Jessie grew up in Mexico until his family relocated to California when he was nine years old.
Araceli was also born in Mexico, but she was brought to the United States when she was very young. She was raised Catholic in a large family of eight. One day she saw Jesse walking with her cousin and thought he was a good looking boy. She thought, “I wonder who that is.”
They were soon boyfriend and girlfriend, and cared very much for each other. When Araceli learned she was pregnant, she was scared and confused. She wanted to tell her parents, but she was not ready to tell them at that time.
In the 1990s, there was there was a push by many toward abortions, and Araceli was afraid her family would want her to have one. Then the couple had an argument, and Jesse went away.
Today she says, “I felt relief. And when he came back to see me, I was thinking he came to tell my parents. In my mind I had to figure out a way to make him go away.”
So, Araceli told Jesse she didn’t want to be with him anymore. He answered, “But why? Why would you do that? What about the baby? She said, “This is not your baby. This is my baby.”
After the breakup, Jesse was devastated. “I was truly in love with her and it really hurt,” he shares. Trying to drown his pain, he started using drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. His mother sent him back to live with his uncle and grandfather in Mexico. It was there he realized he wanted more from life.
Araceli’s parents found out she was pregnant and asked her to leave home. So Araceli did her best to go to school and support her son while trying to be a good mother.
For 10 years, Jesse didn’t know he had a son. Then one day his brother called and told him. He immediately called Araceli. By that time his son was almost 11 years old.
“I don’t know why,” says Araceli. “I totally assumed that he had known all these years about my son and he didn’t reach out.”
When she asked Jesse to forgive her for the choices she had made, he showed no resentment. “He said he loved me. He always did. And I just felt like, wow, what kind of love is that?”
Eleven more years passed from that first contact, and their son was ready to graduate from college. The couple still hadn’t seen each other since their breakup. They made plans to meet before the graduation ceremony.
“I remember when I first saw him, I realized that we always loved each other. We just were really young when we first met,” says Araceli. “And I do remember seeing pictures of him and just feeling these butterflies in my heart.”
They began to see more and more of each other and decided at this very early stage of their new relationship that they wanted to have God in the middle.
The plan was for Jesse to sell everything and move to California, but for some reason they started talking and praying about it and the Lord said, “You guys need to go to Carolina.” Araceli wasn’t sure about leaving the comfort of familiar surroundings, friends and family, but she wanted to follow God’s will.
She began to learn more about Jesse’s religion and found it different and more in-depth than what she had experienced in the Catholic faith.
“I think that the Lord need to bring me here and take me away from my comfort zone so I can be open to see what I don’t have,” shares Araceli. “My family is not my security blanket. The Lord is.”
Araceli and Jesse started going to The Vine church in Apex, N.C. “Every time they walked in, we would do what we always do,” said Pastor Cris Dutra. “You know, very quickly we all became very acquainted and became friends.”
The couple started Bible studies with the pastor. Everything was new for Araceli, and Jesse enjoyed reviewing what he had learned when he was younger. They began walking together with Christ and made the decision to be baptized.
Jesse and Araceli took a long road to rediscovering each other, but this time, they did it with the Lord at their side. With Him, they truly have reunited their family forever.
—Rebecca Carpenter. Photos by Henrique Gomes.