Thursday, December 29, 2011

Movie Night in Alcora

A few weeks ago our ministry team hosted a free movie night open to the town of Alcora.  We originally had intended to show The Nativity Story (being December and all), but since the movie distributor wanted 300€ ($400!) to do a public screening, we settled on a much more economical movie called The Climb that was put out by the Billy Graham Association some years back.  About 30 people showed up, between the support of our church in the neighboring town and people from our town, and the experience was quite informative for us.  Here are a few observations I have about the night:

  • Relationships matter:  The people who came from Alcora were nearly all people we knew and had personally invited.  One random Alcorino saw one of the signs we had put out and came, and then when he asked who we were and why we were putting on a free movie night, thus finding out that we were an evangelical church group, he left and said he'd come back in a few minutes...we're still waiting for him to return.
  • The "evangelical" stigma:  We just posted about this with one of our recent conversations, so I won't go into detail.  But people (especially people from a small, predominately Catholic community) still view the evangelical church as a cult...or at least as something very strange and foreign.  At times it even causes us to question how we should refer to ourselves, call our church group, and publicize events.
  • People are busy with their own lives:  Thirty years ago, when Rachel's parents first arrived in Spain, doing big outdoor campaigns and showing the Jesus Film really worked because people weren't all that busy and a lot of them didn't have their own TV's.  But now everyone has their own LED TV sets to watch movies, and they're busier than ever, taxiing their kids to soccer, dance, piano and tae-kwon-do lessons after school.  Just finding an ideal day and time to put on a movie was challenging enough.
  • We're still learning:  It could be easy to get discouraged with the fact that only 30 people showed up for a free movie, and, in fact, a few of our group did seem a bit down about it.  But a big part of what we're doing at this stage in ministry is testing the waters, experimenting with events and ministries, and seeing what kind of response we have.  This is an extremely important step in the process of evangelism and church planting, but it can be frustrating, as well, because having big numbers would be really nice...they make us feel good and look impressive in prayer letters.  So we could look at it from a very Eeyore-ish point of view and be disappointed about the numbers, or we can take it all in stride, learn from it, and actually have fun with the ministry and events that we do, even if no one outside of our small group shows up.
  • God's at work:  Several of the non-Christians who did show up for the movie were quite moved by the plot and the themes presented, true love and sacrifice (especially God's love for us) being central.  Some even cried at the end.  Our neighbors who went continued to mention it (unsolicitedly) in conversations for days after, and we had the opportunity to share the Gospel with them at a deeper level than we ever have been as a result.  They remain interested and even accompanied us to our church's annual Christmas program.  They may not know it yet, but the Holy Spirit is softening their hearts, and the Lover of their souls is wooing them softly towards Himself.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Conversations With Spaniards: Normal?

Not so long ago, I was chatting with my language exchange partner...she helps me with Spanish, and I help her with her English.  We'll call her Inma.  Inma and I have been meeting together for this mutual help for 2 or 3 months, and in the midst of our conversation (now in Spanish), she said something to me that, well, kind of caught me off-guard:

Inma:  "But, you're really...normal."
Me:  "What exactly do you mean by that...normal?"
Inma:  "Well, when our mutual friend, Juan, told me about you and that you were an evangelical preacher, that made me kind of nervous.  I wanted to work on my English, so I called you anyway."
Me:  "So what made you nervous about meeting an evangelical preacher?"  (which, by the way, is never how I refer to myself)
Inma:  "The only exposure I have to evangelicals was at Juan's wedding years ago, and, to tell you the truth, all them were pretty strange or obviously people with certain special needs."
Me:  "Really?  That's interesting...They probably found a place that accepts them, and that's a good thing, right?"
Inma:  "Well, yeah, but you, and your wife, well, you guys are normal.  You're married, you have a daughter, you're a pretty happy, educated, normal guy.  I wasn't sure what to expect when I met you, but you're definitely different than what I expected an evangelical preacher to be like."
Me:  "Well, I'm glad to have changed your view of evangelicals a bit."

This brief 10 minute conversation I had with Inma showed me a lot about how "normal" Spaniards tend to see evangelicals, and perhaps in some ways they're right.  Many evangelicals here in Spain come from the lower economic classes and are not always very well-educated.  Many of them do have social, behavioral and/or psychological problems, and they end up in the evangelical church because their needs, most basically the need for love and acceptance, are met there because we try to take the greatest two commandments seriously (sometimes more successfully than others).  Also, a lot of evangelicals are Hispanic or Romanian immigrants, making "evangelical" synonymous with "foreign."  Add to this the fact that when the media covers the evangelical church here, it almost always shows either a Gypsy church (think wildly charismatic--the Gypsies are their own culture here) or a Latin American church (often times the prosperity gospel type).  This is the impression that the typical Spaniard has of the evangelical church or what it means to be an evangelical as opposed to a "normal" Catholic (practicing, barely practicing, proudly non-practicing or atheistic, they come in all classes).

So what does this mean for us?  I'm not entirely sure, but I'm certain it doesn't mean closing our doors to the people who live the Beatitudes.  At the same time, it means that we need to be mindful of this perception and also be open to changing people's stereotypes of us, and this probably only happens slowly, one conversation at a time.  However, to appear "NORMAL" is never the goal.  Pray with us that God would help us to live in such a way, with an eternal mindset, values and purpose, that others would be attracted to Him, and that what they see would be so much better than "normal."