I actually wrote this in response to my good friend via email and weblogs, Shah-yee. I have been asked to post it again.
A man's heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps. (Proverbs 16.9 NKJV)Well, around February 1995 I was in a Bible study on a Sunday night. They were talking about missions, and I was irritated because of some things I was going through at college. It had to do with multiculturalism and such things taken too far in my opinion.
When they asked my opinion about missions, I said, "Missions?! I don't care about missions! If you want me to talk to those foreigners, bring them here, I'll tell them about Jesus, and them send them back!"
Well, less than a month later my pastor asked me if I would be willing to go to Brasil on a trip with the group for that summer. I was told there was someone who wanted to sponsor me on that trip. I was humbled. I had to examine my own heart- would I be wasting someone's money? Did I really care about the people I would go to serve?
After the time of evaluating my heart, I accepted having been humbled by the Lord for my boorish attitude.
In June 1995, I accompanied the team to Manaus, Brasil. I joked before I left that I would come back with a wife. We spent the first day flying from Miami to Manaus. We were tired when we arrived at the hotel. We had dinner at a restaurant in Manaus and rested. The next three days were spent working in the searing heat and scorching sun. Some of the highlights were when I heard the children sing "Alleluia, Gloria Alleluia" and giving candy to the children. There was a little girl of about 8 years old that I fell in love with as a father would, and wanted to adopt. I called her my daughter- though she didn't understand me or my feelings at all. We finally put the roof on and were finished with the project.
The next day I went on a tour of the Amazon River and into the jungle on a boat. During the trip I became very thirsty and went below for a drink. I found some free coffee with little cups. It was very thick, sweet and strong. The cups held about 4 ounces. I drank about 20. Needless to say, I had a great trip. It was a blast. It was a highlight of my "great Adventure." (I only figured out in 2002- that caffeine made a definite impact that day).
The next day we had the dedication service. It was hot and dusty, but it was the building we built. Afterward, this Brazilian girl came up to me and her friend Frank introduced us. In broken English he said, "This is Miss Loiana." I said hi, and they barely understood me. She asked me a question and I had no idea what she was saying. So I called over Richard, my friend and our interpreter. He translated for Loiana. "When will you be back to Brasil?" My intellectual answer was a barely intelligible "idunno." (But the amazing thing is that her simple question opened my heart and mind at that instant to help me realize that God could bring me back, or send me to Poland, Siberia or anywhere else. It was about Him, not me. I am a tool in His hand.) She smiled, I asked them to be in a picture with me and we were off. We shared our chartered bus for the ride home. I was shy, and tried to act cool since Loiana, Frank and another friend of hers (a female), were about three seats back on the other side of a almost empty bus. I asked them to autograph my shirt. They did. When they got off, I managed to smile and say "good-bye."
That evening, I was in my hotel room thinking about Loiana and the encounter with the Lord that she led me to. I wanted to tell her, so I spoke to my friend Obadias (pronounced Oba-GEE-as)- he only spoke Portuguese, and I only spoke English, so I used what little Spanish I remembered, gestures and a Portuguese-English dictionary to help him understand. It only took 20 minutes. I remember he began to say, "Pete, loves Loiana! Pete, loves Loiana!" And I said, "Não, não..." ("No, no.") Eventually he understood.
I gave Obadias a note to give to Loiana telling her about what God did through her simple question. I put my address in the note and asked her to write me if she wanted to. I hoped she would. She intrigued me. I think I had a bit of infatuation with her at that point as well.
Maybe a month after returning, I received a letter in Portuguese from Loiana. I was so excited! I couldn't read it, so I tried to find someone to translate for me. It was difficult to find someone. My former roommate was a linguist for the Army and translated some of it for me, but he didn't have much time. Finally, I had it translated by him. I wrote back in English.
The next letter was also in Portuguese, but there was a professor from Florida Southern College in our church and he translated it for me. I believe he translated two for me before Loiana began to write in English with the help of others. I continued to write in English.
