For Emilio and Ayde Quisocala, Iglesia El Camino just didn’t feel right. The church was miles away in a nice part of Arequipa, just down a busy divided road from a ritzy mall and a Starbucks. The rows of plush chairs were filled with what they called “posh people.” No one talked to them, which stoked their insecurities about being from a poor neighborhood outside of town. They visited once and decided not to go again.
But even though the Quisocalas didn’t choose El Camino, it chose them. Persistent contact with El Camino church members, and the church’s intentional outreach efforts in the Quisocalas’ neighborhood, eventually led to a relationship that would change their marriage and lead them to embrace El Camino as their church home. Through all this, the Quisocalas are doing something that is fairly unusual in the developing world: crossing socio-economic divides to worship.
The couple, who live in a low-income neighborhood outside Arequipa, Peru, called Ciudad de Dios, had bounced between churches for a while before they visited El Camino. They tried other churches closer to home, like the one that promised wealth in exchange for generous tithing and another that frowned upon clapping during worship. They weren’t comfortable at any of them, and the search was getting old.
“I thought, where does God want me to be?” Emilio said. “I do not want to be wandering from church to church, asking which is the best, which is the perfect one. That is not what I am looking for.”
Emilio met TEAM missionary Craig Querfeld, El Camino’s pastor, and other church members who would visit Ciudad de Dios as part of a children’s program they began there. The church’s involvement in the community eventually evolved into a women’s ministry and a community development center, part of Querfeld’s plan to encourage his relatively well-to-do congregation to plant churches in impoverished neighborhoods.
Querfeld would walk by Emilio’s small one-room house and greet him. Emilio was slowly building an extra room onto the house, in fact. He’d built the walls and was saving up to add a tin roof.
One day, Querfeld asked when Emilio was going to put on the roof. “I have no idea, pastor,” Emilio said. “I have no money now.” Querfeld disappeared, and the next day returned with a mission team that happened to be visiting from Pennsylvania. They put a roof on Emilio’s new room.
“I was amazed how God sent me people to help just when I needed them,” Emilio said. After that, the Quisocalas were invited to El Camino, went the one time, and wrote it off.
In the end, what made them reconsider El Camino wasn’t a free roof. It was their marriage. Emilio and Ayde had a civil marriage — essentially, they had signed a marriage certificate at the local courthouse. But they had never married in a church because it was too expensive. They kept their marriage a secret from their families, who would not have approved of a civil-only marriage. Now they were feeling guilty.
Emilio asked Querfeld how much the church would charge to marry them. Querfeld laughed out loud and told him they’d do it for free. The Quisocalas were thrilled. They agreed to Querfeld’s one stipulation, that they had to do marriage counseling with someone in the church. Lay leaders at El Camino mentored them for three months, and the wedding that followed was “nice, very, very nice,” Emilio said.
Today, the Quisocalas are members at El Camino and, according to Ayde, they feel at home in the church, comfortable and accepted.
“I felt their love,” Ayde said. “Little by little, they were shredding our doubts away, bit by bit, as they say. One afternoon I said to my husband, ‘There must be a reason why God brought us to this [church].’”
-Written and photographed by Andy Olsen