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?!