Claudia and I have been married 12 years. God has blessed us with three wonderful children. I am proud to say I am from Independence, Virginia, and she is proud to say she is from Orizaba, Veracruz. We were born a world apart, but we have no doubt that it was God’s perfect plan that brought us together. When Claudia finished two years of college, she moved from Mexico to the United States to be with her mom. She is her mother’s only child, and they are very close. Her mother was working in Independence, Virginia at the time Claudia moved to be with her. Because of work, I had moved to another city and put my house up for rent. Claudia and her mother rented my house. That is how I met Claudia.
We got married while I was living in Graham, North Carolina. Our marriage looked like most other American families. Yet, my wife was different, not really by appearance, because she doesn’t really “look” Hispanic. She was different because she was hiding a secret. And as her husband, I was hiding her secret too. This secret that could tear our family apart. You see, Claudia was one of those appalling “illegal Mexicans.” If anyone found out, it was possible that she could have been deported from the country.
The year of 2001 will be always an important year that marked the life of many people in United States and throughout the world. I (Claudia) am one of those people. For most Americans, they would say that 9/11 is what comes to their minds when they think of 2001. For me, 2001 marked the year that I came to the United States illegally. There are many reasons why people come into this country the way I did, but let me tell you my reasons. My parents didn’t have a godly marriage and due to many abusive situations that we faced, my mom was forced to start a new life for us for our safety. She was living the single-mom life even though she was married, and we moved in with my aunt before I finished high school. My mom later moved to the United States to get away from an abusive relationship. Then, I attended two years of college in Mexico from 1999-2001. In the beginning, everything seemed to be fine. But as the months passed by, I made several choices that affected my academic performance. I chose not to take the opportunity that God and my mom were giving me by attending a private university. My life was out of control, and I needed the support of my mom—support that was not possible because we were separated by thousands of miles.
Due to the situation with my dad and missing my mom, I decided to come to the United States and live with her. I tried to apply two times for a U.S. Visa while I was in Mexico, but both times I was denied. So I looked for another option: to hire someone to take me across the border—one of the hardest and most difficult decisions I have ever made. Not knowing anything about the person and how he or she was going to get me over the border and into this country was terrifying. Looking back on that year, I realize without a doubt that God was always with me. He kept His promise that He gives in Matthew 28:20b: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Even though I was living a life not worthy of His grace, He poured so many blessings upon me. He offered me comfort and safety, and He even handpicked the people whom I would interact with throughout my journey to this country.
Our Journey Together Continues
Two years into our marriage, Claudia and I began to seek legal advice on how we could “correct” the wrong that Claudia committed by coming to the United States illegally. We looked for the quickest, cheapest way to fix the mistake and make it right with the government. We sought advice from a person we were told could help and give us sound legal advice. After about a year, he advised us to go to Mexico and gave us direction on where to go and what to do. We got our passports in order and even had plane tickets. Thank God, who we were both far away from at the time, led us to seek advice from the local congressman. The congressman pleaded with me to not leave the country with Claudia under any circumstances. He said, “Yes, they will allow her to leave, but she will not be allowed to return. It is a trap; please do not go.” We were disheartened but took his advice and did not go. I asked him how I could make things right so that Claudia could be legal and not have to live in fear. He told us there was nothing we could do but that maybe new laws would be passed in the future that would make a way.
Through the years, we sought legal advice on many occasions. We paid different lawyers counseling fees and even paid to have them build cases. Again and again we were told we did not have a strong enough case to win to get Claudia legalized. I would plead our case by saying to them, “We realized it is wrong to enter the country illegally, and we are both very sorry it occurred. We are willing to do whatever and pay whatever to make it right. Just help us.” We were told to not worry; unless Claudia committed a serious crime she would not be deported. Yet, this was still something my wife and family had to live with, the uncertainty of what the future would hold.
We tried to live a “normal” life, but sometimes it was not easy. Claudia and the entire family had some hardships to face like after her driving license was expired, she couldn’t renew it anymore due to her legal situation in the country. She also couldn’t get a library card, which was devastating for our 5-year-old daughter who loves to read. She couldn’t get a job, she couldn’t go into a bank and cash a check, and she endured derogatory comments even from the ones who called themselves friends and Christians. But most of all, our entire family experienced fear, the fear of being separated from her if she was deported.
Claudia is one of the most loving, caring, and giving people I know. She has the gift of serving others. There are so many examples I could give, but one really stands out to me. One evening, our family went out to eat and a young girl was cleaning up tables. She had cleaned up a table and had everything from the table onto her tray. But somehow she dropped the tray, and the food and dishes went everywhere. The restaurant became silent, and everyone began to stare at the young girl like she had just ruined their night. Before I could even comprehend what had happened, Claudia was on her knees beside the girl helping her clean up the mess. I saw Claudia smile at the girl and say to her, “It’s okay; we will get it cleaned up.” I am so proud and blessed to have Claudia as my best friend, wife, and mother of my children.
Messed Up for Jesus
Four years ago, we made Jesus the Lord of our lives. Our lives were completely turned upside down. The way we viewed the world and everything in it began to look completely different. We put our “yes” on the table for Jesus and began to seek his advice in every part of our lives, including Claudia’s legalization. We were called into the ministry, and I enrolled at Liberty University Online because we wanted to serve as missionaries anywhere in the world God called us. We continued to seek advice about Claudia’s legal matter and understood our missionary field would be in the United States until God arranged differently. We are missionaries in Wilson, North Carolina right now and happy to serve Him in this wonderful city.
