Amanda Olson de Castillo carries ministry lessons from Guatemala to Minnesota.
When their new pastor kept stumbling through the words of institution, members of St. Luke Lutheran Church in Cottage Grove, Minn., had little choice but to forgive and forget. Pastor Amanda Olson de Castillo had a good excuse, after all: she had hardly ever recited the liturgy in English.
“My first few times at St. Luke, even with the words in front of me, I flipped into Spanish,” she says with a laugh. “They really had to put up with me in my sermons and everything.”
Today, Olson de Castillo, ’04, is well past the language adjustment as she digs in at Luther Memorial Church in South St. Paul, where she accepted a call as senior pastor in October. The return to her home state in 2013 followed a decade in Guatemala, which she began as a Luther Seminary Graduate Preaching Fellow before being commissioned as a missionary and ordained into the Augustinian Lutheran Church of Guatemala.
“We were called away so God could do something else there, and we came up here knowing he would provide.”
As chronicled in Story magazine in 2007, Olson de Castillo worked alongside her husband and father-in-law—a fellow minister and the church’s bishop, respectively—to mold the leadership and lay the structure for 17 congregations set anywhere from jungles to inner cities. The work was rewarding, as entire communities would join the church at once, but unrest and the need to let the local pastors “kick off the training wheels” set in motion a move to Minnesota.
“It was the right thing for the church and for us,” Olson de Castillo says. “We were called away so God could do something else there, and we came up here knowing he would provide.”
Still, the transition proved significant, especially with two children in tow.
“They left behind house and country and language and half their family,” Olson de Castillo says of her children, then ages 4 and 1. “There was a lot of culture shock for them, but we maintain. We speak Spanish at home and English everywhere else—the opposite of what we did in Guatemala.”
She went through candidacy with the ELCA for a second time, landing at St. Luke, while her husband, Horacio, enrolled at Luther Seminary. He was called to Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Oakdale last fall and will graduate in May. At Luther Seminary, he became involved with Agora, who has offices on the Luther campus and whose mission is to develop Christian leaders within ethnic communities.
Amanda also maintains ties to her former culture. She led bilingual vacation Bible school and plans to hold weekly Spanish activities in South St. Paul, where a quarter of the population is Latino.
Though physically far removed from their former life, Amanda and her family carry the perspective they gained from their experience.
“Here, we’re in a society where people wonder about the relevance of faith,” Olson de Castillo says. “You’d never have to have that conversation in Guatemala. They know faith is all they have and those are the promises they can trust and stand upon.
“I see things in a different way now, and I hope that is a gift to the church. We get caught up in a lot of first-world problems here instead of looking at why we are doing things. In the gospel, we have something to offer that the world really needs.”
You can read more about Amanda’s time in Guatemala at www.luthersem.edu/story/amanda07.