Friday, December 17, 2010

Miriam's 6 Months Old!

Since today is Miriam's 6 month birthday, we thought we'd give you a photo tribute to her.  She's such a little bundle of joy (though not so little anymore) and is growing and discovering new things each day!

 Just moments after birth.

 1 month old...having sweet dreams.

 About 2 months old...such a cute little smile!

 3 months old and playing with Daddy.

 Being a 4 month old really wears you out!

 4 1/2 months:  in her presentation dress for church.

 5 months old and more active than ever!

 6 months old and trying some cereal...does she like it?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Thanksgiving to Remember!

This year Thanksgiving was a special time for us as God provided for us to go home to the States for the first time since we moved to Spain in May 2009.  So we nervously boarded a plane in Madrid with our 5 month old Miriam, uncertain of how she would handle the flight and the 7 hour time difference, and two flights and 14 hours later, we landed in St. Louis.  A two and a half hour drive later (the following morning) we found ourselves at Grammie & Papa's house (B.J.'s parents, now known by their grandparent aliases), lost in the hills of Missouri.

It was a huge blessing to be together with my family for the first time in two years (about 20 people for Thanksgiving dinner in a house...not made for 20 people), and it marked the first time since our wedding over 8 years ago that my immediate family (parents, two sisters and myself) had all been together.  But, of course, the star of the show was not me, or Rachel, but little Miriam, who everyone had to touch and hold and goo and gaa over...and why not?  She is the newest addition to the family and the cutest little baby I've ever seen.  (We're learning that not being the center of attention isn't all that bad and actually gives us a chance to go take a nap.)

On a personal note, this trip was valuable for us on various levels.  Of course it was so special to really be together with family again (Skype can only do so much), though the good-byes were more emotionally taxing on me than I expected.  And it was good to eat Pop-tarts and Frosted Mini-Wheats and drink Dr. Pepper again (all things we can't find here).  But even so, God revealed to us something of deep value:  our life is not in the U.S. anymore.  It is here in Spain where we belong, and this is God's will for us.  What a refreshing confirmation and reaffirmation to have a year and a half after the big move.

P.S.  Miriam did incredibly well with the flights, sleeping most of the time.  Adjusting to the time difference after returning home was a different story, though...but we're all recovered and back to normal now!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

First Spanish Youth Retreat

Honestly, I was a bit reluctant to accept the invitation.  Mostly out of my own insecurity about my ability to speak and communicate well in Spanish...make that entirely out of my own sense of insecurity about it.  I've only lived here in Spain for a year and a half and have been speaking (or stumbling through) Spanish for the same, so how could I possibly communicate Scriptural, spiritual truth relevantly to Spanish teenagers?  Sure, I was a youth pastor for five years in the States, but I still haven't had much opportunity to get into the world of adolescents in here.  Even so, at the urging of a fellow missionary, as well as my wife, in mid-September I accepted the invitation to give a couple of messages at a youth retreat the first weekend in November.

So how did it go?  I learned once again that God shows up in our weaknesses and uses us when we simply say "YES" to simple invitations to be His messengers.  That's not to say it wasn't a lot of work on my part in preparation and having poor Rachel correct my still-shaky Spanish.  But God used me to connect His truth with teenagers, even in spite of my lack of vocabulary and questionable grammar.  More than one leader told me, "You have a real way of connecting with youth," and even several teens told me, "I really connected with your talks."  It turns out that Spanish teenagers (at least this group) aren't all that different from their American counterparts:  they're open to God, and they need to hear the truth presented directly and vulnerably, even if that means sharing our own questions and failures with them.  So God is good, He is faithful, and He uses weak, imperfect, cracked jars of clay.  Lesson learned, once again...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Visit to Alcora

Here's a little homemade video (about 8 minutes in length) that should give you a taste of our life here in Alcora.  We originally made it for a children's missions event...Hope you enjoy it!

Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saints' Day in Alcora

Last night we were unexpectedly reminded of the season (and the American commercialism) as a group of four boys knocked at our door and greeted us with the traditional "¡Truco o trato!" or "Trick or treat!" as we say in the States.  This imported "holiday" of Halloween is still pretty new to Spain and has yet to oust the traditional holiday of All Saints' Day (El Día de Todos los Santos).  Today is a holiday, so this morning we decided to go on a little field trip to participate in the culture a bit.

