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THE WAY HOME - Desire for Eucharist leads from Nazarene missionary to Catholic Church

The following story appeared in the January 12, 2018 Idaho Catholic Register.

Nick and Erika Pettinger and their children, from left Jonah, Andrea and Markus. (Photo courtesy of Erika Pettinger)

For this week’s “Coming Home” feature, we interview Erika Pettinger of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Hailey.

Tell us about your faith background.

I was raised in the Nazarene church, a Protestant church that focuses on holiness living. My household was a more strict environment, which means when the church doors were open, we were there. We were encouraged to read the Bible every day and to be accountable to others as to how our walk with God was progressing. There was the belief that if you missed church or Bible study or daily time in the Bible, that you would find yourself slipping off the road toward Christ and heaven. I was always worried that I would do or say something that might lead me off that path; that I would make some wrong choice in my life that would cause others to think I was off that path.

I remember the missionaries would come to our church meetings and tell grand stories of their work in foreign countries. People talked of how great it would be to become a missionary overseas. It seemed to me that missionaries were put on a pedestal, somehow better than the average Christian who stayed home. So I started dreaming that one day I could become a missionary to somewhere no one wanted to go like the wilds of Africa; somewhere still unreached with the gospel. So I went to Northwest Nazarene College in the 1990s (now Northwest Nazarene University). I majored in theology, hoping to serve one day for the church. But while I was there, my senior year, a professor told me that there were thousands of families waiting to serve and the church then fully funded their service. He told me I would have to find another group to serve with that would require me to raise my own funds. I looked into Wycliffe Bible Translators, hoping to learn about translating the Bible into a new language. I went to Papua New Guinea for a summer and lived in the bush with a German family who were translating the gospels. I then went for two years to Nepal with a group focused on evangelization.

What prompted you to investigate the Catholic faith?

While I was attending college, one of my classes required me to attend a Pentecostal service and a liturgical service and to write a paper about my experiences. For the liturgical service, I chose a Saturday evening Mass at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Nampa. I was a bit nervous because I had believed that Catholics weren’t truly saved and that if they had a relationship with God, it was a stale relationship. But, I was amazed during that Mass. I noticed such a love for God and family, and a true and deep purpose for celebrating. Deep down, I wanted to know more, but I was scared of the backlash.

What was a key turning point in your conversion?

When I returned from the two years in Nepal, I was still unsure of how or where I was to be serving God. Then I was introduced to Nick, a wonderful Catholic man. When we started dating, I would attend Mass with him, while he attended the Nazarene church with me. We were married in 2003 in my church by Father Simeon Van De Voord, Father Francisco Flores, and my Nazarene pastor.

Nick and I kept up the “double church weekends” for more than a year after that and after the birth of our first child. We talked of how we would raise our children.

I took RCIA when we first met and loved it. Hearing about what Catholics believe from actual Catholics was amazing. So, I decided we should raise our kids in the Catholic Church so they wouldn’t be confused, but I wasn’t ready to become Catholic yet.

We moved to eastern Idaho in about 2005. Not long after we moved there, I knew I was ready to go through RCIA again.

I had watched so many people receive the Eucharist and knew there was something amazing and special about it. I wanted to be a part of that and receive the Eucharist for myself. I was received into the Church during Easter Vigil in 2006.

What do you find most rewarding about being Catholic?

Most rewarding about being Catholic is celebrating Mass together and receiving the Eucharist. I know that Jesus is with me and in me because He said in John 6 if we eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, we have eternal life. He is in us and we are in Him.

What do you find most challenging about being Catholic?

Confession and Mary. I have a difficult time knowing what to confess. I mistakenly put priests on a pedestal thinking they are above and beyond the need to confess, so, initially I didn’t want to confess my sins to them. Confession is tough, but it is rewarding. I have a hard time wrapping my head around her Mary’s Immaculate Conception and one of her titles as Queen of Heaven. Even after all this time, these are still new beliefs and traditions for me, but I do have faith in God and trust Him even when I don’t fully understand everything.

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