A friend from church first told them about it: a short-term school in Nicaragua that molds people into leaders using a biblical perspective. Craving spiritual training, the three Nicaraguan sisters -- Gaudi, 27, Darling, 26, and Vilma, 22 -- said they'd think about it. When their friend offered them scholarships to the academy, they hastily enrolled.
In early 2001, the sisters began what would be an intensive 10 months of training.
Called the International Leadership Academies, the school is a division of Cru that builds leaders outside the United States. Other locations for ILA include India, Bangladesh, Russia and Belarus. Besides classroom study, students hit the streets to learn how to share their faith. Graduates often go on to plant churches.
At the core of ILA is a strict adherence to Scripture, emphasizing a practical application of it. And that's why lives are changing. "The secret of ILA is not that we have these great materials or quality of curriculum," says David Cottrell, ILA curriculum developer. "It's the Word of God. It revolutionizes their lives forever."
The 3 enthusiastic sisters, who received Christ a short while before attending the academy, grew rapidly in their faith. They had never studied the Bible so intensely, while trying to live by what it said at the same time.
"We learned how to depend more on God," Darling says. "Our lives made like a 180-degree turn."
The Pallaviccini sisters come from a large family -- 7 children -- and their background is rather tumultuous. Their mother, Yadira, is not married. Nor do they have a father figure. In fact, the sisters and their siblings aren't really sure who their fathers are -- there may be as many as 7.
Today the entire family serves Christ and they still live together. Among their compact, urban neighborhood, they have gained a reputation for being radical followers of Jesus -- a distinction that sometimes brings ridicule. But along with it arise opportunities to pass on what they learned in school.
One day their landlord, Rosivel, knocked on their door, complaining of chest pains. "I feel like I'm going to die," she told them, explaining she couldn't breathe. Darling, Gaudi and Vilma gathered around her and prayed. The pain stopped. Two days later, Rosivel called them, asking how she, too, could follow Jesus.
Other neighbors have called, requesting prayer or asking questions about the sisters' faith.
When they show Christ's love to their neighbors, they do it as a team, often with the help of their mother and other siblings. Darling does the talking. Gaudi and others pray. "We are stronger together because we have different gifts," says Vilma.
That kind of practical ministry is exactly what the sisters learned through ILA. In Nicaragua, the first school opened 5 years ago. Since then, the concept has spread to almost every major city, including the capital city of Managua. Currently there are 29 academies in Nicaragua, with more in the works.
The new academies are hybrids, offering part-time instruction -- a condensed version of the normal training, with an emphasis on ministry skills. Jimmy Hassan, who directs Cru in Nicaragua, developed the hybrid academies and envisions them as the key to helping reach his country for Christ.
But it's all going to happen through leaders like the Pallaviccini sisters. They are enrolled at a local university now: Gaudi is on track to be a computer engineer, Darling a marketer and Vilma a lawyer. First and foremost, they are trained missionaries, equipped to reach their peers in their new careers