So where do you go to celebrate All Saints' Day in Spain?  To the cemetery...which isn't as creepy or weird as it sounds, especially given that we went around 1 p.m. and there were quite a number of people, young and old, paying their respects to their lost loved ones.  It was interesting to overhear people saying things like, "Oh, I remember him.  He was the brother of the butcher where my grandmother would always go to get meat." A vast majority of the graves (they're almost all above ground, so I'm not sure if that's the adequate word) were adorned with flowers from loved ones and a handful had notes of "I love and miss you" or "You won't be forgotten."

The truth is that I kind of like this holiday.  Praying to the dead or for the dead to leave purgatory and get into heaven, of course, is not Biblical, and I'm sure of how many people in Alcora actually do that.  But to a certain degree I find it healthy to revisit the people we've lost, to remember the past.  In remembering those who have gone before us, as followers of Christ, we are reminded of the hope we have for the future and the reality that death in this world does not have the final word.  Just at the entrance of the cemetery is this cross with the inscription in Valenciano that reads, "I am the Resurrection and the Life." May this truth, this hope be evident through our lives, and may Alcorinos come to know and experience Jesus, who is the source of that hope, indeed the Resurrection and the Life.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Visit from the Director

A few weeks back we had the privilege of hosting ECMI-USA's director, George Brown, for a few days.  Let me brag on him for a couple of sentences.  We were already impressed with George's professional abilities as the director--he has done and is doing a lot to organize ECMI in the U.S. and to mobilize people to re-evangelize the peoples of Europe.

But we discovered that he's not one of these top-down, "I sit in the big chair while you sit in the short chair," sorts of leaders.  He chatted with us for a few hours just after arriving to hear about how our transition to Spain and through Spain has gone.  He participated in the Bible study we host in our house.  He held little baby Miriam when she was fussy and we needed to get lunch on the table.  He washed our dishes after lunch...more than once.  He prayed with us and for us, and he wanted us to pray for him.

One of the more memorable things George and I did together was hike to the top of the hill that overlooks our town, Alcora, so that we could pray together for the town and the people, asking God to soften hearts and minds to the good news of His love and salvation (see the photo above).  If you come to visit us, I hope you're a guest like George was...and I promise to take you to the top of the hill so that you can catch a better glimpse of a town that we hope you're praying for.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

¡Fiestas del Pueblo!

Every year during the last week in August and the first week in September, the sleepy little pueblo of Alcora becomes a booming, dare I say "happenin" place.  "Why?" you ask.  It's the town fiestas (formally known as the "Festes del Crist" or the "Party of the Christ," and Alcorinos plan their lives and vacations around these two weeks of the year.  Even people from the surrounding towns and villages come to participate in the grand festivities.

As a newcomer to Alcora, I found it interesting how much the native Alcorinos take pride in their fiestas.  Even the hardware shop owner had to make sure that I knew about it and had a schedule for all of the main events.  Unfortunately, we had to leave about midway through the fiestas because of a speaking engagement in Madrid, but we were still able to get out and enjoy a bit of the local culture.  We made sure to see two key events, one being the toros:  not to worry, the bulls weren't killed, just taunted and teased mostly.  The other event we went out to see was the procession of "The Virgen" and "The Cristo," which started down in the center of town and ended in the chapel just above the town...a pretty good hike uphill if you're the one carrying the statues.  You can see a few more photos by CLICKING HERE.

One word of reflection.  Rachel and I were commenting on how these town fiestas seem to be a contradiction in terms.  The fiestas, as we mentioned above, are officially in honor of Christ.  But when we went to see the bulls, there was a live intermission show with an old obese Santa Claus looking fella dancing to music on top of a car wearing nothing but a red thong.  A friend of ours from here told us that normally it's two well-endowed topless ladies, but this was a demonstration in mockery of the current economic crisis (apparently the ladies cost more).  The very next day, after a lot of people had spent the night getting drunk, was the procession in honor of the Santísimo Cristo (the Most Holy Christ) in which a good number of the same people (quite a crowd) turned out to throw flowers to, light candles to and show their "devotion" to Christ (or the statue of the crucified Christ, I'm still not sure).  I don't have a strict party-pooper version of Jesus or Christianity (see John 2), but let me pose a question that reveals why we're in Alcora:  Do they really understand who this Christ is and what it means to honor Him?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

