One Sunday morning, Arturo (Art) Rodriguez walked up to Rev. Keith Loy at Celebrate Community Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and said, "I am the guy to go to Sioux City."
Immediately intrigued, Loy said, “Grab a chair, and tell me why.” And so began the conversation as to why Art thought he should move to nearby Sioux City, Iowa, to plant a church.
Born in El Salvador, Art lived there until age 11 when he moved to Los Angeles, California, where his mom spent time in jail. She placed her faith in Jesus there. When released, she began attending church and asked Art to join her. Art had become involved in the L.A. gang life and refused repeatedly. He finally agreed when she asked if he’d record a church service. That day, at age 19, Art knelt at the altar and accepted Jesus as his Savior.
Joining Art in life and church planting is his wife, Noelia. Known as Nellie, she also has a miraculous story, full of pain and redemption. Born in Nicaragua, Nellie’s parents both worked and offered her a stable, happy and loving home. Everything changed at age 5, though, when Nellie was sexually abused by a relative.
A year later, her dad left. The abuse continued. Nellie, her mom and sisters eventually left Nicaragua traveling to Guatemala, Mexico and finally to the United States.
While they had safely arrived in the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” Nellie remained far from “free.” She was abused by countless men in exchange for money so they could buy food. Nellie was drowning from the years of abuse, “with days and nights of fear, hopelessness, depression and despair.”
Nellie met Art when she began attending his church while a teenager. She noticed he was different — that he was an honorable young man who treated her with dignity, kindness and respect.
“I’d never seen that kindness in my life before,” said Nellie. She learned about Jesus and placed her faith in him at 14.
The couple later married and for seven years they followed God and grew in their faith. They had children and fell deeper in love. But eventually, they “stopped doing the things that draw a person closer to Jesus,” and he became a non-existent part of their lives.
“Social drinking and doing drugs with friends on the weekends progressed into drinking alcohol and getting high every day,” said Nellie.
They lived this way for 20 years.
“We became full-blown alcoholics and drug addicts, but we managed to function in our dysfunction,” said Nellie. Two of their three children began drinking alcohol but soon turned to drug use also.
One morning, Art awoke thinking, “Today is the day to stop drinking.” He knew it was God speaking, asking him to begin radically moving his life in another direction. Art obeyed.
Day one passed alcohol free. Day two, day three … For 29 days, Art resisted the desire to drink with a strength only from the Lord. Then, 30 days after quitting alcohol “cold turkey,” he became terribly sick. Tests revealed kidney disease, stage five, meaning his kidneys had lost nearly all ability to do their job effectively. At this stage, dialysis or transplant is eventually needed to live.
Nellie volunteered to donate a kidney. But the odds were against her: she had a one-in-a-100,000 chance of being a perfect match. In the midst of months of testing, Art heard from God again.
“I was praying and heard the Holy Spirit tell me, ‘You are going to preach in Iowa.’” Dumbfounded, Art wondered what those words meant. The couple did not know if Nellie’s kidney was an option, and his kidneys were functioning at only five percent. How could he have the strength to preach?
Art held onto God’s words. Soon afterwards, test results miraculously proved Nellie’s kidney was a match. Transplant surgery was performed successfully.
During Art’s health crisis, the Lord began drawing the couple back to him. They began attending Celebrate Church and heard Loy, senior pastor, announce plans to plant a church in Sioux City. Art’s “heart jumped” because he knew that was where he was to preach in Iowa.
The Rodriguezes are licensed ministers with The Wesleyan Church seeking ordination as they prepare for a September 2020 church launch. While making a vision trip to Sioux City, their hearts broke for the city where 42,000 people do not have a church home. As they walked through one area, they met people “who were in the same circumstances that we were before” — addicts in need of a Savior.
“My heart is broken at the situation I see [fellow addicts] in,” said Nellie. “I didn’t see hope. I didn’t see myself coming out of that. Everyone is broken in some way.”
Loy is “overjoyed and excited” that God is confirming Celebrate’s call to plant in Sioux City and knows the Rodriguezes are the right couple.
“Lives will be totally transformed,” said Loy. “Marriages will be healed; addictions will be broken, and people will come into a saving relationship with Jesus.”
Reed DeVries, Celebrate’s church- planting overseer, is confident God will use Art and Nellie to have a great kingdom impact in Iowa and beyond.
“We believe thousands of people will come to know Jesus and that many other churches will be planted out of their church.”
Celebrate has planted 10 churches, with another three (including Sioux City) in the pre-launch phase.
The Rodriguezes just want to be obedient to God’s leading in sharing that there is hope found in Jesus, even if someone is stuck in a hopeless pit.
“We are so grateful for the life we have now compared to the life we had before,” said Nellie.
“There is nothing that is going to stop us from using that and spreading the Word of God because there are a lot of people where we were. There is hope.”