Finding love in unexpected places

Brothers David and Nathan Hellstrom

Nathan and Praise Hellstom’s love story is as much about God’s faithfulness as themselves.

At 33, Nathan was struggling to make sense of God’s plan for his life. He didn’t want to be single. Yet, as he sat in Chicago, there were no prospects.

“I had prayed a lot about it, but God didn’t answer,” Nathan said. “So, I told God I was done trying to find someone, and honestly I was angry and bitter with Him.”

His youngest brother David continued to pray for Nathan. In fact, God made it clearly known to David that He had someone for Nathan—in Africa—if he would just have an open heart.

As it so happened in the summer of 2021, in the midst of an ongoing worldwide pandemic with travel restrictions, a Chicago Staff Band (CSB) ensemble was headed to Nigeria to help celebrate that territory’s Centenary Congress. Nathan, a CSB member, had been called upon to fill in for the principal euphonium player who couldn’t go. Would David’s message come true? Nathan committed to pray about it but had no expectations as he boarded the 12-hour flight to Lagos.

Praise and Nathan with (from left) his brother David and sister-in-law Kasey and their daughters Ava and Anina, parents Majors Randy and Kathleen Hellstrom, sister Moriah and brother Joshua.

But there on the other side of the world was Praise—although he went nearly the entire 14-day visit without meeting her. It was in one of the final services that their paths crossed after Nathan again had wrestled with his faith. In Nigeria, he’d lived with joy. When he got back to Chicago, would he continue to live this way and trust God? In America, David was praying for Nathan’s full surrender and then for the woman to be bold.

“I came to a decision that no matter what happened or didn’t, I was going to have an open heart, fully surrendered and continue to serve God,” Nathan said.

Suddenly, the bandsman next to Nathan was tapping his shoulder and pointing to someone in another section of the massed band who wanted to say “hi.”

“Something happened in my heart,” said Nathan at the sight of Praise. He planned to talk with her the next day at lunch, but the morning meeting stretched straight into the afternoon, lasting seven and a half hours! Afterward, the CSB rushed to catch their flight. The opportunity seemed to have been lost until Praise reached out via Facebook with her contact information.

Back in Chicago, Nathan asked if it would be ok to call her via WhatsApp, a free messaging and video calling app. She agreed. They found they had much in common, like officer families and a love for the Lord, The Salvation Army and music. Wanting to be upfront and direct, Nathan soon shared the message he felt God had given to him.

On their happy wedding day in January 2024 at the Norridge Citadel, Ill., Corps.

“Her response was perfect,” said Nathan. “She didn’t overreact. She wasn’t too eager, nor did she hang up.”

“I could tell he was very genuine and serious,” Praise added, admitting she was surprised but intrigued.

Praise said she would pray about it, and consult with her parents, of course. In the meantime, each vetted the other through mutual acquaintances and liked what they found out. So, they kept talking an hour every day. And their feelings quickly grew.

By October, they wanted to see each other in person again, but the process for a visitor’s visa for Praise was backlogged terribly in Nigeria. So, Nathan planned a trip back there in November and bought a ring. If their feelings were confirmed in person, how long would a fiancé visa take? It was better to go prepared. When he stepped off the plane, Praise’s dad was there to greet him, but that didn’t temper Nathan’s excitement. And when he saw Praise again, he knew it was meant to be. And so did she.

Nathan and Praise in “Isi Agu” garb of the Igbo Tribe which
Praise is from in Nigeria

“I saw it coming,” she said. “But maybe not quite as fast as he did.”

Engaged on that first trip and entering into a traditional Nigerian marriage, they began the visa process that was completely out of their control. What was estimated to take six months, turned into 10, then 15. It would take a solid two years before Praise was able to move to the U.S.

“I learned a lot about prayer and about having patience, lots of patience, waiting on God’s timing,” Nathan said.

“We struggled sometimes,” said Praise. “But our families encouraged us, and we reminded each other to ‘keep the faith.’”

During that time, Nathan made six more trips to Nigeria. Due to safety concerns, few people knew. But as soon as Praise was in Chicago, they told everyone—starting with an introduction of his wife to the whole CSB on her first day.

“I am enjoying life here. I miss my family, but when you’re with the right person, it’s ok,” said Praise, who mentioned she cherishes praying daily with her husband. Together, they are finding joy in everyday things like grocery shopping and attending church.

“I feel a part of my life is no longer missing,” said Nathan. “God didn’t give up on me. He reached out His hand to me even when I wasn’t at my best. God is good, and God is faithful.”

“Our story,” Praise added, “is evidence of His faithfulness to us all.”

 

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