An Update Video

Well, if you've checked in on the blog recently, over the past month and a half or so, you've noticed it's been pretty dormant.  Our apologies.  We've had lots to do, and the blog was left on the back burner.  In an effort to make it up to you, here's a short video giving you a visual on our life transition from Córdoba to Alcora, as well as a bit of an introduction to the town of Alcora and some of our hopes for ministry there.  You'll notice that it's pre-Miriam, but take a peek anyway.  We promise to keep the blog a bit more up to date!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A random analogy for language learning

Pretty much since the beginning of this journey of learning Spanish, I've been thinking about an analogy to help describe the language learning process.  A few Star Wars characters stand out to me as emblematic of certain levels of language fluency.  WARNING:  this may prove completely senseless for some people but may turn out somewhat coherent (or at least mildly entertaining) for others.

CHEWBACCA:  The furry Wookiee who speaks a completely unintelligible language for us humans to understand.  When we first arrived to Spain, this is pretty much how people sounded to me.  I simply could not make much sense of what they wanted to tell me, and I couldn't express what I wanted to to them.  It was like trying to have a conversation with a Wookiee:  'GrrrrrHughhhghgWaawwaawwwwww...':  huh?

HAN SOLO:  He's the daring intergalactic companion of Chewie who is one of the few humans who can actually understand the giant fur ball.  I'm not sure if he really speaks the Wookiee language, but it's clear that he understands enough to be able to translate for Chewie.  After about 6 months of living here in Spain, I was beginning to get to this 'Han Solo' stage, understanding a good deal of what my neighbors were trying to tell me and being able to respond in simple and broken ways to them, even being able to translate a bit, as long as the Spanish speaker wasn't going too fast.

YODA:  Yeah, he's the little green guy who is the Grand Jedi Master who trains Luke Skywalker.  But for our purposes here, his language abilities in English are quite adequate although he often messes up the word order and expresses things in awkward and funny ways.  At McDonald's, instead of saying, 'I'd like to have a Big Mac with fries,' he'll say, 'Mmmm, a Big Mac and fries I would like to eat, mmmm....'  I'm guessing that that's what I sound like many days when I'm speaking Spanish:  pretty much intelligible, but awkward and a bit funny to listen to.

The good news is that the longer I'm here, the more I live among and interact with people, and the more I focus on perfecting the language, the more progress I see, especially when I look back to the days just after our arrival.  There are still days of frustration (even after 10 or 11 months of language school and even longer of just living here), even days when people sound like Chewie to me, but those days are fewer and farther between.  So if you think of it, pray that God will help me to continue learning well, to be patient with myself and to pay attention to the way Spaniards express themselves.  The Lord has been faithful and is equipping me to be able to share His good news relevantly with people He loves.

Monday, July 12, 2010

World Cup Champions!

In case you missed it, on Sunday Spain won the World Cup Championship for the first time ever.  Above you can enjoy the winning goal by Andrés Iniesta towards the end of the overtime's in Spanish (albeit with a Mexican accent), but that will give you a better feel for what it was like to watch it here.  To see the goal on Spanish TV, click HERE.

Today the champions return to Madrid to formally initiate the grand celebration, though it's been going strong since about 11:30 last night when we passed a group of young guys running around in their tighty-whities yelling 'Soy español!' or 'I am Spanish!'.  So today is a big day not only for fútbol fans in Spain but also for all Spaniards:  nothing brings out the Spanish flags and makes nationalism run high like World Cup soccer (Americans, think 4th of July meets the weeks following 9/11).

No super deep spiritual reflection to give here, and though I could go on about the idolatry of soccer and its stars, I won't.  Suffice it to ask you to pray that Spaniards come to prize Jesus as highly as they do their national sport.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Miriam Joy!

It's been a few weeks since we've posted anything here because, well, we've been a little busy with having a baby and getting used to being sleep-deprived parents.  So here is a little slideshow of photos to catch you up on our new little addition to the family, Miriam Joy, born on June 17th (two weeks ago today).  Enjoy!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Lost enough to let myself be led...

We're pretty well settled into our apartment here in Alcora, and since my greatly withchild wife is taking a much needed nap, I have some time to share some honest thoughts about where we're at...or where I'm at, at least.

