Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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GETTING TO KNOW YOU: Pastor Emilce Erato

October 13, 2012 09:00 AM

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I’m from Costa Rica. I came here 17 years ago with a visa, not to stay. It was my chance to learn English and go back. My children went to school and learned English, and I met the Lutheran church. My life changed completely after that. In Costa Rica, I never knew anything about the Lutheran church—I grew up Catholic. I went through the diakonia program; I learned a lot of new things. Little by little, after I graduated and became a rostered deacon, I felt like I need to do some more. My pastor suggested that if I feel the call, I should go to seminary. I went to seminary and my life has been changed. I feel like I’m in the right place and also, I discovered a lot of gifts that I didn’t know I had.


How did you find the Lutheran church?

I used to say, "By accident!"  Resurrection Lutheran Church in Hempstead was close to where I lived, and it was the only church I knew that had a Spanish service. At the time, I didn’t speak any English. I didn’t even have a car, so I had to walk. I looked for a Catholic church, but everything was the same to me. The only difference was that everybody was talking about the pastor’s wife and children. I said to myself, "Pastor’s wife?!" I was new there, but I thought maybe it was different in America.


What are the challenges of working in the church?

One of the challenges for me is working with different cultures, even if we speak the same language. Many times I find out that a word we use in Costa Rica does not have the same meaning for somebody from El Salvador. We have people from Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, many other countries and words mean many different things. I really have to think about that and be careful.


Also, my English is not perfect; I had to work a lot. I will be working on it my whole life. When Pastor Koran called and asked if I would accept [the role of interim pastor], I thought, if I say no, I would feel like I am putting up walls to God’s will. Preaching in English is a challenge for me. I want to make sure that everybody understands the message, even if I don’t pronounce words the right way. The first time, it was days and days to prepare the sermon. I asked the secretary, Lynn, to send the gospel every Monday so that I had the whole week to prepare! She is still doing that.


What about the joys?

There are so many things. One of the joys for me: it doesn’t matter what happened to you before, or what your history is. I don’t want to speak badly about the Catholic Church because I have a very strong faith from there. I’m grateful for my faith, but I feel so bad when they said, "You can’t get communion because you are divorced. You can’t baptize your child because you are not married." These things really bother me. What I find in the Lutheran church—it doesn’t matter who you are or who you were, we’re all the same. I feel like I am in the right place. I can let the Holy Spirit work in me to let God guide me.


Tell us about your path to citizenship.

My visa expired and I had no immigration status. I got the opportunity to apply for a green card; it was a very difficult process. It helped me a lot that I came with a visa, I didn’t come illegally. I realized how differently it would be to come undocumented and how blessed I was to apply for a green card. After I got my green card, you have to wait three to five years to apply for citizenship and it costs $800. I had to learn the history of this country and take a test. My husband is American and he says that I know more about the history of the United States than him now!


What do you like to do for fun?

I love to sew. I have a degree in fashion design; that was my job in Costa Rica. I can see a dress in a magazine and play around and make the same dress. When I came to America, the first thing I did was buy a sewing machine. I make my clerical shirts myself. Every Wednesday, we have clergy Bible study and the women pastors ask me, "Where did you get those clerical shirts with the beautiful colors?"


Also, I love running outside. I like to live healthy—when I exercise, it makes me feel alive and gives me energy to do everything.




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