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Isabella Munoz

Isabella Muñoz celebrates Quinceañera 

Quinceañera.

Translated it means “girl turning 15.”

In Latin American and Mexican cultures, it’s a special ceremony. It’s a day to have a “Fiesta” tocherish and honor a 15-year-old daughter as she symbolically transitions from a young girl into a young lady.

For many Hispanics, it’s a day of equal or greater importance than even the wedding day.

For Isabella Muñoz, her Quinceañera was celebrated August 20.

It was an opportunity to share time with family, friends and many that have served as role models and have made a positive impact in her life.

“It was a chance to reunite the people that have been important in her life and have helped make her the person she is today,” said Tony Muñoz, Isabella’s father. “It was important for Isabella to have this moment as a stepping stone in her life.”

Isabella is the daughter of Tony and Aleyda Muñoz. Tony is pastor of Iglesia Bautista Latina in Effingham and has served for the last nine years as a Missionary Strategist for the Illinois Baptist State Association (IBSA), planting and leading congregations in Effingham, Centralia and Champaign. Aleyda works for Sehy & Jones and also teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) at Lake Land College.

Tony and Aleyda were both born and raised in Honduras. They came to the United States in 2001 when Tony entered the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. In fact, Isabella was born on August 13, 2001 – his first day of seminary.

“She was born at 5:15 and my first class started at 8 a.m.,” Tony recalled.

Bella, as she is called, is a sophomore at Effingham High School. She has two siblings. Antonio is 17, a senior at EHS and was just crowned Homecoming King Friday night. Her sister, Emilia, is 12 and in seventh grade.

A Quinceañera is rooted in Mexican Catholic tradition and many include a Mass. But the ceremony is mostly known for its symbolic elements, food and fun.

But Bella’s ceremony was centered around the family’s Christian faith.

“It was an opportunity to showcase our daughter, but we wanted to be careful,” Aleyda explained. “We wanted to show the foundation of what she’s been taught when it comes to Bible principles. We wanted to show God’s grace and mercy in her life and how she will live her life for God’s purpose.”

The family actually started planning the event more than a year ago. Approximately 250 people were invited and attended the ceremony, held at the First Baptist Church in Effingham. Included in that group were seven family members from Honduras and three more from Houston.

Tony’s sister, Brenda, brought seven 50-pound bags full of ornaments and handmade wooden souvenirs for the guests, with the help of Mrs. Nongil (Tony’s mom), Mrs. Lucy (Aleyda’s mom), and Mrs. Daysi (Tony’s high school teacher) from Honduras that helped decorate and adorn the church and fellowship hall.

The one group Bella was responsible for was her Court of Honor. The size of that group could be anywhere between 1 and 30. It could be all girls, all boys or a mix. Including Isabella, her Court had 20 high school friends with an equal amount of boys and girls.

“When I first asked my friends to be part of the Court of Honor, they didn’t know what a Quinceañera was,” Bella noted. “I told them it was like a wedding for a 15-year-old, which seemed to help. They learned a lot about it during the ceremony.”

The program opens with the processional of the Court of Honor. They entered to the song “We Are” by Kari Jobe.

Isabella was the next to enter. She was escorted by Collin York, the young man she asked to accompany her. That is called the “chambelan.”

The minister then started the ceremony. Tony served that role, as requested by Bella. It was the fifth Quinceañera he has officiated locally since coming to Effingham in 2006.

He read Matthew 5:16 – “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

“This world needs a lot of enlightenment,” Tony said. “This passage talks about good works and how they will impact those around us. We need to be more of a light of the world and we need to share that light.”

Tony also explained the various elements of the ceremony and the symbolism they represent.

The first was the giving of the ring, which serves as a reminder to remain pure until marriage.

It was a special moment for Bella when Dan Conley was chosen by the family to present the ring. Dan, and his late wife Vicki, were the American “abuelos” (grandparents) to Bella, Antonio and Emilia.

“They have beenthe kids grandparents by love ties,” Tony explained. “May 21, 2006, was the first day I preached at Calvary Baptist. After the service, Dan and Vicki came up to us. They were drawn immediately to our family. It was a divine connection. They were God-provided. They became grandparents to our kids, since we left all our family in Honduras.”

“I didn’t know who would be giving me the ring, but I knew grandpa would be part of the ceremony in some way,” Bella added. “When he came up to the altar holding that little box, it meant the world to me. He has always been there for me.”

“As he put the ring on my finger, he told me I was beautiful and that he was proud of me,” Bella added. “He said grandma would have loved being there.”

Aleyda then placed a tiara on Bella’s head. It tied into I Peter 2:9 and served as a reminder that she IS part of royalty.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Aleyda also gave the Kneeling Pillow. Mrs. Lucy, Bella’s grandmother was going to do that, but was afraid it would be too emotional and she would have a difficult time getting through it.

The Kneeling Pillow represents the importance of prayer in her life.

The parents also gave Bella a special Quinceañera Bible. It included a purple cover, which is Bella’s favorite color.

“It’s symbolic of a map,” Tony noted, tying it into Joshua 1:8 – “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

Another special moment came at the reception. It was the switching of shoes. Tony removed the Converse tennis shoes Bella was wearing and replaced them with a pair of high heels.

“That symbolizes her transformation from a young girl to a young lady,” he explained.

The ceremony also included a waltz that was done by the Court of Honor. Ilenia Hails, the choreographer for St. Anthony High School and Effingham Junior High musicals, helped Bella create the dance.

There was also American food, catered by Martin’s IGA, and plenty of Hispanic food and desserts. The Muñoz family band also provided music during the ceremony.

“I am so thankful I had the support of friends and family to help put it together,” Bella said. “It was a beautiful ceremony. It will always be a part of me.”

“This was an opportunity to bring two cultures together. There are a lot of people in this community that have impacted Bella’s life in a good way,” Aleyda added. “We wanted everyone to come together to be part of something special. We give God all the glory.”

Bella said she was actually given the choice of having the Quinceañera or going on a family vacation trip to Honduras.

“I thought about it,” she admitted. “With all the things we’re involved in, our family life is crazy. Having a break would have been nice.

“But when making my final decision, I wanted to intertwine both my life as a Honduran and as an American. I wanted people to see my life and how it’s transformed me into the person I am today.

“Quinceañera is huge. It’s not just a regular birthday. I made a lot of new memories.”

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