“As a kid, my family was a mess,” Mario Trujillo recalled his childhood in Pueblo, Colorado. “A lot of my birthday parties ended up in drinking and fighting. My mom tried her best, but she struggled with alcoholism. I never met my dad.”
Mario came from a big family, so he had lots of uncles and cousins around him. But most of the men in his life were fighters, womanizers, drinkers, and gang members. By the time he was twelve, Mario was trying to prove himself by taking risks and breaking the law. The gang noticed and, by fourteen, he had become a member.
There was one positive influence in Mario’s life – an older cousin named Jolene. She brought some stability, some peace in the midst of the turmoil. “She was a big part of my life. She cared a lot about me when no one else did.”
Before he was seventeen years old, Mario had been in and out of detention centers for various crimes. At seventeen, he got a girl pregnant. But before she gave birth to their son, Mario was sentenced to two years in a county jail for assaulting a police officer.
“I tried to be a dad, but I didn’t know how,” Mario said. “When I got out of prison, I started taking care of my son, but my relationship with his mother was very difficult. We were both in and out of other relationships. Eventually, it ended. But it didn’t end well.”
At twenty-four, Mario was desperate for help, so he went to see his cousin, Jolene, who had recently come to faith in Jesus. “She shared the Gospel with me, and kept pushing me to Jesus. She was very persistent, and caring.”
Jolene gave Mario a Bible. He didn’t read it at first, and when he did, he got frustrated because he couldn’t understand it. Finally, one day, he opened it again and read Psalm 34. For the next two months, he read that psalm every day, and every time he read it, he wept.
Then, one night while alone in his one-bedroom apartment, Mario felt the presence of God in a way that he had never experienced before. “It was like Christ was embracing me. I just started confessing my sins and crying out to God, and I was overwhelmed by this incredible love and acceptance. I tasted and saw for myself that the Lord was good. He was the caring Father that I had never known.”
At Jolene’s prodding, Mario went to a Bible study. “It was a Wednesday night, and some little lady was leading. She opened her Bible and started reading from Psalm 34, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ I couldn’t believe it.”
It was a new beginning for Mario, and he was amazed at the change he began to see in his life. “I felt completely new. I had no taste for partying, fighting or chasing women anymore. I just wanted to be with Jesus. My language changed – I used to have a horrible mouth. I was letting go of everything that had controlled me – anger, pride, lust. It was a complete paradigm shift. I was focused on being God’s workmanship, created for his glory.”
For the next few years, Mario was discipled at a church in Pueblo where the pastor was faithfully teaching the Bible and focusing on the love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. “I was so hungry. I received so much in that place, and yet I began to search for more, especially in the areas of evangelism and service.”
At the same time, Mario started studying voraciously by reading more broadly in theology and exposing himself to other traditions. “For me, God used that time to ground me in the Gospel. He was speaking to me about how the Gospel changes everything – not just in my heart, but in my whole life, how I live, how I work, how I relate to others.”
However, Mario’s growth and learning was not without disappointment.
His growing desire to be involved in church planting led him to a friend who had recently moved from Portland to Pueblo with a call to start a church. They decided to work together and linked up with a local gathering called “The Pearl.” They were very intentional and missional, but before long they lost their building and eventually decided to disband. Though some of those closer relationships endured, the experience was hard on Mario.
Soon after, Mario heard that Scott Thomas, a church planting coach, was back in Pueblo. Scott and his wife Jeannie had grown up in Pueblo, but then left to serve with a church-planting network in Canada called C2C. Mario sought out Scott to ask him if he would be willing to mentor him. In turn, Scott invited him to a new gathering in downtown Pueblo called City Church, which Scott had been involved in planting under the oversight of the USMB Conference.
“Mario actually showed up at City Church for our first public service,” recalls Scott, recently appointed the Director of C2Cnetwork USA. “And after that, he just started becoming a part of the City Church community. He and his wife, Stephanie, fit in well.”
Very quickly, Mario earned the trust of the leaders at City Church as they saw his passion for God and his gift of evangelism flourishing in their missional community. Along with some of the other leaders, Mario and Stephanie were invited to a church planting conference, which proved to be a significant step forward in their journey. “That weekend, we not only felt like we received clarity on our call to church planting, but we received a fresh call to fully surrender our lives to God and to leave behind all of our baggage.”
Eventually, Scott approached Mario with a question that caught him off-guard: “Why not City Church?”
Mario had expected to start something new somewhere else. He thought that was the purpose of Scott’s mentoring. He hadn’t thought of City Church as his next step. But Scott had recently moved to Nashville and was only in a consulting role with the leadership at City Church. There was room for someone new on the team, and when Scott asked the other leaders about the potential of Mario stepping into a more prominent role at City Church, they all looked at him and said, “Of course, he should! He’s got the skills and the passion. In some ways, he’s already doing it.”
Mario was blessed and humbled by Scott’s willingness to invest in him, and to trust him with the new church. “Scott believes in me,” Mario says with obvious sincerity. “He doesn’t just say it, he really backs it up. He’s been an amazing mentor.”
Scott opened the door for Mario and Stephanie to become church planters with the C2Cnetwork USA, the first ever couple that would be recognized as such. In early December, they made their way to Toronto for the C2C Assessment Center, a three-day in depth series of interviews. There, the couple was affirmed for the C2C Apprenticeship Program, which involves ongoing coaching and support.
“At the Assessment,” Mario says, “they weren’t just looking for all the right answers in terms of theology and strategy, they wanted to know if we loved Jesus and really believed in the Gospel.”
Mario is excited about leading City Church into the future with a very clear mission statement: “City Church exists to intentionally share the hope of Jesus with all people through relentless love and generous lives.”
So far, the church is being very intentional about intersecting with the community in downtown Pueblo, and Mario and Stephanie are focused and energized: “We’re here for the people who are downtown, whoever they are, wherever they’re at spiritually. We’re connecting with the urban culture, the creative community, the businesses, so everyone can have an opportunity to taste and see the love and goodness of God.”