After sitting mostly unused for some 60 years, the one-room school house in Emma, Colo., has recently come back to life. Not with the chanting of ranchers' children reciting their times tables, but with the resonant sound of hymns sung in Spanish.
Twelve miles west of Aspen, down the
Roaring Fork Valley, the historic building is enlivened each
Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday by the prayers and "musica
romantica" of Hispanics throughout the valley. The congregation of
La Iglesia Cristiana "Betel" (the Christian Church of Bethlehem) is
made up of immigrants from Mexico and Central America who work in
Aspen as housekeepers and carpenters. Five years ago they
rehabilitated the schoolhouse and now rent it from the community of
Emma for about $5 a service.
Daniel Olave is a
native of Chihuahua and the new church's pastor. He says, "Ni
importa el tipo de religion o cultura, ayudamos todos y
especialmente los drogas adictos y las personas que tienen
problemas matrimonias." (-It doesn't matter what type of religion
and culture you are from, we help everybody, especially drug
addicts and those having marital problems." ) Olave says the
support is offered by the congregation in lively, emotional
services. Olave often lays his hands upon the foreheads of the
people, letting the force of God come through his palms, he
Although the influx of Hispanics has
brought diverse music and food to the area, the rapid growth also
has a downside. Stories of knife fights between Mexicans and El
Salvadorans are not uncommon in the local
Says Pastor Olave, "Aqui en la iglesia,
trabajamos juntos and no tenemos problemas con las diferencias
entre nuestras culturas Latinas. Me gusta este valle porque es
tranquilo con Hispanicos, pero is muy importante que mantenemos
nuestras papeles y aprendemos Ingles." (-Here in the church we work
together and have no problems because we accept all Latin cultures.
I like this valley because it is receptive to Hispanics, but it is
very important we work to maintain our papers and learn English."
Olave reports that over the last four years,
more than 80 percent of the congregation has become legal, the
majority are enrolled in English classes and the renovation of the
Emma school is almost complete.