As the New Year approached, the bad feeling in Pedro Acosta's stomach grew and grew.
Hard enough to anticipate another Christmas without his wife. But this time, she was seven months pregnant and stranded in Venezuela, where she'd gone to visit her parents.
As he went to work in the kitchen of the Loews Annapolis Hotel every day, the 32-year-old Pedro worried. He had neither the money nor the resources to bring her to the United States.
Then one night inearly December, Acosta mentioned his plight to a volunteer at an Annapolis shelter where he was staying.
Two weeks later, his 22-year-old wife arrived in Annapolis.
To Pedro, the generosity of severalAnnapolis churches -- and pastors who gave from their own pockets --was without doubt a miracle. Seeing his wife enter the country was even more amazing.
He tells the story with awe, enthusiasm exploding through his broken English.
"I'm so glad with these people," he says. "I'm from Dominican Republic. You know, I don't have money. I don't have anything. I don't have money to bring my wife over. We wantthe baby born over here in America. Oh my God, (to have) my baby born here!"
Acosta almost didn't get his miracle. At one moment at the Mexican border, the guards refused to allow his wife, Geraldine, tocross to the United States.
The anxious husband didn't wait; he waded into the Rio Grande and carried her over on his back.
Says Trudi McGowan, an Annapolis resident who helped arrange the trip: "He waded in the water and crossed the stream. When they saw she was with child, they let them go."
But even when they reached a halfway house at the Texas border, the coupleweren't home free. A processing agent declined to allow the young woman, who was trying to enter the country illegally, to proceed.
Then she noticed the small angels, pinned to the couple's lapels. The Rev. Robert Powell of St. Philip's Episcopal Church had given them to Acosta before he boarded the bus to Mexico, "for safety, you know," Acosta explains.
"Are you Christians?" the woman inquired. "Yes," Pedro said proudly. "We belong to St.Philip's Church in Maryland." And the women let them through.
Says Powell: "It was like, no room in the inn. And suddenly the woman signed the papers, and Pedro's wife found a place."
Settled at the Helping Hand Shelter with his wife, Acosta rejoices: "We so happy here. I do carpentry, start this week. I do siding, roofing."
Acosta'swife now must wait about a year for a hearing, Pedro says.
Until then, she has a temporary permit to stay in the United States. At thehearing, her husband will petition for her to receive her green card.
Even as the Acostas look forward to their new life, they remember the events of the last month. Their Christmas miracle started at the shelter, where Acosta met McGowan, who was working as a night supervisor. It was her first evening on the job.
"I saw the hurt. I looked at him, and he told me about his wife and how he wanted her here desperately," says McGowan, 66. She made some calls, but several sources declined to help the young man, fearing he would take the money and never return.
McGowan and Powell felt differently. Says Powell,who gave money along with his congregation of 300: "No one else would work with him. They said, 'If you assist him, you will lose.' But he was just so sincere. He's been a U.S. citizen for 12 years, a very conscientious young man, very dedicated to his family."
Several other Annapolis churches, including First Presbyterian, Holy Temple Church and St. Mary's Catholic Church, also donated money to help raise the $1,200 necessary for Geraldine's flight from Venezuela and Pedro's trip to Mexico. Priests at St. Mary's made the arrangements with the Spanish government.
"There's nothing as gratifying as calling together resources like these gentlemen," McGowan says. "They're Christians, and they're living what they preach. We wanted to do this; we knew this young man was going to come back. We wanted to unite this family."
All the money was donated within 1 1/2 weeks. Others cooperated, too. When McGowan, who works as a private health assistant on weekends, called the health department to inquire about pre-natal medical care for Acosta's wife, employees "graciously said they could take her as soon as she arrived. Often there's a waiting list, but everyone has been so kind."
Henry Jones, manager of the Helping Hand shelter, arranged for the Acostas to remain at the shelter for up to six months.
After that, members of St. Philip's parish likely will donate the use of their home, says Powell.
The women of St. Philip's are also planning a baby shower for Geraldine Acosta and have supplied her with necessary winter clothing and food.
"People donated two coats --she came with no coat -- and sweaters and the nicest clothes," says McGowan.
The new Annapolis resident doesn't speak any English, but her husband says she is feeling fine.
"It was scary, yeah," he says. "But the most difficult part was, you know, to get help. Father Powell help a lot."
Then the father-to-be smiles, a wide,exultant smile.
"I think it's a boy," he says.