Thursday, December 31, 2009

Calendar Evangelism (or just learning about how Spaniards work)

A few weeks before Christmas, we decided that it would be a good idea to give a small Christmas gift to the neighbors who live in our apartment building, not only to be nice but also to be mildly evangelistic (but certainly not pushy).  So through our church we bought 24 daily devotional calendars (they have a Bible verse and a mediation for each day of the year), and about a week before Christmas we knocked on 23 of the 24 doors in our building (the one we didn't knock on was ours, of course).  Most people answered their doors, and the various responses were quite insightful into people's mindsets here:
  • One elderly lady answered the door with a puzzled look and asked us if we were Jehovah's Witnesses.  After convincing her otherwise, she finally accepted the calendar.
  • Several neighbors, whom we had yet to meet, seemed kind of skeptical as they asked us, '¿Cuánto vale?' or 'How much does it cost?'  When we explained that we weren't selling the calendars and we just wanted to give them a small Christmas gift, they received it.  
  • One particular gentleman explained, 'It's just that this isn't the custom here, so I wasn't really sure what you were up to.'  It seems that Spaniards are pretty skeptical of any stranger who just knocks on their door, probably due to the number of quick talking sales people going around trying to take advantage of people.
  • One elderly fellow broke our hearts when he told us that he and his wife would be spending Christmas and New Year's alone because their sons don't come to visit them often.  It turns out that even with loads of people around Spaniards can be quite lonely, too.
  • A few neighbors whom we had met before invited us into their apartments and asked us about our plans for the holidays, and we actually had nice conversations with them before they accepted the calendars and we went on our way.  
A few closing thoughts.  It seems that having a relationship with people here is so central to being received by them that we cannot neglect to take the time to get to know people a bit before even thinking about sharing the Gospel with them.  Perhaps we should hesitate to define evangelism so narrowly that it only means sharing the Four Spiritual Laws or the Romans Road with them.  After all, Jesus spent 30 years simply living as a human, getting to know His context (how the humans of His day and culture thought and lived  and worked), before He started the 'important stuff': teaching, preaching and healing.  May we be willing to take the time to get to know and love people here as we seek to share the truly Good News of Jesus with them, and may a few seeds be planted by this simple Christmas gift.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Belén: A Spanish (& Biblical) Tradition

It's Christmas day, the presents have been opened, and I've snuck away to write a little post about one of the Spanish Christmas traditions that I really like:  the Belén, which is the Spanish word for 'Bethlehem'.  While the traditional American Christmas centerpiece is the tree, which has its roots in ancient pagan religions that worshiped nature (you can read a bit more on that by CLICKING HERE or by reading the article at Wikipedia), the Belén has its source purely in the Christian story of Jesus' birth.

Rachel and I have always displayed a small manger scene during the Christmas season, but the goal of the Spanish Belén is much more than just the manger scene.  Most families begin with the basics of the manger with the holy family and a few animals but over the years gradually build the whole town of Belén, complete with a marketplace, various shops and everyday people going about their business.  Of course, they tend to be a bit adapted to Spanish culture, since one of our neighbors proudly displayed a cured ham shop in her Belén (common for Spain but probably not too common for good kosher Jews in the first century!).  Beyond simply building the town, some local businesses impressively build the whole Christmas story in their storefront windows.  It's quite common for people in Córdoba to go out during the Christmas season simply to look at the various Belenes displayed by businesses, civic associations and churches.

The one question I have as I reflect on Jesus' birth, the cultural tradition of the Belén & Spaniards is this:  do Spaniards really understand why God sent His Son to become human and how that should impact their lives?  For the whole shadow of Christianity that remains here in Spain (shrinking by the day in many ways), I'm afraid that there is a huge disconnect between cultural traditions (as Biblical as they may be) and lives that are different due to what God has done.  And I suppose that's why we're here.

If you'd like to check out some of our photos of Córdoba at Christmastime, including a few Belenes like the one above, CLICK HERE.  ¡Feliz Navidad!

Monday, December 21, 2009

There's Something About Mary...