Then a change in the Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver process helped our case, and we sought legal advice once again. We were told that if we could establish that it would cause an extreme hardship on our family for Claudia to have to move back to Mexico, we could get a pardon for her coming illegally. We were hopeful we could establish this extreme hardship. It seemed like it would be easy, yet it could not be based on my having to work and not having anyone to watch and care for our kids. I had to have a serious medical condition or one of the kids. This was very disappointing. Since everyone in the family was healthy, we were once again told we did not have a strong enough case. We told the lawyer that if anything changed to let us know. On August 29, 2016, the Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver process was revised, and the lawyer finally thought we had a strong enough case. It seemed like having three children, Claudia not even having as much as a parking ticket, and being married for 10 years to a U.S. citizen would be enough.
We began once again to build our case under the revised law and got the paralegal every document, picture, and sanity test that she ask for. We were once again very hopeful that this time would be our time. After about three months had passed and thousands of dollars spent on fees and counseling, we still had not heard from the lawyer. I finally called and requested the lawyer to give me a call. The lawyer called me and apologized; it seemed that our case had somehow gotten lost in the pile. She assured me that she would make Claudia’s case a priority and would review that case and personally call me within the next few months.
She later called me with an excited tone and informed me that she thought our case was strong enough. If I had the money needed, she would like to send my appeal for a pardon to the consulate. She stated, “I will send you your appeal to read; it will not sound like you. You will even think this is not me, but that is what we have for you to win.” I said okay, and our call ended. The next few days I could just not get her words out of my head. Claudia and I discussed what she had said and fervently prayed about it. We knew that we could not honor God if we were not honest. We were doing it so we could serve Him and it could not be based on a lie. I called and requested to speak to the lawyer once again. I told the lawyer that our case could not be based on anything but the truth. I told her that before the appeal was sent to me, she needed to review the facts. I also told her that if I read it and found any parts that were not truthful, we would not accept it or move forward.
One month or so later, we received the final draft of my appeal and we were satisfied that it was truthful. We once again paid a fee and got the appeal sent to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services in Chicago. A few months later, the waiver was approved. This was a day of great celebration! Once we got the waiver, we requested an appointment date at the U.S. Consulate in Mexico for Claudia to return to Mexico for a Visa interview so she could enter the U.S. legally. We finally got her appointment date for August 22, 2017. There were so many weeks of spiritual, mental, and physical preparation for this appointment. We had so many friends and family praying for us. Many people asked us, “Are you sure you want to go to Mexico? Are you sure Claudia is going to be able to come back to the United States? Haven’t you heard all the bad things happening in Mexico? Is it safe?” Most of the answers for these questions were “No” or “I don’t know,” but the only thing we knew without a doubt is that this was God’s plan and that He was in control of everything. He was going to be with Claudia, right by her side. People couldn’t comprehend the reason for our Hope. God gave us the opportunity to share with people the true Hope which can only be found in Jesus.
Claudia’s Visa was approved, and she was able to return to the United States in under two weeks as a legal resident. We are so thankful to God for His faithfulness. During the time Claudia was in Mexico, she was reunited with her family, which she hadn’t seen in 16 years. Relationships among them were restored once again through the love and grace of Christ. She was able to see her dad and spend time talking to him about her new life in Christ. Her entire family seemed very interested in knowing more about the new relationship she has now with Christ. God gave Claudia the opportunity to plant a seed in their hearts. From now on, our prayer is they may come to know Jesus and surrender their lives to him. God also has shown Claudia the need to use the gifts He has given her. Claudia’s first language is Spanish, and God used her journey back to Mexico to convict her to share her love for Jesus with Hispanic people in our community.
We are grateful for our story, and we want to share it with the world. This story would not be complete if we did not give God all the glory for it. We are thankful for every painful minute of the process. We believe that this process gives us more grace for everyone around us who is different and most of all gives us even more hope in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are grateful for the relationship we have with this man named Jesus. He gave us life by His death on the cross and if He did not give us anything else, we still would have more than we deserve. Hope in Christ “is a confident expectation of a guaranteed result that changed the way you live” (Paul David Tripp). Our hope in Jesus has given us a desire to go tell others of the true hope that can only be found in Him. It is amazing to see God’s plan and perfect timing come together. Currently, I am taking my last two classes to complete my bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministries and will begin my pursuit of a Masters of Divinity. Claudia will be able to seek employment as I focus more time on my schooling and toward our call to ministry.
Our pastor, Gary Combs, preached a sermon on exiles last November that speaks of what we become when we have a relationship with Jesus. Jesus explains that His followers are not from this world (John 17:14). Once we are saved, we become children of God and no longer belong to this world. We become a sojourner, which is someone just passing through. This world is not our home. We place our hope in Christ and not in a politician or political system. We do not place our hope in being an American, a Democrat, or a Republican but in being Christ followers. We are thankful to live in America and for all who have fought and served so we can live in a free country. Yet, we do not find our identity in being Americans, we find it in Jesus. We are “Christians that just happen to live in America” (Gary Combs).
We pray that each day of our lives we are able to come to the realization of this truth: “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:30). We pray that as we go to places, such as Wal-Mart on the weekend, we begin to have a different view of people who are different from us. Everyone is looking for hope; they may just not know where to find it. As C.S. Lewis explained, “We are the dot; God is the paper.” God has put everyone on that paper and has put them where He wants them. As Christ followers, we are commanded not to judge anyone but to tell them that they can find hope and rest in a relationship with Jesus Christ. We give God all the glory for giving us our amazing story to share. We would like to thank our friends and family for their love and prayers throughout this journey.