What is success? What does fruit look like, when it comes to the fruits of your labor or the fruit of ministry work? How do you measure it? I'm all about measureable goals and achievements, but is that always exactly possible? I admit to being ready to give up and throw in the towel on several occasions, for different reasons and in different situations.
Just three weeks ago, I was evaluating my involvement in my quilting group. To be honest, I was weighing pros and cons and the ever-present issue of finances. I mean, I already know how to sew. And Pinterest and I solve lots of problems together when I get stuck. So just how much do I really need to be in this quilting group? Yes, it's true that I got in to the group as a way to meet some new people and to broaden my relationship circle. Everyone in the group is outside of the 'church realm' and not affiliated with that circle at all. I also looked at it as a way to learn about culture from people outside my current circle and current age-bracket. And in all of those ways, it has been a success... I know an entirely new set of people, I have been steadily learning culture in new and different ways, and I occasionally learn new vocabulary. But, as to making real in-roads with friendships or toward conversations about Jesus... it just seemed like it was a non-starter. And I have to pay group dues to attend each month. And fabric is RIDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE in Spain!!! So, how much do I need to stick with this?
Well, true to form, God usually hits me in the head right after I have gone through a period of working so diligently to weigh out the pros and cons. He usually smacks me with a, "If you would just wait, I'll show up! I always do!" But, as my husband always reminds me, I wasn't in line when they handed out Patience... I was too busy trying to get something done. :)
So the last few weeks have been major ah-ha moments with my quilting friends. For example, one week there was a huge discussion on religion and what they don't like about Spain and the Church (folks, culture learning just doesn't get any better than being privy to THAT conversation!). Last week, one of the ladies got so excited because I said that I like a particular dish that she was talking about making for lunch... then she asked if I would come eat lunch at her house some time after class! Okay - for those who don't get why that is a big thing - Spaniards are very social, but in public places like cafes or on the street, etc. They are VERY private when it comes to their private space of home. You have arrived in the inner circle if you are invited in to someone's home! So, this was BIG! This week, another of the women was talking about how we need to surround ourselves with people we like, who have common interests, who love us for who we are, etc, because sometimes family just isn't like that, so you have to invent your own family. Then she announced that the quilting group would be her 'family', and she specifically reached over and grabbed my shoulder and said she wanted me in her family, too! WHAT?! How did I ever doubt that I should remain in this group!!!??? Then, after our group time was over, the leader (the one who made me cry when I first started this endeavour) started telling me all about baptisms and first communion rituals and weddings and all the traditions that surround them in Andalucia! Again, cultural learning just doesn't get better than personal teaching from folks who live it! I learned about her childhood, the church traditions in her childhood, and how all is changing now. Incredible...
So, that was a glimpse of fruit... not necessarily fruit that I worked very hard for, but fruit that God gave to me for being faithful to going to this group each week and for trying to build relationships.
There are other little things that are evidence of fruit. There is the woman who has always been a little combative in bible study - she really opened up this week and even thanked us for having our class available to her and helping her to understand without judging her. Fruit.
There is the teen girl in our youth class who is always loud, always attention-seeking, always confrontational about major biblical concepts (like forgiveness and grace and faith). On several occasions, she has said that it's all stupid and we are all crazy for believing and she raises her voice to fighting volume. But, over the past few weeks, she has greeting us with huge hugs. She has softened. She hasn't been at war with the lessons. She sits more calmly, she participates, she listens. She even apologized for having a hard time understanding. And this week, she kissed Billy and I both on the cheeks and thanked us for our time with the group. Wow. Fruit.
There is the friend who followed up, days after a bible study lesson, with questions and deep needs to understand more, and spent hours talking about how he was convicted by The Word that week.
There is the pastor who needs a safe place to pour out his worries and needs and struggles without worrying that he is being judged... he came to Billy this week and asked for Billy to be that listening ear and that friend who will hold his cares and walk with him in the hard stuff.
There is the Spanish friend who sends a random text to say that she loves me and is thinking about me and praying for my week and my family... a text that arrived just as I was feeling weary and wondering if anyone cared.
So, when I think of fruit, I also think of God's provision. I think about how most of the fruit that we see is NOT what I would have chosen to measure. But the fruit is in the things that God has given us and allowed us to see where we are touching lives, and where those lives intersect with ours and enrich us, too. I thank God for His provision, and for allowing us to see fruit, in whatever form it comes.
