SPRING HILL — Missionaries Javen and Caitlin Mirabella share an unusual love story. It was just before Valentine's Day four years ago that Javen asked Caitlin to be his wife.
Long before that, Javen, who was reared by missionary parents, had begun praying for a woman who not only would share his heart in love, but also shared his passion for missionary work.
Since Caitlin's desire had been identical from an early age, it was a match made in heaven when the two met as teenagers at Grace World Outreach Church in Brooksville.
How Caitlin was persuaded to accept Javen's request for her hand in marriage is a story that began in 2008, when Caitlin was touring the country with a Christian dance company.
"Our final stop was in Indianapolis," Caitlin said.
Javen decided to show up to surprise Caitlin.
"But I didn't just show up," he said. "What I did was dress up so that Caitlin wouldn't recognize me."
Javen put on a long, dark, greasy-looking wig and a big jacket. He added a fake lip ring.
"I made myself look like the kind of guy you would find in an alleyway," he said.
Javen, who had revealed his plans to Caitlin's parents, arrived at the hotel where the troupe was staying on the morning of Feb. 8. He also let the hotel manager know what he was up to.
"I pulled out my wallet and showed her a picture of Caitlin and me," Javen said. "I told her I was actually there to propose and that I don't normally look like this. She welcomed the idea and told me a good place to propose, in a beautiful library area where it was nice and quiet."
Upstairs, where the dance ministry was having its event, there was a table set up for merchandise sales.
"I would go and just hang around there," Javen said. "I wanted Caitlin to hear about this guy that was kind of walking around the area looking like a creepy guy."
In fact, Javen became known as "the creepy guy" to people at the convention.
"The more I made my presence known, rumors got out about me that I was smelling bad and that I had ripped clothes," he said.
Caitlin had begun hearing the rumors.
"I heard that he stole merchandise and that he was following people around," she said.
At one point she bumped shoulders with him as she and her mother, who worried that Caitlin would recognize Javen, were coming out of an elevator.
"Oh, my gosh, that must be the creepy man," Caitlin told her mother.
It was better than Javen had hoped. He went about preparing the scene for the proposal in the library.
That evening, videos were being shown of the day's events. Javen had let Caitlin's teacher in on the plan, and with her help he managed to be in the background of several videos. In the last video, as Caitlin and the others watched, Javen called out, "Hey you."
"That's when I jumped out of my chair, because I recognized his voice," Caitlin said.
Then, in the video, Javen walked toward the camera, pulled off the wig and lip ring, stepped into the light and said, "I've come all this way to tell you that I love you and that I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
With the 70 girls in the room screaming with glee, Caitlin barely heard the instructions Javen gave, telling her where to meet him.
She ran downstairs and, after searching a bit, she found a long hallway with Javen waiting at the end of it.
Inside the room, Javen had set up three tables, each with a rose on it. On the first table he'd placed items reflecting their past memories together, like the ticket stub from the first movie they had seen.
"He told me this was the rose of the past and that we have wonderful past memories that we'll always cherish, but while they, like the rose, will eventually fade away, our love is what will remain," Caitlin recalled.
On the second table, the rose was preserved in full blossom, coated with 24-karat gold. He told her that was the rose of the future, preserved just as God preserved their love.
The last table had rose petals all over it and a single rose.
"He said, 'This is the rose of the present.' And he plucked off each petal, giving a reason with each one why he loves me, and he got down on one knee," Caitlin said. "When he pulled back the last petal, a ring was sitting in the middle of the rose."
Caitlin said yes.
The couple, both 23, will begin serving a five-year commitment in Tanzania, Africa, with Touching Nations Today the first week of April.
Just returned from three months of advanced missionary training with Overland Missions in Zambia, they not only learned things like mechanics, survival cooking, welding and medical training; they learned more about each other.
"It was different with a wife," said Javen, who lived in Tanzania as a boy. "You have not only yourself to care for, but your helpmate. But I 100 percent found someone who shares my vision. God knows how to choose them."
After enduring temperatures that got up to 130 degrees, avoiding scorpions and spiders as large their hands, having 40 50 baboons pass through the camp on a regular basis and having to repeatedly dig themselves out of the mud on their four-day drive back to Tanzania during the rainy season, Caitlin learned some things as well.
"What was wonderful about doing all these things together was that you saw a different strength in each other that you would never know was there unless they were brought out by extreme circumstances," she said. "I think that was what I've come to love and appreciate even more than I thought I already did about him. We cannot only rely on God in the circumstances, but also on each other."
The couple say they loved every minute of their trip and eagerly look forward to returning. Meanwhile, they are visiting area churches to garner support for their mission.
"We are happy to share the vision God has given to us," Javen said.