About a month ago as I was driving our moving truck from Córdoba to Alcora, I had a lot of time to think about life: where we've been and where we're going, what we're doing and why we're doing it.  And as I was reflecting, I began to feel overwhelmed and pretty small in the midst of being a 'missionary in Spain.'

So the questions began to fly through my head:  What am I doing here in Spain?  Is it possible that I (a guy from a tiny town in Illinois) could be of any use to God and His desire to save Spaniards?  What does it mean to be a church planter?  In a town in Spain?  I'm going to be a father soon--I don't know how to do that, so what kind of father will I be?  And will I still be able to be a good and Godly husband for my wife?  In a word, I was feeling lost.

But God, in His graciousness, had a word for me during that 7 hour drive.  In the midst of the questions and the sense of being overwhelmed because of my lack of answers, I was listening to a Rich Mullins CD, his final one before his untimely death in 1997, called 'The Jesus Demos.'  The first song on that album is called 'Hard to Get,' and near the end of the song there is a line that says, 'I can't see how You're leading me unless You've led me here, to where I'm lost enough to let myself be led...'  And the Holy Spirit spoke quietly as my tears began to fall.

When we still lived in the States, I didn't realize just how much control I had over my life.  Speaking, preaching, leading Bible studies, knowing who I was and where I was going--I pretty well could do it all on autopilot.  But here in Spain, right here and right now, I feel so much more out of control.  I still butcher Spanish on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis and still get nervous when answering the telephone.  No, I don't know how to be a father, not to mention that I'm still working through some of my own father wounds at a whole new level.  No, there is no guarantee that Spaniards will respond to the Gospel and that we'll have 'success' (whatever that is) in planting a church in Alcora.

None of my questions have clear, easy, definitive answers, and that's OK.  I am here, God is walking with me through this time of change and uncertainty, and there is no doubt that He is leading me and will mold me through this new experience.  I am, indeed, where God wants me to be, lost enough to allow Him to lead me.

If you're interested, below is a pretty good rendition of that Rich Mullins song by Phil Stacey:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Journey Into Hope

Check out this video from ECMI called 'Journey Into Hope' to learn a little more about the context we work in here in Europe.  And wait for the end of the video to see a couple familiar faces!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Smells of Spain

It's interesting how closely the sense of smell is linked with the memory, and since we're in the midst of saying goodbye to one set of memories (our past year or so in Córdoba), we wanted to share our list of the Top 7 Smells of Spain (especially of Andalucía).

1. Cigarettes:  About 33% of Spaniards smoke, including anyone from 13 year old school girls to scruffy old men sitting in the park.  As a result, the smell of cigarette smoke was one of the first things we noticed when we moved here last year.  Even though there's a huge campaign against smoking and an ensuing debate on where it's OK to smoke, you can't help but smell cigarettes smoke here (it makes me long for the Lung Brush, the great fictional SNL product used to reduce the chances of developing lung cancer).

2. Coffee:  It's a way of life for Spaniards, and you smell it on Spaniards' breath all the time:  coffee.  Early-morning, mid-morning, after lunch, mid-afternoon, later in the evening...any time is a good time for coffee here.

3. B.O.:  I mean no disrespect here, but the truth is that after just a couple days of living here in Spain, I noticed that people smell a bit different.  And that's because deodorant is optional among Spaniards, though I believe that's changing among the younger generation.  Even so, suffice it to say that on hot summer afternoons in Andalucía you don't want a Spanish guy to give you a hug.  Now, take the B.O., mix in coffee breath and cigarette smoke on people's clothes, and you begin to get a good idea of what a bus ride smells like here in Córdoba.

4. Pechín:  I can't say that this is a pleasant or unpleasant smell:  it's simply a distinct and pungent aroma.  Pechín is the material that results from an olive getting crushed and pressed to produce olive oil.  Since olive oil is probably the greatest export from Andalucía, on any drive through the countryside you're likely to pass a olive oil processing plant and catch a whiff of it.  For Rachel it brings back memories of childhood, for one of our foreign missionary friends it almost made her puke, and for me it's just interesting.

5. Orange Blossoms:  Just after we arrived last May, we noticed a wonderfully pleasant aroma as went out for our evening walks:  orange blossoms.  Here in Córdoba many streets are lined with orange trees (they produce bitter oranges, not the nice sweet ones), so in the springtime when the trees are in bloom it smells amazing long as you're not standing near a street drain.

