La Iglesia in Emma offers Latinos a home in a foreign land

  • Looking inside the Christian Church of Bethlehem

    Peter McBride
  • The Christian Church of Bethlehem lit up at night

    Peter McBride
  • Praying inside the Christian Church of Bethlehem

    Peter McBride
  • Landscape of the Christian Church of Bethlehem in Emma, Colo.

    Peter McBride
  • Young female church member

    Peter McBride
  • Believers at the Christian Church of Bethlehem

    Peter McBride

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

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 says.

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 papers.

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.

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