Roberto Chaple is not your typical pastor. His road to United Methodist Church of Sun City Center and ministries along the way were filled with challenges that might have made others question their faith and make a u-turn.
Chaple, 41, grew up in the small town of Yaguaramas, Cuba. Born into a tight-knit family, he learned the importance of prayer and faith early on.
From the start he was challenged with a a stomach disorder the doctors couldn't resolve. So the pastor at the local Methodist church faithfully prayed for him until, at age 4, he was healed. Chaple attributes the healing to his family's faith.
As a teenager, Chaple began working with church leadership, conducting worship and assisting the League of National Teenagers. The training and examples set for him by the pastors fueled a desire within him to pursue the Christian faith through ministry.
At that time the influence of Christianity was strongly opposed by communist Cuba. It was risky to go to church, let alone be involved in ministry. But Chaple knew it was the direction in which God was calling him.
In 1992 he made the decision to attend the University of Cienfuegos in Cienfuegos, Cuba, where in his second year he met his wife, Yamiley Martinez, who was studying to be a nurse at a nearby college. By his fourth year in college he was the father of twin boys and had obtained a bachelor's degree in education.
He taught for three years at Captain San Luis Junior High School in Aguada before answering his call to ministry. From there he went on to Matanzas Theological Seminary in northern Cuba, where he earned his degree in 2005.
In 2006 he was appointed vice principal of New Methodist Seminary in Havana. This was during the time Fidel Castro was transferring power to his brother Raul, and the government tried to do everything in its power to sabotage the program, Chaple said.
As Havana became a more dangerous place to live, and with Chaple concerned for the safety of his now school-aged children, he began to think of ways to flee the country.
In November 2010, he received an offer for temporary contract work in Chihuahua City, Mexico. After the Cuban government granted his permit, he moved his family out of Cuba.
But things were not much better in Mexico. Although they were free of the political suppression in Cuba, they now lived in an area filled with violence and drugs. The family's immigration status was also an issue.
In August 2011 Chaple headed to Miami to accept a position as a professor at La Progressiba, Miami. Three months later he attended a United Methodist Conference and was transferred from his part-time pastoral position in West Palm to a full-time position as associate pastor at United Methodist Church of Sun City Center.
"This is the promised land. I am so thrilled to be here," he said. "It is like oxygen to us. My wife and I are in ministry together, and I have a full-time job that is my calling in life."
Chaple assists every Sunday with the church's two Hispanic services at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., as well as with the ESL, English as a second language, classes offered on Monday and Wednesday evenings from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Chaple can be reached at (813) 634-2539.