip I continued to try and ignore my feelings and focus on the work at hand, but I couldn’t stop my brain from taking note and watching as Leo jumped in where needed. He was a clown one day, dancing and entertaining a group of kids; he was up front another time as he led the community in motions to some of the songs we sang; and he was available to serve whenever and wherever needed. Even though I’d known him a while, I’d never seen him in front of a crowd of people and he was so natural and engaging. Crushes can definitely have disastrous consequences on a mission trip, but mission trips sure do reveal another side of a person that we can’t always see in everyday life. I saw Leo in a whole new light and it was super attractive to me.

For me the deal was sealed on the day of our departure from Aucayacu. Everyone was saying their goodbyes and Leo was holding a little girl who was about 1 year old. She was playing with his facial hair and he was kissing her hand as I snapped a couple of pictures. I looked at the pictures and something told me that our friendship wasn’t over.

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The picture that I took of Leo the day we were leaving Aucayacu which confirmed for me that I wanted to know this man more!

The more in-depth friendship started simply with texts over WhatsApp after I forwarded him the pictures I took. We talked about all sorts of things, each of us revealing bits more about ourselves along the way. There were some interesting similarities in our life stories in spite of our obvious differences. We saw each other a couple of additional times in group settings as the mission team (half of which was from the US) had a debriefing night, we ate with a group from church, and later met again with the Peruvian part of the mission team.

Our first one-on-one date was Monday, August 3, 2015. We met up at a theater that shows new release movies for about $2 on Monday-Wednesday. I honestly wasn’t sure if it was a date and I had no idea, especially factoring in the culture, whether I should offer to pay for my own ticket. Trying to navigate those tricky waters, I reached for my money and Leo simply said, “How about if I treat you today.” I agreed. We saw Minions, and then given that it was early when we got out, we turned around and saw Pixels right after that! Leo posted a picture of us at the theater together, so I knew he didn’t care if it was known that we were together, but I still didn’t know if it meant anything! The texting continued throughout the week, so I was cautiously hopeful.

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Our first one-on-one date to see Minions at CineStar. August 3, 2015.

The next Monday we met again at the same theater to see Mission Impossible. As he walked me to my door that night [he always sees me all the way home safely, even if it means a long trip home for him], we started a conversation that was surprisingly deep and interesting to me. We were talking in the street at my front door until almost 2 AM! The next day we agreed to meet up for coffee at 3 PM to continue the conversation. The conversation continued through coffee, a walk along the cliffs overlooking the coastline, through the shopping center built into the cliffs, onto the bus toward my house, and through a rotisserie chicken dinner. He left me at my door at 10 PM after another standing conversation there in the street. I think we were both shocked that we could talk that long and not tire of one another! I told him that night at dinner that I was enjoying getting to know him – that I felt like I could be completely myself around him from the beginning (even when I dropped food on myself at dinner!). He told me something that night that set him apart from every other relationship I’ve ever been in. When I said I thought we had a good connection, he responded, “I’ve learned to wait on God’s answer. I don’t put my answer out there and ask God to bless it, I wait for Him to give direction. He matures everything in His time.” I think in that moment I knew what the Shulamite in Song of Solomon felt, much to my chagrin.

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The picture that I took of Leo the day we were leaving Aucayacu which confirmed for me that I wanted to know this man more!

I remember the first day that Leo asked me if he could call instead of text. It was the day after the 7-hour marathon conversation date. I was thrilled, but silently praying that I would be able to understand the Spanish well over the phone! The phone is always more challenging because there’s no body language, facial expressions, or lip reading to help with comprehension. I understood, thankfully! I wrote in my journal that it really required a different set of language skills to talk to him like that. I wasn’t able to multitask and I left the conversation completely exhausted, but I knew it was worth it.

Seeing movies at the cheap theater became a regular date in our relationship as did the pathway along the cliffs (called the Malecón). We were able to see each other on a decently regular basis as I could juggle my work to be completed in odd hours and we enjoyed each others’ company. On January 10, 2016, he officially asked me to be his “enamorada.” Technically that translates to girlfriend, but most of you reading this in English would have already assumed that we were boyfriend and girlfriend! Chalk it up to cultural differences. For Leo, we were “just friends” until January (one doesn’t kiss their friends), and by officially asking me to be his girlfriend, we were entering a more serious and intentional phase that would involve both sets of our pastors and accountability. It wasn’t what I was used to, culturally, but I have the utmost respect for how Leo has directed our relationship from the beginning. I can’t say that I was never frustrated by the differences, but I am thankful for him!

The months after January 10th proved to be some very intense ones. We learned about one another on a whole new level, navigating conflicts, cultural differences, and the hard questions that come with looking at the possibility of a future together. We both grew and changed tremendously in this part of our relationship, thankfully drawing us closer together, though there were moments when I thought we were being driven apart. It was challenging, but rewarding in a way that I never thought possible. I learned, over time, that it is often our differences – and they are many – that make us stronger as a couple. We are different genders, nationalities, ages, personalities, family cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, denominational backgrounds, and more, but we are united in Christ and are learning to use those difference to our advantage!

As the day of my departure from Peru for a 3-month visit to the US approached, I was dreading having to leave Leo. Little did I know that I would be leaving my fiancé for three months! But that’s another story…

 

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