6. Garlic:  Walk by or into any apartment building just before lunchtime, and you'll know what we're talking about.  Garlic seems to be used in just about every dish here, and it's not too easy to miss.  In fact, Victoria Beckham was quoted as saying that Spain reeks of garlic, and if Posh says it, it must be true, right?

7. Spanish Bread:  Strolling down the sidewalk any morning you're likely to get a whiff of baking bread in a nearby panadería (bread bakery), which has to be one of the most delicious smells in the world.  Spanish bread is a little tougher and crustier than a french loaf, but it's equally as scrumptious, especially when it's fresh.  For us this provides a multi-sensory experience when we reflect on Jesus' words, 'I am the bread of life.'

BONUS:   After completing the list, Rachel reminded me about a smell that we complain about a lot:  dog poop.  You have to be very careful walking on the sidewalks here because just when you're least expecting you'll come upon a nice little pile of poo.  And even though there are signs like this one and owners are supposed to clean it up, many Spanish dog owners just don't care what their dog leaves behind for the rest of us to smell (especially in the heat of summer) and to avoid stepping in.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Past 3 Weeks

We realize we've been out of touch with the blogosphere for the past several weeks, which is a pretty good sign that we've been too busy (and, therefore, too tired) to pause to think about and update the blog.  In any case, here's the past few weeks in pictures:

ECMI's Biennial Conference
We met with about 200 people for ECMI's Biennial Conference in Gandía, Spain.  It was a great time of encouragement, prayer, meeting new people (20-some new missionaries in the organization in the past two years!) and catching up with others. Above we're meeting with our ECMI-USA sending section.  Honestly, it was refreshing to hear people speaking English with an American accent.  Speaking of accents, B.J. shared his particular Midwestern twang with the ECMI family by singing a country song for the 'ECM's Got Talent' show.

Apartment Hunting in l'Alcora
Above you have a nice view of the town of Alcora (notice the Mediterranean Sea some 30 kilometers off in the background), and suffice it to say that after a three or four day hunt we have a nice apartment down there among all the buildings.  We hope to show more detailed photos later once we're moved in.

After realizing that we were moving from a furnished apartment to an unfurnished one in a few short weeks (around the middle of May), we decided it would be a good idea to have some furniture for our new place, including some fun stuff for the baby's room.  So we spent more time than we'd like to admit at IKEA in Madrid, where you can get good quality furniture and other hip stuff for cheaper than you can anywhere else here in Spain.

So that's been our past few weeks in a nutshell.  We've been busy, but it's been great to see how God has walked with us through it all, providing a place for us to live in our new town, as well as the means for us to put furniture in that place.  We'll keep you posted as we pack up and move to Alcora!!!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Semana Santa in Córdoba

Last week was Holy Week, known here in Spain as Semana Santa.  It is a culturally religious time here, as church fraternities take the large statues of Christ and the Virgin out of the churches and carry them through the streets in grand processions.  Instead of attempting to explain the sights, sounds and smells of Semana Santa, we've put together a video of one of the processions to give you a better feel for what it's like.  You can also see some still photos by clicking HERE.

Monday, March 29, 2010

B.J.'s First Sermon in Spanish!

About four weeks ago, some coworkers of ours invited me to preach in their worship SPANISH.  We've lived here for nearly a year now, and even though I've been studying the language diligently, I am brutally aware every day of just how much I have yet to learn.  So although there was a part of me that wanted to shy away from the invitation, I accepted, which meant I would have to spend the next few weeks praying, studying and preparing my first Spanish sermon.

All of this said, yesterday was the day, and for me it was a milestone in my life:  not only for my language learning, but also for seeing that God has equipped and is equipping me to serve Him here in Spain.  No, it probably wasn't my finest, most well-polished sermon, and I made various mistakes in grammar and pronunciation (nothing fatal, though), but God was faithful in speaking through me and the people were gracious in listening to a small-town American speak their language.  Afterward the congregation was very encouraging, telling me things from, "That couldn't have been the first time you've preached in Spanish" to "You're already sounding like an Andaluz!" to "Your accent sounds Mexican or Texican!"

