We walked through the gate and into Claudia’s two-room home to listen to her testimony. We sat on the beds in the bedroom she shares with five of her children and listened as she began to tell us about her life.
She was raised by her mother and step-father. When Claudia was young — 11, I think — her mother died. Her stepfather did not love and care for her like a father should. By the time she was 14, she was living with a 21 year old man. When she was 15, her first son was born. The relationship with that man did not work out, and Claudia was soon involved in alcohol and drugs and promiscuity. Within three years, her second child was born.
Because she used drugs and alcohol during that pregnancy, this baby was born with mental and physical disabilities. Claudia’s stepfather said he could not help care for a disabled child, and Claudia felt she had no choice except to admit the child to a long-term hospital.
Within three years, Claudia gave birth to two more daughters. The father of these daughters was also involved in drugs. When they were little, he was killed. One weekend, the grandmother of these two little girls took them to her home for a visit. They did not return on Sunday afternoon. Claudia called to ask about them, and the grandmother said she was not bringing them back. She was keeping the girls to live with her; and if Claudia tried to come after them, they would kill her.
Though devastated at the loss of two more children, Claudia continued with her destructive lifestyle. Soon, she gave birth to twin daughters — 12 year old Noemi and Rebecca. The relationship with their father did not last long, and Claudia met the man who would father 10 year old Elias. That relationship would also not work, and she met the man who fathered 7 or 8 year old Felipe. That relationship also did not work out. Later, she met the father of 4 year old Linda. That relationship also failed, and Claudia is now raising 5 children on her own.
Raphael, now 22 and the oldest of her children, is now a member of the Mormon church. He is married and recently they delivered Claudia’s first grandchild. She is 37.
A few years ago, this small church began with some Bible studies for children. As those children were changed, their parents were interested, so the missionaries invited the whole families to a Sunday School on Sunday morning. They found a garage they could rent and had Sunday School there. The garage is down the street and around the corner from Claudia’s home. At first, she was sending her children, but the missionaries told her she should come with them. So she went.
She told us through tears, “At first, I went out of obligation. Now I go because I love Jesus Christ.”
She has been changed. She prays. She reads the Bible. She has gone back to school and is finishing 7th and 8th grade. She works hard to support her family. She comes to church twice on Sundays and to the Prayer Meeting on Wednesday evenings. She is a young Christian, so she still has a lot of questions. While we were there, she was asking if Christians really are supposed to find joy in very difficult situations. She could understand how Jesus brings us joy, but she was struggling.
As she sat on her bed and told us of her life, she wept over the mistakes she has made. She told us that she has repented and she knows God has forgiven her, but there are still so many sad consequences she must live with. Her oldest son is tangled in a false religion. Her second child is forever marked physically and mentally because of her bad choices; and she has not been able to care for him. Her daughters are being raised by grandparents. She has seen people she cared about killed; she has spent years of her life looking for love in all the wrong places. While she works to support her family, she must leave her children to care for each other and pray that nothing happens to them while she is away. Her life is difficult, and much of the difficulty has been caused by her own bad decisions. She lives with that truth daily. And she weeps.
And I wept with her. I moved from my place and sat beside her, wrapped my arm around her, held her hand, and wept with her. The sad consequences of her life broke my heart.
Later, as I thought about that moment — the moment Claudia and I sat holding hands and sobbing, the moment our friendship grew tighter and deeper — I realized with overwhelming joy that Claudia and I are the same. We have grown up in different cultures and our pasts are vastly different; we speak different languages and our financial situations are not the same. But we are the same. Both of us are women who needed Jesus. Both of us did not deserve His grace and mercy, yet both of us had grace poured out on us. Both of us stand before God white as snow because of Christ.
I love Claudia, my sister — Te amo, meu irma.