By Sarah Slayman
In 2013, one of South America’s wealthiest nations collapsed economically and politically.
Venezuela unraveled into rampant crime and unaffordable living causing millions to flee.
For many, this left them with nowhere safe to retreat to and no one to help them rebuild.
Dennys Romero and Johana Garcia Aponte fled their home country of Venezuela in 2019 with their two small children to spare themselves from the recent economic and political collapse of the nation. They were escaping a dramatic increase in violent crime, a decline in basic living conditions, and shortages in medication, gasoline, and water. Doors were closed to many schools, hospitals, and grocery stores leaving them uncertain if their basic needs would be provided for. They lost resources and no longer felt safe, but Venezuela wasn’t always this way.
“We had no plans of ever leaving our home,” said Romero.
In an effort to protect their family, the Garcias fled to Ecuador with the help of a refugee crisis organization in May 2019. They attempted to work there for years, but Ecuador ended up being a similar and debatably worse experience than from where they had come.
“We could not secure employment.” Aponte said.
Job security as foreigners became nearly impossible and this resulted in them struggling to feed their children at times. After three years of attempting to rebuild in Ecuador, the family began seeking other options.
CRIS, Community Refugee and Immigration Services, was a resource that helped them apply to immigrate to the United States with the help of a sponsor family where stable employment was more likely. This began the Garcias process of finding a better future in the United States.
Around the same time, David’s United Church of Christ in Canal Winchester, was doing a series on refugees and Jesus’s teachings on welcoming the stranger with their congregation. The church developed a desire to sponsor a family, so staff member, Kathy Brownfield, contacted CRIS to learn more about what it took to become a sponsoring host.
In May 2022 training began and by August they welcomed the Garcias after their legal immigration. In later months, Johana’s brother, Alejandro, joined them.
The congregation has supplied the Garcia’s with a furnished apartment, babysitting needs, seasonal clothing, English lessons, and secured schooling for both children, as well as cultural context. The church provides transportation to work and a variety of appointments, and enjoy spending time with the family.
“Thank God we have had unconditional support from the church,” said Aponte. “They have helped us so much by having someone to trust like family. All resources have been provided in full. They’ve furnished our house, nursed our kids back to health, food, transportation, etc. They’ve become family.”
Both parents found it troubling to be ripped from another place they had made their home, in Ecuador, but ultimately knew that coming here would provide a safer and more economically stable living environment for them and their growing children.
“We have not come to take opportunities from anyone, but to work hard and find a better life for our family,” said Aponte. “It is not easy to immigrate from another country with a language barrier.”
The Garcias still have a lot of family in Venezuela and they do their best to support them with what income they have here. The church will continue to help the family establish their own life in the United States and potentially continue sponsoring other families.