So after writing the previous post regarding the Day of the Immaculate Conception (of Mary), I had a very well thought-out response from some dear loved ones that sparked some further reflection on this whole issue. Essentially, they cautioned us against what we too often tend to do as 'Protestant Evangelicals,' as Christians, or as people in general: swing from one end of the pendulum to the other, or in their words, 'we throw the baby out with the bathwater.' As Rachel and I talked about the issue of Mary, specifically as it regards the worship of 'The Virgin' here in Spain and the evangelical response to that, Rachel pointed out that she cannot remember ever hearing a sermon here (in all of her 18-19 years in Spain) about Mary. Up to now in my brief experience here, I have yet to hear much about Mary: it seems as if the evangelicals here in Spain (and perhaps elsewhere in the world) are nearly afraid to even utter the name of Mary because of the cultural baggage and images of idol worship it seems to bring to their minds.

So what do we do with Mary? Should we be afraid to talk about or preach on her (especially given our context here in Spain)? An acquaintance of ours (who is a typical Spanish Roman Catholic) recently asked me specifically about this, so I'll tell you basically what I told her. We need to look at Mary as the Biblical witness presents her: a magnificent example of faith and obedience to God. When invited to be a part of what God was doing to save the world, she gave herself--heart, mind and body--completely to the service of the Lord. She carried Jesus in her womb, raised Him as a son, and watched Him die on the cross. What an amazing example of faith and sacrifice to God! Certainly she was still a normal human, still a sinner in need of being saved by the One to whom she gave birth, so we should not worship her--our worship is reserved for the Triune God alone. As the photo from the movie The Nativity Story displays above, the spotlight of our worship must remain on Jesus, the God-man who came to save us. But we cannot deny that Mary is still very much a part of that story of salvation, a woman whose great courage and faith we would do well to emulate as we seek to live our lives in submissive love to God.

For those interested in a fairly in-depth Catholic-Evangelical dialogue about Mary (my apologies that the Eastern Orthodox perspective isn't represented), click HERE.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Day of the Immaculate Conception

Today, December 8th, is a major holiday here in Spain: it's the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. But contrary to much popular belief, this is not a celebration of Mary's virgin conception of Jesus; rather, it's a celebration of the supposed immaculate conception of Mary within the womb of her mother, by which God intervened so that she would be born without sin. From the perspective of a follower of Jesus who trusts in the reliability of the Bible, I see this Catholic doctrine as having no solid Biblical backing (probably even anti-Biblical considering that both Paul and Peter declare that all have sinned except for Jesus) and being a dangerous distraction from the centrality of the Incarnation of Christ, the God-man, in God's mission to save the world. Honestly, I was quite tempted to entitle this post 'The Immaculate Deception,' but I didn't want to be too offensive from the outset. If you're really interested or just suffering from insomnia, you can read more on this doctrine at this link: The Immaculate Conception.

The reality here in Spain in 2009 is that although the historical footprint of Catholicism can still be seen clearly today (for example, today is a holiday due to Spain's Catholic roots, and the above painting by Murillo, which also celebrates Mary's supposed immaculate conception, is displayed proudly in the Prado Museum in Madrid), most Spaniards don't give a rip about what it commemorates: they're just glad to have a four day weekend away from work. As Spaniards drift (or run) away from their traditional Catholic roots (which, honestly, focus more on devotion to Mary than to Jesus), could it be that they will become more open to Jesus and the reality of His grace and truth? Or will they reject anything that still smacks of Christianity and calls them to repentance and commitment? Let's pray for the former.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thanksgiving in Spain

No American football on TV; no elementary school kids dressed up like pilgrims, Indians, or turkeys; no Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. But the absence of all of those things didn't keep us from celebrating Thanksgiving here! Interestingly, many Spaniards (or the ones we know, anyway) have some idea of what Thanksgiving is, probably based on the American shows and movies they've seen here. But, of course, American Thanksgiving is not an official holiday in Spain, so we had to carve out some personal time to be able to celebrate it by heading up to Madrid to spend the weekend with Rachel's family and a few other missionary families. For our Thanksgiving meal we had quite a feast, although we had chicken instead of turkey (cheaper and easier to find), and it's next to impossible to find French's fried onions to sprinkle on top of the green bean casserole. Even so we had so much classic Thanksgiving food, from mashed potatoes and gravy to a number of other casseroles to pumpkin pie (had to import the processed pumpkin stuff) that we almost forgot that we live in Spain.

