The year was 1983 when a young Argentine couple arrived at SENDAS following God’s call to prepare for ministry in the Church of the Nazarene. Still newlyweds, they’d been married for only 6 months. Their names were Eduardo Alejandro Lelli and Graciela Monica Portini de Lelli, and they would spend three formative years growing, learning and serving in the community of SENDAS.
Regarding his time at SENDAS Eduardo states:
SENDAS led us from being youth leaders in our local church in Buenos Aires, to being bi-vocational pastors committed to the work. SENDAS taught us to love the Lord and to consecrate ourselves totally to His service. It challenged us to think theologically, to love our Nazarene doctrine, and to commit ourselves to church planting and the spread of the Kingdom. In addition, our experience with other students from eighteen countries was something wonderful that taught us to love and appreciate our brothers and sisters from so many other Latin American countries. It was really an extraordinary time of learning and living together, in which our horizon was greatly expanded, both in relationships, and in the understanding of our church and its mission in the world.
When the Lellis left SENDAS they went to plant Hispanic churches in New York and today they are still doing the same, Eduardo as Hispanic coordinator in the MidSouth District where in just four years twelve churches have been started. The district has thirty-one ordination track students with a strong church planting vision.
Graciela served many years at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. Since 2004 she serves as Editorial Director for Grupo Nelson and Editorial Vida, the Spanish imprints of Harper Collins Christian Publishing.
God has led them to shepherd and serve in many capacities, but they never forget the local Church in El Alto de Guadalupe (on the SENDAS campus), which according to Eduardo “was the first church in which we pastored and the lessons learned there have guided us all the way. ”
Eduardo and Graciela remember the people and experiences at SENDAS fondly. According to Graciela: “In Costa Rica, our first daughter (Barbara) was born, and both the teachers and the classmates supported us beautifully, and taught us how to care for our first baby. We especially remember Jerry and Tony Porter, Jonathan and Magda Salgado, Enrique Guang, Daniel Montero, Arturo Molina, John and Sheila Hall and many others, both teachers and students who were a great blessing to our lives in those years of ministerial formation.” Eduardo added: “it was a great honor and learning to be the president of the Student Federation and to serve on the commission that organized activities for all students. I remember very well the prayer vigils we hosted in the “bohío” (a community building at SENDAS) and the times of communion when preparing food together.” Graciela continued: “the ministerial preparation classes were special. I went to Costa Rica to graduate in Theology, and I succeeded with my husband. Decades later, in Tennessee, I received my ordination. As a woman this was of great value to me.”
Eduardo (who comes from the same local church of our president Dr. Rubén Fernández (Villa Ballester, Buenos Aires) and who was his Sunday School teacher in the 70’s) offers some advice for students who are following a call of God and want to prepare for service:
Nowadays times have changed and most of the studies are remote. This has brought a great opportunity for study and has served to reach a much larger number of students throughout Latin America. SENDAS has grown and adapted to these times reaching students from the Argentine Patagonia to the United States and surely soon also Canada. Whether in residence or at a distance, the training provided by SENDAS in Spanish is of unparalleled value. Here in the MidSouth District we have made an agreement with SENDAS and it is our hope that some of our students who graduate from the modular ministerial formation will continue their distance studies to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Pastoral Theology and even more, a Masters. We work in Spanish and serve in Spanish, so our training must be in Spanish, and this is something that SENDAS can provide.
Rev. Eduardo Lelli arrived in Costa Rica having graduated as a Clinical Psychologist in Argentina, and obtained a Bachelor of Theology with Pastoral Orientation from SENDAS in 1986. He later obtained a Masters Degree in Counseling from the University of Phoenix in Colorado Springs, USA.
Rev. Graciela Portini obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology from SENDAS in 1986 and then obtained another Bachelor’s Degree in Theology from the National University in Costa Rica.
Eduardo and Graciela have served as pastors in Costa Rica, New York and Colorado since 1984. They currently live in Tennessee and just celebrated 37 years of marriage. They have four children and eight grandchildren.
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