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Being something

Racial ethnic seminarians conference helps Costa Rican pastor persevere

January 10, 2011

Eliecer Barrantes

Eliecer Barrantes

ST. JOHN’S, Fla.

From an early age, Eliecer Barrantes decided that he would “be something.”

Because Barrantes knew the healing power of prayer as a child who had suffered from breathing problems, he answered God’s call at the age of 16 to become an evangelist. And not just any kind of evangelist, but a mime.

“So I’m a clown,” Barrantes told some 20 racial ethnic seminary students who were gathered here Nov. 4-7 for the 33rd Annual Racial Ethnic Seminarians Conference.  “Sometimes talk is so serious.”

The annual conference — which has been sponsored continuously by the General Assembly Mission Council and in the past three years jointly with the Office of the General Assembly — offers up to two students annually from each of 10 Presbyterian theological institutions and two Presbyterian-related seminaries an opportunity to build a support base, to learn how to meet the national and regional requirements of the preparation for ministry process, to share learnings and experiences about seminary life and to maintain an informed sensitivity to racial ethnic issues and concerns in the church.

A series of ministry opportunities in his native Costa Rica revealed to Barrantes that his gifts were not solely as a mime, but also as a pastor with a voice for preaching, a calling he pursued with an independent evangelical church there.

Barrantes matured as a leader while serving as youth pastor at the Lluvia de Bendiciones Church in Tres Rios, Costa Rica.  It was there that God also confirmed for him that Abby Hyder — whom Barrantes had first met in 1996 during her youth group’s mission trip to Costa Rica from Westminster Presbyterian Church, Fresno, Calif. — was “the one.”

As Barrantes began to see “a whole picture of his family working for God,” he knew that God would be taking him in a completely new direction.

“God decided to move me to the United States,” Barrantes recalled. “When I told my family, they started to cry, but I told them I will be wherever God wants me.”

Although the church in Calle Blancos, Costa Rica, in which Barrantes was raised was also independent and evangelical, Barrantes was always drawn to Presbyterian theology and worship.  His home church, in fact, eventually joined the Fraternity of Costa Rican Evangelical Churches, a member of the Association of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in Latin America.

“When I moved here to the United States, God called me to work with the Presbyterian people,” he said. “So now I’m a Presbyterian.”

Soon after his arrival in Fresno in December 2004, Barrantes and Hyder were married. He was then called and commissioned by the Presbytery of San Joaquin to serve Easton (Calif.)  Presbyterian Church as a lay pastor.

As the first member of his family to earn a college degree, Barrantes understood the value of his education and hungered for more. “When God opened the opportunity to prepare me more in seminary, I just said yes,” Barrantes said of his leap of faith to become a full time student at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., where he is in his first year. 

His decision required that the whole Barrantes family — including their two children, 4-year old Isaiah and 2-year old Mariana — relocate there earlier this year.

“I didn’t think about the whole responsibility or the financial thing until we moved to Pasadena,” Barrantes recalled. “In Fresno I had my job and also a little bit more, and Abby was working as a teacher. To start this new step as a full time student meant that my wife would have to carry the entire financial burden for the family. That was really hard.”

After just a month in Pasadena, Abby Barrantes was hired by the Los Angeles Unified School District. “God in his mercy all the time gave us the opportunity,” Barrantes said.

Still concerned about his family’s financial situation, Barrantes took as many classes and acquired as much practical information as he could.  When he was offered the opportunity to attend the Racial Ethnic Seminarians Conference with other students facing similar challenges, he jumped at the chance.

Because all conference expenses, including transportation, room and board, are covered in full for each seminarian through the Sidney and Lillian Harris Fund — and an Extra Commitment Opportunity fund, which is open to ongoing gifts — Barrantes found himself able to attend.

He praised the conference for the unique access that it gave him to people with years of experience in the PC(USA) who know how the system works. “The people with the spirit of God can help you to do new things,” he said. “I’m so happy with that.”

Barrantes also experienced the community as transformational, taking the opportunity to share his gifts of mime with the conference during a service planned and led by the Hispanic/Latino-a seminarians.

“The worship time, the fellowship, and to see other students in the same situation gave me hope to keep going,” he said, “and to go back to my home and tell my wife that it will be slow but we need to take our time and God will be there all the time for us.”

“One in the Spirit” is a monthly e-newsletter from GAMC Executive Director Linda Valentine to PC(USA) middle governing body staff and other church leaders.

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