Led By GodJanuary 4, 2019
Story by Leann Burke
Photos by Nic Antaya
Martín Nolberto Chancho Tipaz’s apartment filled with the sound of several people lifting their praise, thanks and requests to God in prayer one Friday evening at the beginning of December as the group gathered for its final Bible study of 2018.
Martín and his wife, Ruth Aglaeé Facundo Chapa, host the weekly Spanish-speaking Bible study in their Jasper home as part of their membership at the Spanish-speaking Jasper church Iglesia Nueva Vida — New Life Church in English.
The church is a cornerstone in the couple’s life, as well as the lives of their two children, Landon, 13, and Allen, 7, as the family seeks to follow God’s will. For Martín, Iglesia Nueva Vida is also a tangible reminder of the moment he first felt God’s love in 2008. He’s been all-in ever since.
A typical day for Martín begins with prayers first thing in the morning before he heads off to a 10-hour work day at Farbest Foods in Huntingburg. A few times a week, Ruth joins him for lunch at midday.
The couple is expecting their third child in April.
After work, Martín returns home where he prays and spends time playing with his sons before either heading to Iglesia Nueva Vida for church activities — some of which Ruth and the kids join — or to do home visits to pray with members of Iglesia Nueva Vida who can’t make it to the church.
Before bed, Martín and his family pray together. Allen always asks, “Who are we going to pray for now?” Martín’s answers vary, but it’s always a combination of family and friends; city and national leaders, such as police officers; the downtrodden, such as the sick or drug-addicted; and the community and country, in general.
“I’m not a pastor; I’m not a prophet; nothing,” Martín said in Spanish with Ruth translating for him. “But I have a love to pray for this city (Jasper) and this country, because it helps different nations.”
Martín grew up impoverished in Guatemala in a community where people often had to steal food and money to survive. Like many of their neighbors, Martín’s family didn’t have enough money for food.
Growing up, Martín recalled, he didn’t want to steal to survive. He wanted more. When he turned 18, he thought about how to progress and took a job in a store. Any extra money he had he saved, hoping to someday have enough to emigrate to the U.S. His dream came true. He settled in Dubois County in 2001.
“I was going to cry, I was so happy to be here,” Martín recalled.
Martín immediately took a job at Farbest Foods where he’s worked ever since. He met Ruth in 2004, and the couple welcomed their first child, Landon, in 2005. They married in 2011. Martín is grateful for the many opportunities he’s had in the United States, and he prays for the country and its leaders every day.
Martín and Ruth have built a life here, but they are both aware of the political climate surrounding immigration, and they’ve seen how some Americans don’t want immigrants in the country. At work once, for example, Martín had a supervisor make fun of him because he’s Latino, and the supervisor believed Latinos didn’t want to work.
Martín didn’t let the event get to him. Instead, he showed up and worked.
He takes the same approach with the political discourse around immigration. Rather than letting it get him down, he shows up, does his best and continues to pray.
“Since God brought me to this country, I have to believe that He’s going to fight for us,” Martín said. “If God wants to send me back to [Guatemala], that’s OK. He knows my future and what’s best for me.”
Martín hasn’t always had such a strong faith. He grew up Catholic, and recalls that while he believed God existed, the deity felt faraway and unreachable. That was Martín’s relationship with God in 2005 when Landon was born with special needs. Martín and Ruth knew there was a chance Landon would be born with special needs. An ultrasound during the pregnancy showed the fetus lacked feet and arms, and tests indicated Down syndrome.
Martín left the decision of whether to keep the baby up to Ruth, since the bulk of child care would fall to her. He promised to stay with her no matter what she chose.
“I really wanted to be strong, but that moment was really hard,” Martín said.
A later ultrasound showed a normal baby, so Martín believed Landon would be born healthy. After the birth, however, Ruth told him Landon had special needs, and she wanted to keep him. Ruth offered Martín a way out if he wanted it, and the two cried together. It was a terrifying time for the couple. Ruth’s parents had moved back to Mexico, and Martín’s family was in Guatemala. Martín wondered who would support them.
In 2006, Landon got sick and was sent to hospitals in Evansville and Indianapolis. Ruth went with Landon while Martín remained in Jasper to work. The separation and stress strained their relationship. They argued a lot, with Martín often getting angry about Ruth’s cooking.
A shift for the family came in 2008. Martín went on a three-day retreat at Iglesia Nueva Vida. During the retreat, he saw a video of a man carrying his disabled child. Martín saw himself in the child, and realized God had been carrying him. He fell to his knees and cried. Then he accepted Jesus as his savior.
Immediately, it felt like all the pain he’d been carrying melted away, he recalled. When he returned home, Ruth said, he was a changed man. There was less arguing, and he was more loving. Rather than yelling about her cooking, he would say, “This just needs a bit of salt.”
For the first time in his life, Martín knew how to connect with God, and he quickly dedicated himself to sharing the love of God he’d found with others. He and Ruth decided to make Iglesia Nueva Vida their home church.
At the church, Ruth helps the members by translating for them and filling out forms. She also offers rides to members without driver’s licenses.
Martín regularly leads prayers and worship at Iglesia Nueva Vida, leads the Bible studies in his home and visits those in the church who are struggling, so he can be God’s presence for them.
He recalled one time when a member of the church lost his mother, and the man was struggling with the loss. Before visiting the man, Martín asked God for the right words. Then, he told the man he could either cry happy tears because his mother lived or he could cry sad tears because he wasn’t there for her enough when she was living.
Then, the man acknowledged his mother had been ready to go to heaven and he should be happy, because she was with God now. After Martín left, the man’s wife called to thank him for his support. The man had come out of his depression. Martín told her that it wasn’t him; it was God.
Martín acknowledges that it’s not always easy to follow God, because you don’t see Him, but he can’t deny the way God changed his life.
“When you believe in God, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to have problems,” Martín said. “But God is going to go before you and open the doors.”
As Martín and his family continue to follow God’s call, Martín’s dream is to pray for his marriage, his community and the U.S. while showing more people the healing power of faith. Recently, Martín began taking English lessons so he can become fluent in the language, make more Caucasian friends and share God’s love with them, too.
If Martín could share one life lesson with everyone he meets, it’s to take the challenge no matter what life throws at you, because with God, anything is possible.
“Problems are the way you see them,” he said. “If you see them as little, that’s how they are. God can change it, but you have to believe in the supernatural.”
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