El Camino shares plan, comfort

Editor’s note: The Sentinel will publish “Hometown Faith” on Monday. This story offers a preview:

FAIRMONT – Jeremiah 29:11, in the NIV version reads: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”

They are comforting words to those who follow the Bible: When their plans go awry, they can take comfort knowing their God ultimately is the one doing the planning, the one who sees the big picture.

Examples of this kind of faith in action can be found at El Camino, which means “The Way.” About 30 to 40 native Spanish-speakers go to Bethel Evangelical Free Church each Sunday, but they are there for El Camino – a church within a church.

Tim Dahlin is the senior pastor for El Camino. Living in Fairmont was not what he had originally envisioned for his family, but he believes God had different plans for the Dahlins.

Tim and his wife, Carolyn, were serving as long-term missionaries in Venezuela when they had a son with special needs. In time, they knew their family would need to return to Fairmont. What they didn’t know was what their mission would be in Fairmont.

Mirian Moreno also did not know what was in store for her at El Camino. She and her husband, Pastor Heriberto “Eddie” Moreno, took a leap of faith when they were recruited from Chile to plant a new church for Spanish-speakers in the Fairmont area.

“At first it seemed like a crazy idea, but the Lord confirmed this was what we needed to do,” she said through Tim, who translated for her through much of the Sentinel interview.

Mirian has continued to walk by faith, remaining true to her mission even after becoming a widow when her husband died of cancer several years ago.

“When someone does missionary work, they’re willing to break away from the place they came from – their origin,” Moreno said. “My citizenship is in Heaven. I’ll be wherever the Lord wants, doing what the Lord wants.”

Moreno is described as “the networker” for El Camino. She is part of the church staff, and her job includes conducting Bible studies and reaching out to people. Her network includes Hispanics not only in Fairmont, but also in Blue Earth, Winnebago, St. James, Swea City and Winona.

“Not everybody she’s visiting is coming to our church,” Tim said. “Sometimes it takes a long time for a person to become comfortable enough to actually come to the church.”

But building up its church membership is not the goal for El Camino.

“At first, we thought we would start an independent church, and now, we want to see them in Heaven, to really know the Lord, whether they’re a part of our church or not,” Mirian said.

Meeting new people in the Hispanic community comes easily for Mirian.

“My personality is such that I don’t want to be by myself. I want to be in contact with people, so this is the perfect ministry for me,” she said, laughing.

It also helps that she can relate to the challenges they face as immigrants, particularly the language barrier and the isolation that comes with it.

“There’s an expression from Chile: ‘As uncomfortable as a chicken in another pen,'” she said.

Helping the vulnerable, the “least of these,” is what El Camino aims to do.

“We become involved in every aspect of their lives,” said Tim, whose own family relied on help from Venezuelans when the Dahlins were out of their element.

Services at El Camino are 11 a.m. Sundays in the lower level of Bethel Evangelical Free Church on State Street. An adult Sunday school is held at 9:30 a.m. in the Friendship Room, across from the nursery. Children of El Camino members are encouraged to attend regular Sunday school classes and many also attend AWANA from 6:30-8 p.m. Wednesday nights.

“We love those kids. They are a special part of our ministry, and we love to introduce them to Jesus and let them know they’re cared for,” Tim said.