We are so thankful to God for so many ways that He has provided in our life, and more specifically, in our new life here in Spain. We are thankful to have family within a 4 1/2 hour drive; we are thankful for our ECMI team that we are becoming a part of; we are thankful for family in the States who have sacrificed physical closeness so that we can follow God's leading in our lives; we are thankful for how God continues to provide for our physical and spiritual needs through the financial and prayer support of family, friends, churches, and people that we've never even met in person. We are most thankful.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

“L” Stands for “Learner”

Driving is one of those luxuries that most of us look forward to doing when we’re young. In the U.S., we can’t wait to turn 16 and get that piece of plastic that shows that we are now free to cruise the world- or at least our town. We learn the theory, practice the annoying parallel parking over and over, take the test, pay the 25 bucks and we’re off, right? No big deal! Well, if it only were that easy in Spain…

Depending on how smart you are and how much time you can dedicate to getting this piece of plastic, the process can take months. First, you have to find an autoescuela (driving school) that isn’t going to rip you off so that you can learn the theory. Sure, you could study it on your own, but since the test tends to have trick questions on it, you’re better off going to the autoescuela to beat the system by memorizing these tricky questions. After you pay your $300 (if you get a good deal), study the huge book backwards and forwards, and take a million practice tests, you’re ready to take the theory test. Don’t worry, you have a total of three tries to use toward both your theory and practice tests. The worst that can happen is that you’ll have to dish out another few hundred bucks. So, you go take your theory test with a bunch of other strangers and anxiously wait for your results. Thankfully, I did pass this test with only one error, which meant I had two tries for the practice test.

It is now time to take your driving lessons. Never mind the fact that you’ve been driving for years. You are still a learner here and we like your money! The thing is that you have to use an autoescuela car when you take your driving test because it is equipped with the necessary pedals so that your teacher, sitting in the front passenger seat, can save you from doing something stupid. As you can see, this business is a money-making machine in Spain! So, you dish out more money (usually about 30€ for a 45 minute class), and practice until you’re ready. Now, the point here is not only to learn how to drive responsibly and safe, but mostly to learn the tricky spots in the city that your examiner may take you by on the date of your exam. So much for defensive driving. Fast forward a couple hundred euros later and you’re ready to take your exam. You get up early, wait in line with dozens of other students from other autoescuelas, and you hop in the car with your teacher, the examiner, and another student also hoping to pass the test. No pressure or anything! Thankfully, and I think because of my past experience driving, I was the only one out of the four in my class that passed the test. Relief!

So now I can legally drive in Spain and will soon get my official, Spanish driving license that I fought for with blood, sweat, and mostly money. There is no way around it and we knew that we would just have to suck it up and pay if we wanted to drive here. Now it’s B.J.’s turn. The only thing is that, for the next year, I will have to drive no faster than 80 Km/h (about 50 miles/hour) and with an “L” for “Learner” (not for “Loser”) sign on the back of my car to warn others that I am a novice. It reminds me that I am a learner at so many things in this journey of life, especially as new a missionary to Spain. I’m glad I’m given this year to learn more about how things work here and what things to avoid so that I am a light that guides people toward Jesus and not a blinding light. In the end, we’re all learners in this life, and it may not be a bad idea to warn people by wearing “L” signs on our back!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What We Like About Our New Home

