EATONTON, Ga. (BP) — Neftali Coronado, pastor of El Buen Pastor (Church) in Georgia, took his U.S. citizenship test and passed with flying colors. He is now proud to claim the United States as his new country.
“I love this country and I am grateful for the opportunity it has given to me and my family,” Coronado said. “I pray for my new country every day.”
The new American citizen was born in Mexico but his mother died when he was 3 years old and his grandmother became his caregiver. “She was a great Christian,” Coronado said. “Seventy years ago she became a founding member of the little Baptist church in our town in Mexico. She was devoted to her Lord and her church.
“I went to church with my grandmother and when I was 17 I realized that I didn’t want to go to hell, I wanted to go to heaven, so I trusted Jesus as my Savior.”
One year later Coronado went on a Christian camping trip with about 100 other students and sensed that God was calling him to preach. “God touched my heart and I knew he wanted me to proclaim His Gospel,” he recounted. “A year later, when I was 19, I preached my first sermon.”
Coronado enrolled in the Baptist Seminary in the Lomas Verdes area of Mexico City to prepare for the ministry. Prior to coming to the United States, he served as pastor of a church in Pijijiapan in the Chiapas (state) of Mexico.
Twelve years ago Coronado received a call from Stan Patterson, who was pastor of Lakeside Baptist Church in Greensboro, Ga., inviting him to start a Hispanic church. So, in September 1999 the warmhearted pastor left his church in Mexico and moved his family to America.
Since arriving in Georgia, Coronado has started churches in Greensboro, Monticello, Newborn, Shady Dale and now Eatonton. He is now mentoring Darwin and Dalia Regalado to be church planters and hopes to launch a new Hispanic church in Athens, Ga., by the first of next year.
It was Coronado’s desire to become a more effective church planter that motivated him to seek U.S. citizenship. “After living here for more than a decade God touched my heart and convinced me that I could do a better job of building bridges and connecting with the churches here in Georgia if I became a citizen,” he explained.
The name of Coronado’s church in Eatonton, El Buen Pastor, seems to characterize him and his ministry. “El Buen Pastor” means “the good shepherd.”
Becoming a citizen takes time, knowledge, perseverance and money. Most citizenship applications may take 18 months to process. There is actually an eight-step process involved in acquiring U.S. citizenship. Those eight steps are:
Step 1 – Find out if you are eligible.
Step 2 – Complete an application and collect the necessary documents.
Step 3 –. Get photographed.
Step 4 – Send your application, documents and fee to the Service Center.
Step 5 – Get fingerprinted.
Step 6 – Be interviewed.
Step 7 – Receive a decision.
Step 8 – Take the oath and become a citizen.
“I studied a book that told about American history, the presidents, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Flag and the form of government we have in this country,” Coronado recounted. “I studied hard and passed the test the first time.
“My wife Elda wants to become a citizen as well, but it costs $680 and we did not have enough money for both of us to become citizens this year. We are saving the money for her to become a citizen next year.”
In addition to serving as the pastor of the Eatonton church, Coronado supplements his income by serving as the custodian for a nearby Baptist church.
The Coronados and their two teenage sons, Jonatan and Jared, are involved in the ministry of the church. Jonatan, who hopes to go to Shorter University next year on a football scholarship as a place kicker, plays the drums in the worship services while Jared plays the keyboard.
J. Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index (www.christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.