“At a young age, I quickly learned that we live in a broken world,” said Martha Illarramendi. “I was molested on two different occasions by two separate people close to my family. I taught myself to pretend everything was okay, but I felt empty and out of control. My heart was filled with depression and suicidal thoughts. My parents raised me and my siblings in the church, and I knew about Jesus at an early age. I even served in the kids’ ministry on Sundays, but Monday through Saturday, I lived however I wanted. A day at a time, I was walking further and further from the Lord.
“When I was 14, I met my now husband, Ivan, at church. We became close friends and then started dating. Instead of looking for the Lord to find and fulfill everything I was looking for, Ivan became my idol. I thought our relationship would fill the emptiness that was growing inside of me. When our dating became physical, we felt conviction that what we were doing wasn’t right. But when we went to leaders in our church, instead of helping us, they asked us to leave. We were shunned and banned from being a part of the youth group at church.
“Through hurt, we decided to step away from the church completely. We secretly dated and I moved out of my family’s house. Often, I would pause and realize that the life I was living was not what God created me for.
“When I was 20, we got married, but it quickly became apparent that my husband liked to have the attention of other women. As our relationship started to fall apart, we lived like roommates instead of spouses. As soon as I became a mother, my children became my life. My identity shifted from ‘wife’ to ‘mom’. Because they need me more than anyone else, I felt validation and importance. If I felt like I needed love, I would run to my kids instead of the Lord.
“When I was pregnant with my third child, my husband’s job relocated us to Dallas. Within a couple months, we were invited to Watermark. At the first service we attended, the speaker confessed to the entire church about a conflict with his wife and how he asked for forgiveness. I thought, ‘This is crazy! Who does this in front of thousands of people?’ The boldness and transparency made it very clear that this church was where we should be.
“Through the Watermark News, I read about re|engage, Watermark’s marriage ministry. We went hoping to work on our communication. I prayed to reconnect with the Lord and walked into re|engage completely open-minded. On our fourth week, my husband confessed multiple hidden sins, including an extramarital affair. My idea of a new fresh start and hopes of better communication was cut short with this confession. While I was sitting there, I felt a little relief, but on the other hand, I was deeply saddened realizing how far we had strayed. I wondered, ‘At what moment did Ivan and I become our own gods?’
“There was chaos, hurt, pain, and unbelievable stretching, but at the same time I knew it was going to be okay (Philippians 4:7). I didn’t even want to be there, but I refused to let the enemy take one more day from my marriage.
“Over the next season, we watched the Lord transform our marriage as we learned more about God and His character in the Bible. At the end of our time in re|engage, I saw that we were not the same people we originally married. Now, our separate identities were in Christ alone.
“Later, after serving in one area of the church, someone invited us to be a part of Watermark En Español. I didn’t want to go back into the Spanish-speaking church because of our past hurts, but the Lord showed me that He has given every one of us different gifts to grow His Kingdom. One of the gifts He’s given me is the ability to speak two languages.
“Five years later, we’ve been able to serve at re|engage En Español and see other marriages transform. And now, we are watching the Lord grow Watermark en Español on Sunday mornings. The more ways we can share the good news of Christ, the better.
“God frequently reminds us of His heart for redemption and grace. This is His story, not ours. He is continually showing us why we need to keep sharing His story. This year at the Church Leaders Conference, a couple came up to me from Tennessee and greeted me. The husband said, ‘Hi Martha. I know you don’t know us, but I know you and Ivan very well. Your story is the story we share with every new class at re|engage at our church.’ He continued to tell me about two couples – one now living in Spain and one in Costa Rica – who went through re|engage at his church and now have taken the program and the story of God’s work in our lives to both countries. God is using our story to carry the gospel to different parts of the world!”