A couple of months ago we listed several things that we miss about our life in the States. Of course, that's only half of the story. While we definitely miss the States, we're discovering aspects of our new life in Spain that we really do appreciate and even enjoy. So here are 7 things that we really like here:
  1. La Alegría: Translated into English, this word means happiness or gladness, and it really describes the attitude of Andaluces very well: they love to enjoy life and are naturally loud people (as I write this I can hear the men at the corner bar yelling 'Gol!!!' as their team scores). On top of that, Andaluces seem to enjoy being very helpful: if you ask an older couple for directions here, be prepared for both of them to lean into your car window shouting directions at the same time, at a rate that's probably faster than you can understand.
  2. Our ECM Spain Team: We just came back from our annual ECM Spain Team retreat, and we really enjoyed being together with our teammates (here is a photo of everyone). Some, like our team leader Francis Arjona, have deep, old connections with Rachel's family (he changed her diapers), and others are quickly becoming new friends.
  3. The Late Culture: Breakfast tends to be optional or around 11 a.m. (during the morning work break), lunch is around 2 or 3 p.m., and dinner can be as late as midnight in the summer. Also, it's very normal and very safe to be on the streets until midnight or later, which is a bit different from living in Amish country: it was safe, but it sure wasn't normal to see people out and about at midnight.
  4. The Rich History: I (B.J.) have still not gotten over the fact that every morning on the bus I ride by Roman ruins from about 2000 years ago. Being a fan of history, particularly of Greco-Roman history, and being from a country whose history only reaches back a few hundred years, this is a paradise for me.
  5. Our Neighbors: Our two most immediate neighbor ladies in our apartment building have really taken to Rachel and treat her just like one of them, including giving us samples of the food they're cooking for lunch and sending their daughters to our apartment for trick-or-treating (Halloween, for better or worse, is becoming more popular here). This has been a source of great blessing for us and for them, we think.
  6. Reconnecting with Old Friends: Rachel has 18 years of history here, 15 of which were here in the province of Córdoba. We've found that her parents, Ron and Brenda Anderson, had a great impact on the lives of so many people, and because of that, Rachel has been able to reestablish old relationships. Here's a photo of Rachel with her favorite elementary school teacher, Don Valeriano, who we happened to run into as we were walking through Montilla, the town where she used to live.
  7. Language School: This may sound nerdy, but I enjoy learning, and going to language school has been enjoyable most of the time (frustrating at times, too!). I'm finding that there are varying levels of fluency, and I'm coming to a place where I'm not quite as scared to pick up the telephone as I was before. What's more is that Jesus seems to provide opportunities on a weekly and sometimes daily basis for me to share about my relationship with Him, and it's challenging me to express my faith not only in Spanish, but in a way that is relevant to generally postmodern non-believers.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Layers of Baggage

In this photo, you can see the layers of history that have made Córdoba what it is today. In the background is the famous Mezquita, the mosque founded on the site of Visigothic cathedral shortly after the Muslims invaded and conquered the land in the 8th century A.D.. Actually, only the lower part of the Mezquita was used as a mosque; the higher, taller portion is the cathedral that was built on top of the ancient Mezquita after the Catholic kings overthrew the reign of the Arabs around 1236 AD. So the current cathedral is built on top of an ancient mosque which was built on top of an even more ancient Visigothic cathedral.

And off to the left you see the famous 'Puente Romano,' the Roman bridge, which was originally built during the first century A.D. Actually, for Cordobeses, the bridge is more infamous than famous now, because, if you can tell from the photo, just a few years ago it was restored in a way that greatly modernized it and covered its very Roman, historical look.

There are layers of history here in Spain, and with that there is beauty but also layers of baggage that I'm just now beginning to uncover. This baggage has become especially evident to me in recent weeks as I've had several conversations with a gal on the bus I ride regularly to language school in the morning. She knows that I'm an evangelical pastor, and she's been surprisingly open to talking with me about spiritual things (albeit completely in Spanish, which is still challenging for me). But what I've discovered is that words and concepts I take for granted carry a lot of cultural and religious baggage for her that they don't for me. For example, her concept of 'Church' is characterized by the power-seeking, money hungry, male-driven institutional force of the Catholic Church that has allowed priests to abuse children for centuries. When I mention the word 'Bible,' she tends to think of it as a book of stories primarily about men, put together by men, ultimately to oppress or neglect the place of women (kind of Conspiracy Theory meets Feminism meets Dan Brown).

There's a lot of spiritual, religious and cultural baggage here in Spain, and we're just beginning to understand it. The question we're wrestling with is this: How do we relevantly and intelligently engage these Spaniards with the Good News that can peel back the layers and cut to their hearts, meeting their most basic need? Surely this is just the beginning of this discussion.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A New Car!

