15 migrant couples to exchange wedding vows at Near North church – Chicago Sun-Times

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Back in Venezuela, Luis Rodriguez was the “popular boy” in high school: slim with an athletic build and a mischievous smile.

Crucelis Rodriguez, who is a couple of years older, was more reserved, studious and focused on graduating. It was those qualities that first caught Luis’ eye and captivated his heart.

“She was a hard worker, kind of serious,” said Luis, 28. “She was responsible and curious; I liked all that about her.” They started dating a few months after Crucelis, 30, graduated. “He was very handsome. He swept me off my feet,” she said.

In the 12 years since their first date, the two forged a bond that — along with the promise of a better life for their two children — kept them afloat during their arduous journey last year from Venezuela to Chicago. On Friday, the two will cement that bond at the altar, joining 14 other migrant couples who will be married at Park Community Church Near North.

The couples are all members of Iglesia Cristiana La Vid, 4750 N. Sheridan Road, in Uptown, which provides services for new arrivals and is part of Park Community’s network of churches.

Ed Kraal, who is the pastor at Iglesia Cristiana La Vid, will officiate the big ceremony. He said the migrants pooled their money together to help pay for the celebration and are cooking the food for the dinner. Even though the couples have civil marriage licenses, it was important for them to tie the knot with the blessing of God.

“We wanted to create that environment of unity. I think that’s also the big idea behind it,” Kraal said, adding that many of the couples live in a shelter above the church and have become like a big family. He said 200 family members and friends are expected to attend.

“We want to share that love with our people,” Kraal said.

Anyela Faneite and Yorfran Chirinos arrived in Chicago four months ago after a three-month trek from Venezuela. They left their home so their children can have the chance of a good education, they said.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Yorfran Chirinos and Anyela Faneite are also a part of the celebration on Friday. The couple, who have been together for 15 years and have a 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, said they decided to get married when they were in Venezuela, but didn’t have the money.

“Now that we have the opportunity here, we have to take it,” Faneite said. “It’s also to get right in the eyes of God. He permitted us to enter this country and to enter this great city.”

Chirinos, 32, and Faneite, 36, have also known each other since high school and grew up near San Felipe, Yaracuy, a roughly four-hour drive from Caracas.

“I approached her and started talking to her and she accepted me and talked with me, and that’s where everything started,” Chirinos said. “Now we’ve been talking for 15 years.”

They arrived in Chicago four months ago after a three-month trek from Venezuela. They sold lollipops and trinkets along the way to help feed their kids. They left their home so their children can have the chance of getting a good education, they said.

“It’s chaotic over there; a lot of people are in need. It’s very sad,” Chirinos said. “We couldn’t take it anymore, and we said let’s go.”

The toughest part of the journey was the day they were kidnapped in Mexico and held for 24 hours at a remote farm. They were released after handing over what little money they had, the couple said.

“It was terrible, but thank God we are here,” Chirinos said.

Luis Rodriguez said their four-month trip to the U.S. was arduous. They left in August and arrived in Chicago in December, also in search of a better future for their 9-year-old boy and 7-year-old girl, who has a medical condition and only one kidney.

Their young ones were their North Star, they said. “Our children motivated us to get up every morning. We slept on the street, on pieces of cardboard, but they were our motivation to get ahead and fight to get here.”

Both couples have struggled with finding independence while not being legally allowed to work without a permit. They said they were grateful that the church has helped them with food, lodging and other necessities.

Chirinos and Faneite said they hope one day to own a home where their children, who they say love school in Chicago, can have their own rooms. Chirinos and Faneite are learning English and also want to go back to school.

Luis Rodriguez said their family shared similar goals: a nice car and a home. But after their journey to America, the couple says they’ll follow whichever path is set before them by a higher power.

“I want to keep my family united,” Crucelis Rodriguez said, adding that the secret to a long-lasting relationship is communication and respect.

“And patience,” Luis said.

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