In Acts 2:38a, Peter says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” The first part of this verse tells us to repent. Repentance is the act of placing our sins at the feet of Jesus, asking for his incredible and unearned forgiveness, and then turning from our lives of sin to follow Him. The second piece of the verse is baptism. Baptism is the act of public declaration, holding nothing back and proclaiming Jesus is Lord of our lives.
This weekend, baptisms return at every Willow campus. Dozens will make the decision to be baptized, publicly exclaiming their salvation through Christ. There will be joyous applause, tears in recognition of sweet salvation, and fist pumps of victory over death. Although we see the baptisms that occur, we don’t always know the journey of the person who’s rising out of the water. Every journey to salvation is unique, just like a fingerprint. This is Manny’s story:
Manny grew up in Ecuador with his loving sister and mom. However, after losing his job in an economic downturn, he decided to move to the United States to provide for his family. Although hesitant of her son moving, Manny’s mother gave him this simple but profound piece of advice: “Pray.” Since moving to the U.S. four years ago, Manny has always kept his mother’s advice close to his heart.
His first job in the States was in Chicago as a valet driver. Although it didn’t pay well, it was enough for him to purchase his own used car and share rent with a roommate. Manny was excited to be “in this great country,” and although it was a lot of work to keep his head above water, he was so grateful for the opportunity to be here and send money home to his family.
But Manny had no idea what was just around the corner: his roommate packed up and left unexpectedly, leaving him to pay the rent all on his own. Not only that, but he lost his job. Unable to pay rent, Manny had no choice but to move out and live in his car, which he did for six months.
With his savings dwindling, Manny remembered his mother’s words: pray. And he did, every chance he could.
Looking back on that time in his life, Manny doesn’t once remember being in want. He made friends, and his friends would often invite him out to lunch or dinner. He would tell them, “I can’t afford that right now,” to which his friends would respond, “I didn’t ask if you could afford it; I asked if you would join me for a meal.”
After a few months, Manny was able to find a job in food service near Willow Creek Wheaton. He found a family from whom he could rent a room, but his car broke down shortly after getting his new job. A mechanic looked at his car and told him the repair would cost twice as much as the car was worth. So Manny continued to pray.
He lived six miles from his job, so he walked. It’d take him two hours to get to work on foot every day, but he was determined. On the days when the weather was too severe to walk, he’d get an Uber or Lyft, but the costs of those rides kept him from being able to save money to get his own car fixed. Seemingly stuck in neutral, Manny continued to pray for guidance and God’s plan in his life.
Through a chance encounter, Manny was invited to Willow Creek Wheaton. He wanted to know and learn more about God, so he walked the two miles to church and began being a regular attendee. He made some great church connections and felt extremely comfortable there, but then Covid closed the building.
Manny continued attending services online, and during that time, he stayed in contact with his new Willow friends. Through his friends, he shared about his car situation and how he had to walk to get from place to place, and how it was hard for him to save money and provide for his family. Little did Manny know, one of his biggest prayers was about to be answered.
He received a text one day that concisely said, “You have a car.” He was completely shocked and didn’t fully understand what the text meant. Soon after, he received a phone call from the CARS ministry at Willow and was told he had a car waiting for him–at no cost.
Upon arrival at Willow South Barrington, Manny walked into the bay of the CARS ministry and saw a Honda Accord waiting for him. In trying to describe the moment, Manny said, as tears formed in his eyes, “I’m so blessed. By God, I’m so blessed. I had no idea what I did to deserve a car. It was a true gift from God.”
Manny has since named his car “Mr. Waffles,” because every time he sees it, he remembers the warmth of how great God has been to him and how much love he’s felt from God’s people. Even if the car breaks down and he eventually gets a new car, Manny says he’ll never get rid of Mr. Waffles; it just means too much to him.
Even before receiving his car, he found an opening where he could jump in and volunteer at Willow. While in Ecuador, Manny volunteered at a cancer clinic for kids, as well as a dog shelter. He has a heart for helping others, has found openings volunteering in the Care Center and production team, and looks forward to starting volunteering in the CARS ministry.