No, we didn't win it on the The Price is Right, and it actually isn't brand new, but a couple weeks ago we bought a car. It's a 2004 Toyota Corolla hatchback with only 42,000 km on it. We are grateful how God has provided for us through all of our supporters this reliable car at a good price, which we hope will be a valuable tool for ministry and travel in the months and years to come. Here are a few photos of it:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Few Things We Miss About the States

Now that we've lived here in Spain for four months, we've realized that there are certain things we miss about living in the States. Don't get us wrong, we are enjoying learning how to live here (most of the time), but there is still a very real grief process that we're going through as we acclimate to our new country and culture. So here's our top 7 list of things we miss about our old life:
  1. The Quiet: At times we might have complained that Myerstown, PA lacked life or that it was too quiet, but now we miss the tranquility of living in Amish country. Our apartment is located on a busy corner in our barrio, so we can hear most everything going on around us. This includes cars, motorcycles, the neighbors upstairs, the teenager down the street yelling, '¡Mamá!' and the mother's response, '¿Qué pasa, niña?!' and pretty much everything else that makes noise until at least midnight. Here's a view of our corner from our balcony.
  2. Family & Friends: This probably is obvious, but it's a very noticeable absence we feel in our life. Yes, Rachel's parents and brother are only 4 hours away, but everyone else is very far. We miss our seminary townhouse community, our family spread throughout the States, and the general feeling of knowing that we belong with a group of people.
  3. Green Grass & Trees: Just a few short years ago, Rachel would make fun of her mother for continually saying, 'Oh, I miss the trees and the freshly cut grass of the States.' As it turns out, Rachel really misses that now, since we have to go to a public park to find halfway decent grass. We will especially miss the beautiful bouquet of autumn colors found at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown.
  4. American Customer Service & Efficiency: Sure, Spaniards can be nice, but it tends to be a surprise for us. Well-known adages like 'The customer is always right' are thrown out the window here. In addition to this, efficiency isn't exactly a core value for Spaniards, especially judging by our 6 month wait for our visas. No, the U.S. may not always be the most efficiently run place in the world, but we do miss the general efficiency we took for granted there.
  5. The Ease of Driving: At the moment, Rachel is studying for her driver's license and perfecting her skill of driving a manual transmission car. In the States, this simply wasn't an issue with the ease of automatics (not many of those here) and the generally straightforward nature of roadsigns and traffic lights. Here there are roundabouts, a myriad of new signs to learn, and a very defensive aggressive attitude when it comes to driving, not to mention the abundance of parking spots.
  6. Language: I'm doing all right learning the language, and though I'm getting more functional every day, I'm still so far from fluent and comfortable. This means that the majority of phone calls, business matters and general communication issues land on Rachel's shoulders, which is a complete reversal of our roles in the States. We're navigating this issue OK, and it's beginning to get better, but it has been a cause of great general and marital stress for us. God's been gracious to us, but we do miss the comfort of how our life functioned back in the States as a result of me knowing the language.
  7. Baseball: It turns out that Spaniards don't care about all. As a Midwestern boy, baseball, especially St. Louis Cardinals baseball, is simply in my blood, and it's probably a part of my cultural upbringing that will never die. While I can check the scores and highlights online, it simply isn't the same. Not to mention that I miss being able to play wiffle ball with my buddies on the lush green lawn of the seminary.
Well, thanks for letting us vent a little's been therapeutic. And, if you've made it this far reading the post, thank you and congratulations, because you now have a little more insight on what this cross-cultural adaptation is like for us. Without doubt, God has been faithful, but at the same time He's stretching us and allowing us to grieve our losses as we learn to call Spain 'home.'

Friday, August 28, 2009

Learning Spain: Galicia

Since one of our primary objectives during this year of language and cultural acquisition is to get to know Spain as well as we can, we decided to spend our vacation with Rachel's parents covering a good chunk of northwestern and north central Spain.