The above video clip is a little over a minute long, so feel free to take a view.  The sermon was based on the short but significant story of Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried Jesus' cross, found in Mark 15:21-22.  In the clip I'm explaining how the Romans and the Jews viewed crucifixion and why that's important for understanding Simon.  We laughed, we cried, we felt sick to our stomachs (somewhat typical of my sermon illustrations), and, most importantly, God met with us.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

An honest reflection on mass

Rachel is away at a conference this week, so, since I didn't have any other commitments for this morning, I decided to go to mass at the local Catholic parish in the barrio.  I'd been wanting to go to a mass for quite some time now, and I'm glad it finally worked out.  So I'll give a few bullet point reflections, and I'm going to take the risk of being honest, perhaps superficial, and not too theologically deep.
  • Nervous:  For a few different reasons, I was nervous as I walked to the church.  Normally I have Rachel and her perfect Spanish to hide behind, but without her, if someone asked me a question, I'd have to understand and respond on my own, which makes me a bit nervous still.  I was also a bit nervous because I wasn't entirely certain of what to expect.  I've been to mass a few times in my life, but never in Spain.  I like new things, but they do make me nervous.
  • No one really talked to me.  It turned out that reason #1 for my nervousness was unwarranted, since the only personal contact I had was with two people sitting near me during the 'Passing of the Peace.'  On one hand, that was relieving.  On the other, it's kind of sad that you walk into and out of church or a worship service without being noticed, welcomed or such.  Maybe that's just my American evangelical small church mindset talking.
  • A dirty look.  Although hardly anyone talked to me, the older lady who collected the offering did seem to give me a dirty look when she walked by and I didn't toss any money in the offering basket.  I'm guessing that she was thinking, 'Tú no eres de aquí, ¿verdad?' ('You're not from around here, are you.').
  • Following along:  For the most part, I was able to follow along with the priest, though I didn't even attempt to respond with the congregation at the appropriate places.  No bulletin, no outline, no guideline for what was going on.  Everyone seemed to have it pretty well memorized.  As for the standing up and sitting down, that was pretty easy to follow along with.
  • Sermon?  OK, so obviously I'm going to show my Protestant evangelicalism here, but I was amazed that there was absolutely no sermon, lesson, or homily.  The priest did read the story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8 (I was the only one with a Bible to follow along), but then after that he just commented that he always wondered where the man she was caught with ended up and why he wasn't there...And that was it!  Not even a five minute spiritual thought or brief challenge.
  • Just the Wafer:  While the priest enjoyed both the body and the blood of Jesus, the congregation just got the wafer.  I find that interesting and I'm not sure what the thinking is behind that.  I decided to respect the Catholic Church's policy, so I didn't go up for a wafer.
  • Old and Female:  There were approximately 40 people in attendance, which is a bit sad since it's one of two parishes in our barrio, where about 10,000 or 15,000 people live.  Of the 40 people, I was the youngest by far, and about 80% of the congregants were elderly women.  There may have been five men in attendance.
  • Short:  The mass started at just after 11 a.m. and ended right at 11:30.  It was a bit like a flight I once had between Cincinnati and Louisville:  as soon as we left the airport we began our initial descent.  
  • And Not So Sweet:  Honestly, I left thinking, 'Did we really do anything in there?'  The priest did his thing with a few readings, the congregation responded from rote memory a few responses, they said a few prayers, they ate a wafer and the priest drank the wine, and then we left.  Honestly, there was no life or liveliness to it, and it wasn't difficult to figure out why there was no one else there even close to my age.  Unless you're fascinated by religiosity and going through religious motions, what would be the point in going to mass?  That's not to question the motives of those who were there, which certainly isn't my place, but if they were excited or thrilled to be worshiping the Almighty Triune God who loves them so much, it sure was left unexpressed in any way, shape or form.  If that's all that God demands, asks or wants of you--to go to a 30 minute mass, mouth some words and get a wafer--He's kind of a weak and uninterested god, probably not one worth worshiping.  And, yes, I know--by firsthand experience--that this same sort of thing happens in many of our Protestant evangelical churches in the U.S.
So there you have it.  No, it's not the feel-good reflection of the year, and it shouldn't be. The Catholic Church is in grave danger here because people aren't interested in the religious forms they're offering...What people need is an encounter with the living Christ, in some form or other, and then allow their meetings and rituals to be in service of that relationship.  Please pray for the Catholic Church and for Spaniards, that they would hunger and thirst for Christ, and please pray for us, that people would encounter Him through us.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

¡Sí a la Vida, no al Aborto!