Over the period of five years we wrote. I lived in Lakeland to begin with, moved to Brandon, then to Riverview, then to Spring Hill, then to New Port Richey and finally back to Spring Hill (two places). I went from having some faith that we could meet again to thinking it was impossible to being utterly confused. I called her my best friend, my sister and also gave hints that I had deeper feelings for her. I invited her to visit. She accepted. I tried to pull back from the offer (I was scared and didn't know if I was able to bring her here). She wrote me a letter telling me to make up my mind- that I didn't know what I wanted. She said she would not wait too long for me. I didn't write back. She wrote again a bit less irritated. I wrote back telling her that I was confused.
Finally, in December of 1999 I invited Loiana to come and visit (again). I prayed that if God wanted us together that he would let me hear from her again before 2000. My letter was sent around December 20, 1999- not enough time for it to get there and for me to receive a reply.
December 30, 1999 I remember going to Busch Gardens with a friend and waiting for my friend to return from the restroom. I was just drawing on a piece of paper and somehow came up with a drawing of North and South America and two stick figures in overlapping hearts (I am not an artist). Under it I wrote: "Pete and Loiana- someday and forever." I did not realize what I was writing. I also saw a show at Busch Gardens that night. It included a part about Brasil. That was too cool. I thought, "It would be great to be here with Loiana and share this with her."
December 31, 1999 I went to the mailbox and found a letter from Loiana. It had a phone number and an email address for me to write her at. I was afraid, but I called her a few days later. It was a difficult conversation, but it was wonderful. I also emailed her. Soon we set up the things we needed for her to come up to visit. She would be the missionary at a church in our association, and would stay with a host family. I bought the ticket and sent it to her. She was to arrive August 18, 2000.
My friend Chris and I went to Miami to pick her up. I spent the whole night tossing and turning and in prayer. I got up several times to pray for her and the trip. I was not at peace.
I woke early to go to the airport with Chris. We waited for her flight to arrive. I was so excited because the plane finally landed. But there was a problem. We waited and waited- nothing. I prayed and asked the Lord if she was going to be there. I felt a peace (briefly) that she would be. She didn't show up with the other passengers. I asked the airline representative and they wouldn't tell me anything. I tried to explain the situation and they refused to help. I tried paging Loiana with no result. I went back to the airline representative and asked if everyone was off the flight yet. He said they should all be off and through customs by now. No more baggage came from the flight. I was getting very pessimistic. I had bought a stuffed dog as a gift for her. I asked Chris to watch for Loiana while I returned to the Blazer I rented for the trip. I prayed, with disappointment, and said to the Lord- "I thought you showed me that Loiana would be here. I trusted You." I threw the dog into the car and walked back into the airport dejected.
When I arrived in the airport, Chris ran up to me and said, "I think I found her! She looks like the girl in the picture!" I rushed over to see and he asked if it was her. I couldn't be sure because she was facing the other way. I waited for her to turn around, but she didn't. I went to the page phone and tried to have her paged again. When I arrived back where she was waiting to exit the baggage area, we saw each other. She smiled and I crossed the do not cross line and hugged her tight. God turned my mourning into joy!
The trip back to my house and then the host's home was fun. Loiana didn't understand much and we used a dictionary to communicate. I felt so good. We arrived at my house and told her it would be "our house." I then took her to the hosts' house. They welcomed her as a daughter. Two days later (August 20, 2000) we were in front of their house and I got down on a knee and asked her to marry me. She said, "I'm sorry, repeat please." (I think she was toying with me). So I did and she said yes.
We went and met my dad. I had reservations. I didn't know if he would accept her. She wasn't white or even a citizen of the USA. And my grandparents. They were old and I hoped they would not reject her. I decided that I would not sway. If she was rejected, I was rejected. When they met her they all loved her. No problems.
My dad actually hit the lottery for about $7,000 and paid for most of our wedding. We were married on October 7, 2000. The flowers were donated by a Brazilian florist who was honored to be invited to the wedding- they remain our friends to this day. We went to St. Pete Beach for our honeymoon. We found out she was pregnant on Loiana's birthday (November 15, 2000). We had Virgínia on July 22, 2001- the day after my 33rd birthday.
It was a really different road to our wonderful married life. All in the hands of God.