Our first 10 days were in Galicia (NW Spain), so we'd like to give you a few discoveries we made there.
  1. The Climate: With the high temperatures of Córdoba ranging from the tolerable 35°C (95°F) to the downright uncomfortable 45°C (113°F), we were delighted to find that Galicia, especially in the Vigo area where we spent the majority of our time, was much more comfortable, with highs between 25° & 30°C (77° to 86°C), but with some humidity to thicken the air. As a result, Galicia is very green with lush vegetation and, to B.J.'s delight, lots and lots of corn (making us a bit homesick for Illinois and Pennsylvania).
  2. The Language: Galicia has two official languages: Spanish and Gallego. To us Gallego looks like a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese and can be somewhat understandable to some Spanish speakers. The Spanish accent of native Galicians (or Gallegos) is kind of sing-songy and melodic, making us wonder if it's the result of the Celtic tribes who originally settled in the region a couple thousand of years ago.
  3. Bagpipes: The Celtic influence in the region can be seen perhaps most obviously in the common site and sound of bagpipers throughout the area.
  4. Santiago de Compostela: It's the supposed site where the bones of St. James (the half brother of Jesus) are laid to rest. About 100,000 people make the pilgrimage to Santiago every year, and if they stop at all the appropriate checkpoints to get their pilgrim passports stamped and travel at least 100 km of the pilgrimage, they receive a certificate called the 'Compostela,' which entitles them to at least partial remission of purgatory. Click here to see a few of our photos from Santiago.
  5. Witchcraft: Galicia is known for witches and witchcraft. Knowing this, we entered one of the many shops in Santiago that has an assortment of witchcrafty decorations and asked the ladies working there where this interest came from. They told us, "In ancient Celtic tribes, women had a very important role, especially the older women who were known to have special knowledge or wisdom of magic. But when Christianity reached this region centuries ago, the Church was run by male priests and made no place for women to serve or to lead. Even so, the Church couldn't change the culture, and people continued to consult witches along with being a part of the Church, to cover all of their spiritual bases, which continues widely to this day." When we pressed them for their personal beliefs about witchcraft, one said that she believes there is real power in it, while the other thought that it's all hocus-pocus. This was eye-opening for us as we consider the role of women in the church and how that will be a part of our ministry in the future. For a couple other intriguing insights on the mixing of pagan Celtic spirituality and Christianity, click HERE or HERE and don't forget to read the captions.
This post has gotten long enough, so we'll leave it at this. Needless to say, it was a great vacation and highly insightful as we continue to learn about this new country God's led us to. If you'd like to see more photos of our vacation, click here.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Preaching and Vacation

Apologies for not having posted any news for nearly a month now--no major excuses to give, we just haven't gotten around to it. Anyhow, this morning I (B.J.) had the great opportunity to preach at the church of Rachel's parents in Camarma, Madrid. As you can probably ascertain from the photo, no, I didn't preach in Spanish--though I'm increasing in my language ability, I'm still not quite at the point of being able to preach a sermon. They invited me to preach on the theme of Serving Christ, as we find in the passage of Romans 12:3-8. It went well, and, on a personal level, it felt good to preach again, since I haven't preached since February or March. The congregation is a new church plant, and they have a fresh spirit about them, so they were very positive in their response to the passage and the sermon.

In other news, since my language school is closed in August, we are spending the next couple weeks in Galicia, which is in northwest Spain. One of our objectives for this year of transition is to get to know the various regions of Spain, so we're looking forward to spending some time in a new place. They say it's green and cool there, which is a significant contrast to the yellow and brown of Córdoba (and the 100+ heat).

If you'd like to check out some of our photos of Córdoba and Sevilla, click on the following words: Córdoba or Sevilla.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Road Back "Home"

I've heard it said that, "you can never go back home." In a way, I knew this would be true for me as B.J. and I followed God's leading to come to Spain as missionaries, but I didn't expect that returning to the country where I was born and raised would be so complex! But the truth is that Spain has changed and I have changed. I left Spain 11 years ago as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) who felt more Spanish than American, and now return to Spain as an adult feeling like my life here in Spain was only a dream. Welcome to the life of a TCK- beautiful, but confusing at times.

