It is 8,000 km from Dominican Republic to Italy and Mariela, at 24, felt like a pioneer when she first stepped foot in Italy. In many ways, she was. At that time, her country often hosted American missionaries who preached the gospel, but it had been unheard of to send their own missionaries overseas. Mariela became one of the first missionaries from Dominican Republic.
Her journey had started many years before when God etched Isaiah 6:8 on her heart: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’” Like Isaiah, Mariela had answered, “Here am I. Send me!” She knew the call was for her. She was completely certain in her answer, even if she was completely uncertain what that meant.
Growing up, it was Spain that had whispered in her ears and painted visions of travel and new experiences. When her older sister lost the opportunity to study for a Masters degree in Spain, it fueled Mariela’s desire even more to make Spain her own aspiration. However, like Proverbs 16:9, Mariela’s heart had planned her course, but the LORD had established her steps.
Her dream about Spain had been woven so tightly into her heart that her world shook the day her missionary invitation arrived. It was not for Spain but for Italy! Her brows furrowed, her eyes squinted, her heart sank, and confusion filled her thoughts. “God, is this the place where you want me to go?” As she prayed about it, God spoke to her through Isaiah 55:5. “Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you.” God’s confirmation was so clear. When she arrived in Italy, there was no doubt she was meant to be there.
No Turning Back
One of the first lessons Mariela learned as a missionary in southern Italy was overcoming the perceptions of Italians who thought she was there to seek a job. They thought her country did not provide enough jobs and food to feed its people. They also could not understand why anyone would chose to leave their own country and serve as a missionary in a foreign place. She responded, “I came to share the love of Jesus and the salvation that we have in Him.” Often, their replies were, “We are already Christians.”
But God had equipped her with a passion to lead people to know Jesus and to encourage them to discover God’s vision and purpose for their lives. She shared with them that, “Being a Christian means to receive Jesus in your heart, to be forgiven, to repent, and to have a personal relationship with God.”
Being one of the first missionaries from Dominican Republic in Italy meant learning through trial and error, pushing through the days and nights of living in homes without heat while the cold wind blew outside. It also meant overcoming loneliness. The expense of hearing a familiar voice on the phone was cost prohibitive, which meant isolation was often a shadow that accompanied her walk. When Mariela wanted to succumb to the fatigue, discouragement, and money worries, she said God taught her about Himself though her missionary work. “I have learned to live on His faithfulness and His purpose because He has a dream for this nation and He wanted me to be a part of it. He has also been teaching me about perseverance, learning to wait on Him, and resting in Him as He works.”
30 Years Later
God gave Mariela a loving life partner … an Italian named Aldo Cerasino! They have now been serving God together in Italy for 30 years, focusing on evangelism and church plantings. They pastor a successful church, “Gruppo Cristiano,” in Parma and Fidenza. They have also established the “Rebuilding Italy for Christ” ministry, whose mission is to evangelize and declare faith by bringing the Gospel through a variety of ways such as charity works, church planting, discipleship, and training. Through the years, with their unwavering enthusiasm and love for people, their work for reaching Italy for Christ continues to grow.
The mission field often brings divine moments and victories as well as heartaches and struggles, and because of their desire to share their experiences and what they’ve learned, the Cerasinos teamed up with a few people to create “Progetto Archippo.” Mariela explains, “The idea for Progetto Archippo came out of our desire to train and equip people to the call God has given them. We wanted to have a full training and missionary center, but because of the lack of resources, Progetto Archippo was a more affordable approach. Our desire is to be an open door for missionaries to come to serve God in this nation. We want to reach as many areas as possible, even the smallest towns. We seek to be the light and salt to this country.”
A Weekly Snapshot
What is a typical week for Mariela? It starts with a weekly trip to the city Reggio Emilia with other brothers and sisters from their church to teach a house group. It was at one house group meeting where her neighbor received Jesus. That moment is one of Mariela’s most treasured memories. On Tuesday, she visits people, lifting them up and praying for them. She also leads a very active Women Ambassadors of Christ ladies group while Aldo teaches a discipleship training course. Mid-week, she holds Moms in Prayer meetings and leads Bible studies. Friday evenings are devoted to quality time with Aldo and Rebecca, their daughter.
On many weekends, you can find Mariela and Aldo standing on train platforms, partnering with “Uniti in Cristo” (United in Christ) to provide food and clothing and the Gospel, to refugees and the homeless. They have also been praying about starting a new church in a new area. Once a month, they make the four hour trip to the city of Cuneo to pray for the city, share the Gospel, and cultivate the ground.
Mariela’s energy, leadership, and organizational skills are always in demand. Asked what she is surprisingly good at, she answered, “To keep up the vision, to be persistent and focused in communicating the Word of God, to lead large groups of people, and to start new works for the Kingdom, like planting churches.”
Dreams for the Future
When Mariela talks about her dreams for the future it is all about reaching more people with the gospel. She envisions a full Bible School, leadership conferences, new church plants, creating sports facilities where the gospel could be extended into the community, and more Christian leaders with the opportunity to be supported in full-time ministry (including her husband).
Mariela believes her life has been richer because of cross-cultural experiences. She has embraced a new culture, learned the Italian lifestyle, and gained two more languages. She ends with this piece of advice for Christian workers:
“Love people where you are, try to understand their culture and their lifestyle, be hospitable, share the gospel in natural ways, and be involved in the society. Seek God’s guidance in every area through prayer, and seek His will concerning the place where you desire to serve. Once you know He is sending you there, everything will work for good.”
Mariela De Los Santos and Aldo Cerasino were one of the first connections in Italy for ACCI. They have played an important role in the formation of ACCI and have collaborated with various projects. See pictures of their ministry at https://www.adventive.ca/all-project-list/aldo-and-mariela-cerasino/
Learn more about Aldo and Mariela and their ministry at http://www.gruppocristiano.it.