This morning we had a short worship service with our church and then headed to downtown Córdoba together to join hundreds of others (Catholics, evangelicals and non-religious alike) for a demonstration against the laws permitting abortion here.  In fact, there were similar protests all across Spain this morning urging the liberal, secular government to reconsider their lenient position towards abortion, making it little more than a law of convenience and not of responsibility.  A special treat for our congregation was that a teenager from our church was selected to read part of a statement to the government.  Please pray for President Zapatero and the government here, and please pray for us as followers of Jesus, that we would represent Him well and share His Good News relevantly in this culture that desperately needs to receive it.

By the way, the title of this post means 'Yes to Life, No to Abortion,' and the signs we are holding say 'For the right to life:  let them be born!'

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

15 Years of Bringing Hope to the Hopeless

While Andalucía celebrated 30 years of being an autonomous community yesterday, we had the opportunity to celebrate a very different milestone regarding God's work in the province of Córdoba:  15 years of helping substance abusers and their families climb out of their miry pit. Like our boss and founder of this ministry, Francis Arjona, once said, "This is evangelism through the big door!"

ECMI founded el Centro Buen Samaritano (the Good Samaritan Center) back in 1993 and, since then, has been able to reach hundreds of families with a way out of drugs and a way into a right relationship with Jesus Christ. This ministry has also had a tremendous impact on the neighboring communities, which have grown to better understand and respect the Evangelical church for its work.

It was exciting to be a part of yesterday's 15th anniversary, as we celebrated what God has done and continues to do in and through this very needed and hands-on ministry tool. There were about 130 mouths to feed, which two huge paellas (a typical Spanish rice dish) took care of. People came from all over the province and many were nonbelievers, which made it the perfect opportunity for sharing the Gospel. B.J. and I also helped out by leading a youth seminar on how to resolve conflicts. We had about 20 youth participate, which was a great chance for B.J. to practice his Spanish!

We are privileged to be a very small part of what God is doing here in Spain and are so thankful that God uses mere humans to do great things for his Kingdom, just as he is doing through the Good Samaritan Center. Doesn't it make you want to come over and help us out?!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Learning how to help people like me (by Rachel)

Last weekend we were able to attend a two day conference near the Costa del Sol (although it rained all weekend) on how to better understand and help TCKs.  You know, those unique people referred to as Third Culture Kids who grow up in a culture different from that of their parents and who tend to have specific common traits and struggles, as well as benefits and strengths, of course!  In fact, I am a TCK!  I love being one, especially since I was able to experience so many different cultures as a child.  But I also know that it can be difficult not really feeling like you fit in anywhere and being a "global nomad" who can be anywhere from blending in to rebelling against everything your parents or your "host" culture stand for.  I know many TCKs who have had wonderful experiences and love who they are, but there are many who struggle with feeling different or odd and who don't have anyone to talk to. 

So I would like to be someone who's there to help out.  I can relate to these kids (and adults) in many ways and I hope to just come along and help them try to figure out who they are (and maybe do the same for myself while we're at it!).  It was great connecting with others who have this same passion and hanging out with the leader of the conference who happens to be a TCK and a long time family friend.  I also was glad B.J. was able to come along to better understand this topic because he's going to have double trouble-- he's married to a TCK and will also soon be raising one!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Castellón Trip