So, what has it been like for me these past few months? The term "pang" comes to mind. Honestly, this is a relatively new word in my vocabulary that I learned back in December when B.J. and I were going through our cross-cultural training. We were warned that we would, at times, feel conflicting pain on the mission field, and I can attest to this occurring in my life pretty much every day. On one hand, I love being back in Spain. The sunny skies, the flamenco culture, beautiful architecture, a more laid-back atmosphere, visiting old friends and forming part of a great mission team...these are all great things! But I also feel the pain of leaving my identity as an adult, the identity that B.J. and I had as a married couple, back in the States. This produces confusion, stress, and sometimes doubt that this is where God wants us. Yeah, I know it's perfectly normal and called re-entry, but it still hurts!

Thankfully, I have a Savior who is above all this pain and confusion and who knows exactly what I'm feeling. He also left what was comfortable and safe for Him and came to earth so that we may have eternal life. I am also thankful that, as a child of God, I am loved and cared for by a Savior who is above all- whether I'm in Spain or in the States, and whether I'm going through an identity crisis or not. Yes, it hurts to die to oneself each day, but if Christ did so for me, I can certainly go through some cultural shock for Him. I wonder what we could accomplish for Christ's Kingdom if we all just died a little each day by holding on to obedience and letting go of personal comfort? I'm not saying that I've got this down because I certainly do not, but it is the desire of my heart to become less so that Christ may become more. And, in the end, after some time of being back "home," I'm sure it will actually start feeling like home, at least one with an earthly address.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Becoming Nothing, Part 1

Having lived in Spain for a couple of months now, we've had some time to experience life and reflect a bit on what we're doing here. We think we've begun to understand in a more personal way what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5-7:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made Himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

Christ, though He was and is truly God, with all the glory and honor and power that entails, humbled Himself and became a human embryo, spent 9 months in the womb of an unknown Jewish peasant girl named Mary, was born, and led a little known life in the backwoods town of Nazareth in Galilee until the age of 30. The King of the universe became a nobody for the sake of saving humanity.

We've discovered that our lives as missionaries here in Spain are not all that different from our Lord's. As B.J. & Rachel Whitaker in the U.S., we were fairly well-known within certain circles; you might say that there was even a level of fame that came with being missionary candidates to Spain. We were invited to speak and preach and be "the missionaries" at churches and events. Rachel was known as a social worker and counselor, and B.J. was invited to speak at youth retreats and workcamps. On top of that, we knew who we were and how life worked when we lived in the States.

But now we are in Spain. Outside of our organization, nearly no one knows us. People don't understand what these two Americans are doing here. Despite Rachel's childhood here, neither of us really understands how life works here. B.J. neither understands nor speaks the language well. We have become nothing here, and this is not some tragic, cosmic mistake: this is where God has led us.

This is not new for God; He has led countless missionaries to this place of nothingness before, for this is the path that God the Son walked first. Becoming nothing is the way that God has saved, is saving, and will save the world, and we are humbled to be a part of what He is doing here in Spain.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

La Feria in Córdoba

Last week was Córdoba's annual Feria. It is similar to a county or state fair in the States in that there are rides, junk food and plenty of alcohol, but that may be where the similarities end. Here are a few photos that may give you a better feel for what the Feria was like.
The entrance to the fairgrounds pays homage to Córdoba's unique Arabic influence.

An attractive couple takes advantage of the picturesque scenery for a Kodak moment.

A sevillanas dance exhibition during a very hot afternoon--a magnificent portrayal of one aspect of the rich culture of Andalucia.

Women adorn themselves in traditional Sevillanas dresses during the week. Some men wear traditional outfits, too, but not nearly as much as the women and children.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

BJ's First Spanish Birthday!

B.J. here. Sunday was my 29th birthday, but more significanlty it was my first birthday in Spain! We spent the weekend with our Spanish team leaders, Francis & Nathalie (their son Samuel is in the picture above). Unbeknownst to me, Francis & Nathalie informed the church in Pozoblanco (about an hour north of Córdoba) that it was my birthday, so they presented me with a birthday card and sang "Cumpleaños Feliz," which seemed nice and harmless...but it's also the church's custom that the birthday boy has to read the Bible verse on the card to the congregation! So I sucked it up and read the Spanish as best as I could, and the congregation seemed to appreciate my effort to read it. I really don't feel much older. In fact, I think the reverse has happened: my inability to speak and understand Spanish well and my ignorance of exactly how life works here makes me feel a bit like a baby. So maybe it was appropriate that only one candle was on my birthday cake!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Moving Day!

