“When I was a teenager, I told my mom I would never marry a pastor,” recalled Elina Camarena, associate district pastor for Paradise Valley Spanish church (PVS). Camarena was the daughter of a pastor and knew all the nuances of pastoral family life and had decided it wasn’t for her. “Mom told me never to say ‘never’ to God, because there was no telling His plans for my life. Little did I know how right she was!”
Camarena not only married a man who became a pastor, but on September 11, 2021, she herself was ordained as pastor at PVS.
“When you put your life in God’s hands, He takes you to places you never would have dreamed for yourself,” she said.
Back in 2007, Camarena was about to begin studies for a master’s degree in education when she and her husband were asked to interview for a pastoral team post. She agreed, never believing it would come to anything.
“I am shy,” she admitted. “I don’t like being up front, I don’t like being the center of attention, and I’m not a strong speaker. I couldn’t imagine God using me in that role. But the Lord has His ways!”
When God made it clear He wanted her to become a pastor, Camarena said she resisted.
“I wasn’t telling God He was wrong,” she said with a laugh, “but I did ask Him to reevaluate.” It was a huge internal struggle for Camarena, and she didn’t think she was prepared to carry out the calling.
“God gently reminded me that this journey had begun when I was very young—when my mother involved me in Sabbath School at age nine—and continued into adulthood as I partnered with my husband in ministry. God reminded me I was meant for this, that He needed me here, and that it has always been my calling. I know I’m where I’m meant to be, and every day I’m grateful to Him for this opportunity.”
Camarena and her husband were invited to accept the pastoral team position. “I knew it was God,” Camarena recalled.
Within a few years, they had acquired two additional churches and were team pastoring at PVS, Vista Spanish, and Ramona Bilingual churches. Camarena pastors the PVS church while her husband leads the others.
“My congregation has embraced me from day one,” she said with warmth. “They are a very loving, prayerful, supportive church, and we care deeply about each other.”
Camarena is the first woman to be ordained pastor of a Hispanic church in the SECC, and she said she hopes this is only the beginning.
“My prayer is that my ordination encourages other Hispanic women pastors who would love to serve in their own ethnic communities,” she said. “They are needed, and God will use them.”
At the end of Elina’s husband’s sermon at her ordination, he included the song “Not I, But Christ.” She pointed out that this is how she feels about her work for Christ.
“My ministry is not about me at all,” she said. “Although I have no idea where this journey will take me, I know He continues calling me every day to do His work. I just have to show up and say, ‘Yes Lord, here I am.’”
By Becky St. Clair