We've been back from Castellón for a week now, and we figured it might be good to follow up on how the trip went.  The week was filled with taking part in prayer meetings, Bible studies, and worship services, as well as breaking bread together with the believers in their homes to get to know each other.  The photo here is of a small Bible study group in the town of Alcora where the church of Onda is hoping to plant a new congregation.  We spent a good deal of time with our hosts, Francisco and Shirley Gross, asking a lot of questions about the needs of the area and the team's vision for reaching Castellón with the Gospel.  Here's a run down of what we found out:
  1. The NeedsUnemployment abounds, as just two years ago Castellón was booming with the ceramic tile industry, but due to the economic crisis most of those plants have all but shut down.  Drugs and alcohol are a huge problem throughout the province, especially the closer to the coast you get (Castellón is a port city).  Witchcraft is also rampant in the area, and, in fact, one of the leaders in one of our churches there used to be a warlock.  Traditional Catholicism remains strong in some places, particularly in the smaller towns.
  2. The People:  There are lots of immigrants in Castellón, especially along the coast:  Romanians, Latin Americans, Germans, Arabs, as well as a lot of Spaniards who have moved there from other parts of the country.  The native folks from the province speak Valenciano in addition to Spanish (it's kind of a mix between Spanish and French) and are typically more closed and to themselves (as opposed to Cordobeses), making it a bit more difficult to get to know them.
  3. The Vision:  The northern half of the province is largely unevangelized, and since there are churches in and around Castellón city and a new church plant up north in Benicarló, the team goal is to gradually plant churches in each city in between.  The church in Onda, where the Grosses have been working, is looking to plant a church in the neighboring town of Alcora (as we mentioned above), which would likely be a work we'd be involved in, should we move there.  There is also a large university in Castellón city where the churches are looking to start some form of an outreach.  Please pray as we, along with the ECM Spain field council, seek God's guidance in discerning whether or not we fit in Castellón.
  4. The Geography:  Here are a few photos which show the extremes of Castellón:
 Here we are on the Mediterranean shore.

 And just an hour or so later we were up in the mountains near the town of Morella (an altitude of about 1000 meters or 3250 feet).  They say that Castellón is the most mountainous province in Spain.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Heading to Castellón!

This Friday we head to the province of Castellón for almost a week to explore some ministry possibilities there with our friends and coworkers, Francisco & Shirley Gross.  For those of you who aren't up on your Spain geography, we have the map above to help you locate where we'll be:  it's on the Mediterranean coast just a couple hours south of Barcelona.

ECM has various points of ministry there (check out the map below to locate them, if you like):
  • El Grau, where a church was planted 10 or 15 years ago (we think).
  • Benicarló, where we have another church plant project going.
  • Onda, where the Gross' began a church plant in 2004.
  • Alcora, where there is no evangelical church but there is a small family of believers who want to help begin planting one, with the help of the church in Onda and ECM.

Please pray for us this week, that we would begin to get to know these churches and believers, that we would be able to encourage them, and that the Lord would guide our steps and conversations throughout the week.  Also, please pray that we, along with the ECM Spain field council, would begin to sense where it is that we might fit here.  Most of all pray that people in the province of Castellón would come to know Christ.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

It's Snowing in Córdoba!

After we arrived home from church and had started eating lunch, we looked out our third story apartment window and saw that it was snowing!  Having lived in New Jersey and PA for all of our married life (and B.J. having grown up in Illinois), you'd think that this wouldn't be a big deal for us...but we live in sunny and warm Córdoba, Spain!  And right now it's neither sunny nor warm, but it's fun that it's actually snowing, which rarely ever happens in the city of Córdoba (maybe once every four or five years, tops).  Above you can see a video of our Australian friend and ECM coworker, Chloë, react to the snow.  Being an Aussie from Sydney, she's only seen snow in person 4 or 5 times in her entire life! 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

¡Feliz Día de los Reyes!

The majority of the world has long said goodbye to the Christmas season (no doubt Walmart already has its Valentine's Day products on display), but here in Spain the Christmas spirit is still going strong.  'Why?' you ask:  because today is Kings' Day or, in official terms, el día de los Reyes Magos.  It's a day that remembers the arrival of the Biblical Wise Men to Bethlehem to present the baby Jesus with gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh, and for Spanish boys and girls it's more important than Christmas because last night their Majesties, the Kings, left gifts for them to open up this morning!

In anticipation for this morning, Córdoba (like nearly every other town here) hosted its annual parade, which boasted floats from which select boys and girls threw candies, small stuffed animals, and occasionally DVDs to the bystanders crowded along the parade route.  The climax was the arrival of the final three floats which carried the kings:  Melchor (who represents Europe), Gaspar (representing Asia), and Baltasar (who represents Africa).  As first year missionaries, we were obligated to go out and participate, and now we're trying to figure out what to do with our pile of candy.

From our perspective, we really appreciate this cultural holiday since it's based on the Biblical story and seems to create a natural link between there and here.  You might even think that this would give Spanish families more reason to emulate the Magi in their worship of Jesus, but it turns out that they are mostly consumed with iPods, PS3's, clothes and whatever else they've given or received this Kings' Day.  As with Christmas in the States, it seems that materialism has crowded out the heart of this holiday.