About three months later than we originally expected we finally shipped most of our earthly possessions to Spain today! It's somewhat humbling (yet refreshing) to know that our stuff fit quite comfortably into a 20 foot container. From Myerstown, PA the container will be transported by truck to Baltimore, loaded onto a ship there to make its way across the Atlantic, and finally show up at our place in Córdoba in three to four weeks. We're especially looking forward to our kitchen utensils showing up--we've had to be resourceful with the few utensils our apartment came equipped with. We were very grateful for the first dry, sunny day in PA for about a week, as well as for the hulking seminarians who helped us load:

Back: B.J., Gene, Brian & Phil
Front: Jeff & little Tracy (What she lacked in strength she made up for with cuteness!)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Surprised by God

These are the faces of surprise and relief. But honestly, we were not expecting it, at least not so soon. We had grown so accustomed to disappointing calls to the Spanish Consulate that we expected nothing different from this call. And since we had tickets to return to the States on Tuesday, on Monday we figured we should make one more call to the Consulate just in case, by some slim chance, our visa applications had been approved. We especially were not expecting our visas to be approved since we had just spoken with a government official in Cordoba who did not think the visas would be approved for another week or so. Call us pessimists, doubting Thomases or faithless believers...maybe we had simply become content with the fact that our visas would not be approved on our timeline.

So we were shocked, almost breathlessly so, when our amigo Hector at the Consulate told us that, in fact, our visas were approved and we could pick them up ASAP! So at 3 p.m. on Monday afternoon, our plans for the week changed drastically: we had to get from Cordoba to Madrid to Newark and finally to New York to pick up our visas. So we hopped on a train Monday evening, stayed at Rachel's parents' house overnight to catch our 1 p.m. flight on Tuesday from Madrid to Newark. We stayed overnight in Newark and took the train into New York (where the above photo was taken) on Wednesday morning to pick up our visas. We're now in Myerstown, PA, waiting to ship our things and return to Spain next Saturday.

Put simply, we've seen God's hand at work, providing means of transportation, places to stay, people to help us, and a visa that opens the door for us to be a part of what He wants to do in Spain. It seems that when we finally become content with whatever outcome in certain situations, God loves to "surprise" us by showing up and providing what we need just when we need it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Semana Santa Processions

No, those aren't members of the Ku Klux Klan; they're Spanish penitents who, having asked God or Mary to do something on their behalf or seeking some sort of divine favor or forgiveness, are keeping their end of the bargain by serving in the grandiose Holy Week processions.
The processions we saw, both in Córdoba and the smaller town of Aguilar, seemed to follow a similar pattern. With horns and drums announcing the arrival of the procession, the penitents soon arrived carrying the statue of the suffering Christ. Some looked on out of tradition, others out of curiousity, and still others who appeared to feel so deep a connection to the ceremony that they dropped rose petals from their balconies to commemorate Christ's death. As evangelicals, we would see the arrival of the suffering Christ as the climax of this procession...
But the arrival of Christ did not receive the utmost attention. Rather, soon after the giant crucifix passed by our balcony, the music grew louder and crescendoed as the much larger, more ornate and by far heavier statue of the mourning Mary arrived in front of our balcony (so close that we could almost touch it with our fingertips). As one native Córdobes described to B.J., "The Bible says that Mary was the mother of Jesus, so she is obviously more important." At certain points, the penitents stop to rest (the statue of Mary is ginormously heavy), and after their breather we heard the lead penitent urging on his fellow penitents, "We are doing this for the glory of the most high queen of heaven!"
Our experience of the processions was priceless and eye-opening. During Semana Santa there is indeed an interest in Christ and spiritual things, but it appears to be short-lived and based on a certain ignorance of Biblical truth. There is a recognition of what Christ did on the cross but a lack of understanding as to why He did it or how it can transform our lives. Instead, Christ's sacrifice and resurrection appear to be overshadowed by how one can receive what he or she wants from Mary, his mother. This is the twisted shadow of Christendom that remains in our new home.