They had no intention of returning to Cuba, and a sense of panic began to set in. Their flight was boarding when they were held up by a government official. “You have the ticket to leave Cuba, but you must also have the ticket for the return trip!”
She called her mom in the United States, “Mom, you need to put money on Jonatan’s phone right now! Our plane is boarding, but now they are telling us Jonatan needs a return flight before he can leave the country! We only have a couple minutes!” While this might be a premise for a political thriller, it actually happened to Hillside’s newest family.
Alissa Gonzalez is the daughter of Hillside members Jeff and Kristin VanDeVusse, and Jonatan Gonzalez is the son of a CRC pastor in Calimete, Cuba. Their story is a beautiful story of God’s grace and faithfulness. It is a shining example of how an unconditional faith in God brings blessing to your life and honor to God.
In our last series “God’s Blessed-up, Messed-up People,” pastors Ron and Daniel showed us how, despite deceit and deception, God can still use a family story to teach us about God’s goodness. But Alissa and Jonatan is a family story of how a lifetime of faithfulness to God shows us God’s goodness. He will bless you as you bring honor to His name. Their story needs to be told as a contrast to the intrigue and drama of Jacob and his mother.
Alissa and Jonathan first met in 2015 when Alissa went to Cuba with our Hillside team. But it wasn’t until 2017 that their relationship began to grow. After the Hillside team left, Alissa stayed behind one more week to use her fluency in Spanish to teach seminarian students, and Jonatan was a seminarian student.
Little did the other know, they both felt a connection, and after Alissa returned home, they started their long-distance relationship via email and Facebook and to plan a way to see each other in the future.
Alissa found a cultural immersion group that brought Americans to live in Havana to experience Cuban culture. So, Alissa returned to Cuba in December 2017 to work in a women’s outreach and evangelism program. A few days after arriving, surrounded by his family and some women of the outreach program Jonatan proposed. During the next 2 months Alissa, she taught handcrafts and other skills to the women of the church and outreach program.
At the time, Jonatan was working as a local missionary in Havana, so after her classes, they spent all their time together. They traveled around Havana going where he was needed. But with a coy smile, as she wrapped her arm around Jonatan’s arm, she admitted, “I didn’t care where we went or what we did as long as we were together!
In February 2018, Alissa and Jonatan were at the airport again saying goodbye; this time was harder than they imagined. But as I found during our interview, when Alissa is on a mission, she is focused and tireless. So, after she returned home, she went to work on getting a fiancé visa (aka K-1 visa) for
Jonatan. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service required proof that Alissa and Jonatan were in fact engaged. And in maybe a bit of bureaucratic overkill, she compiled and submitted over 500 pages of documentation that their relationship was genuine.
After 8 months of waiting, in December 2018 Alissa received notification she could return to Cuba to pick up Jonatan. They spent a week with Jonatan’s family before leaving on January 5, 2019. They had to travel to a US Embassy to complete the process, but it had to be in Guyana, South America, where the government was processing all Cuban visa petitions.
Cubans aren’t supposed to leave the country unless they intend to return and as they were boarding their plane, a Cuban official noticed Jonatan didn’t have a return ticket. This is where the panic set in. “We needed a plan, and we needed it now!” said Jonatan. Alissa called her mom, Kristin, to ask she deposit money on Jonatan’s phone to show they had money to buy the return ticket. The money transfer failed due to lack of internet in Cuba, so Kristin went online and immediately purchased a ticket and then texted the proof of purchase to Jonatan’s phone! That was enough to get them on the plane!
After 3 weeks in Guyana, they were finally able to enter the U.S. and were married March 2, 2019. Jonatan’s and Alissa’s story is too amazing to be an event of happenstance; instead, it is an example of God’s faithfulness to two of His people who have committed their life journey to God’s path.
Currently, their future is uncertain, but they ask that you keep them in your prayers. There is a lot of paperwork facing them, and more months of waiting for answers. They look forward to the day when Jonatan will get his Green Card, and they can return to see his family and continue to help the Cuban church.
“In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” Prov 3:6