Imagine visiting a place thinking you would be there for a day or two of vacation and then waking up one day having lived there for a year and a half. That’s what happened to Claudia, Pablo, Sofia, Mateo, and Alejandro (names changed for security).
When Claudia and her family first came to Jacksonville from Venezuela in 2017, they had no intention of staying. They came to visit an Uncle who lived here and then were planning to settle somewhere in Orlando or Miami. But as Claudia said, “God had a different plan.”
God opened the door for them to get an apartment and Mateo and Sofia enrolled in school knowing no English. “Everything was done by God,” said Claudia.
Each day Claudia brought Mateo and Sofia to school and every day when she crossed the street the crossing guard was really nice. Claudia assumed she was from the U.S. but after hearing her speak Spanish, she found out she was also Venezuelan. They began talking and Maria (the crossing guard) invited Claudia to come to ESL class with her at Chets Creek Church on Monday nights. Claudia thought it would be helpful for her to practice pronunciation and would be good for her husband, Pablo, as well.
In late 2017, their family attended ESL. Claudia said they immediately felt really comfortable. After meeting their teachers, engaging with other classmates, listening to Abel’s devotion, and hearing how much fun the kids had in their group, Claudia knew they’d be back.
“My kids love to come,” said Claudia, “I cannot explain. It was something amazing, they kept asking, ‘please can we go again to church tonight?’” So they kept coming on Mondays and started coming on Wednesday nights too.
After being in the United States for just a short time, Claudia learned she was six months pregnant. “I had no idea that I was pregnant. I kept saying, ‘God what are we doing here?’ Everything felt out of control, but God told me to remain.” It was a high-risk pregnancy and because of that it was difficult to find a doctor to take care of her. But God opened the door for them again and they began receiving medical care for Claudia and baby Alejandro.
Claudia had Alejandro in March of 2018 and they participated in Family Dedication on Mother’s Day. From that point on they knew they wanted to be all in. They came on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Sundays. “For us it’s good because it’s about relationship. It’s an opportunity for us to make friends,” said Claudia.
Claudia grew up in a Christian home in Venezuela and their family was very active in their church in Venezuela, so they’d been searching for a church that felt like their community of faith back home. They found that at Chets.
“It seems so simple but there is coffee and bread and things to eat. It makes it feel like you’re open and welcoming. It’s something nice and special,” Claudia said. It reminded her of her home church in Venezuela. She talked about the thought and planning that went into Family Dedication weekend, VBS, and kindergartners receiving a Bible on Back to School Sunday. All of those things told Claudia that Chets cared about people. And with the difficulties her family was facing, being cared for mattered.
Staying in the United States has been challenging but Claudia said God has provided. “Sometimes you pray in faith not knowing but He [God] is like a really good father who knows what we need.” They have a place to stay, friends, and a church they can call home.
“There are times we ask ‘How are we going to do this tomorrow?’ But God has provided over and over,” said Claudia. “It’s not easy for us to be here but we’ve found a home here, we feel comfortable, and we’re living by faith.”
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:23