I have to be honest with you - a major issue stated by most missionaries in the field is the fact that they have a very hard time staying spiritually fed and filled up. You might be saying, “What?! How is that possible? Missionaries are the experts, right? How could they have a hard time with staying rooted in The Word???”… don’t pretend like you’re not thinking that… I hear you. But the honest truth of the matter is that many, many, many missionaries become spiritually dry and shrivel up. They do a lot of teaching and preaching and sharing and serving, and sometimes they just have a really tough time finding someone who can speak in to their lives, who is willing to really sit with them and pour in to them and help to revitalize them on a regular basis, who will be open to really going deep in study with them. It’s a real thing, and it is eating missionaries alive all around the globe. It’s not a new thing… it’s been happening for centuries. And, it happens to us.
In Peru, we did a lot of giving and serving and teaching and pouring out to others. But, when it came to our own spiritual growth and development, we were drying up quick. Exhausted and, frankly, a little tired of hearing our own thoughts being taught all the time, we were just getting a little stale and run down in our spiritual growth. And with no mature believers around us in our community to help us and to study with us and to pour in to our lives… well, it was not a good thing. Oh, how we wished for a group of folks who would go deep, who would ask hard questions, who would hold each other accountable to the Scriptures and who would really struggle together in The Word! On the few occasions that we were able to study with someone in that way, it was incredible and life-giving! But, there were lots of long, dry periods between those springs of Living Water.
Several years ago, we were introduced to a method of Bible study that really made the Scriptures come to life for us. Inductive Bible Study is an investigative approach to the Bible using three basic components: Observation, Interpretation, and Application. Okay… don’t check out on me yet. Hang in there. This is NOT hard, and it is OH SO GOOD!!! And this whole story is going to come full circle, so hang in there!
Observation: Observation teaches you to look for and see exactly what the passage says. Observation answers the question, “what does the passage say?” Keep looking. Keep digging. What do you see? What else to you see? What else? Notice connections. Notice repeated words. Really pay attention. Slow down. When I teach this method, I tell people to look at it as if they were investigating like detectives or forensic scientists. Slow down and pay attention to everything. Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Underline things that seem important or interesting. I like to use different colors. Make lists of anything that seems to go together. I often make lists of verbs/action words… for example, a list of all the actions that describe Paul in a chapter in Acts, or a list of characteristics exhibited by Jesus in a certain passage.
Interpretation: While observation leads to an accurate understanding of what the Word of God says, interpretation goes a step further and helps you understand what it means. So, where in Observation we were looking at everything with a fine toothed comb and asking the basic 5W questions, now we are going to look at it and say, “So, what’s that all about?” What does it mean? Why did the characters do that particular thing? Does the culture of the time have anything to do with this? This is the part where we really want to step in to the story and try to see it through the eyes of each character. How would you feel if Jesus said those particular words to you? What would you be thinking or experiencing if you were a player in this passage? What would it be like to actually be there? If you were in this story, who would you be? Who do you identify with? What are you feeling, thinking, seeing, tasting, experiencing… think with all of your senses and emotions.
Application: “So, now what?” That’s the question, isn’t it!? Now that you have really dug in and really experienced the Scripture, now what? How does this impact you? What are you going to do with your day-to-day life now that you have been impacted by this particular passage? How do you go forward and walk in this new knowledge of The Word.
I tell you all of this to get to the point of how Inductive Bible Study has made a major difference in our spiritual lives. When we moved to Spain, we still really longed for people to study the Bible with at a really deep level. What would that look like? Would we dry up in this new field of mission service? We didn’t know the answer, but we really prayed for someone to study with.
A couple of months in to our time here, I was asked to ‘bring the Word’ (speak or teach) to a small women’s study group one evening. Being a teacher who believes in the power of inquiry and discovery as a great teaching tool - so much better than just telling / lecturing and giving out information - I decided to take the passage of the Paralytic and the Matt Carriers and just try out the Inductive Method with this group. Folks… it got deep! There was some serious discovery and some big time lightbulb moments as people really dug in and observed, made connections, and saw Scripture in a whole new way. At the end of the evening one woman said, “I have read this passage and heard it at least a hundred times. But I haven’t ever seen so much or gotten so deep as we got tonight. This is amazing!” And the beautiful part is, I just bring the Scripture to the table and help guide people to dig and ask questions. And in the process of discovery and discussion, I, too, get to learn and process and see new things through the perspective and hearts of others!
Now, 18 months later, we found the thing that sustains us spiritually in the field...reading the Scriptures via Inductive study methods with others and having deep discussions and times of great growth! We have several different study groups each week, each studying a different passage or book of the Bible. One group has 12-15 adults studying stories of Jesus and the disciples. Our youth study group has 12 youth studying Jesus. We have a group of 3 couples who are currently studying the book of James. Billy meets one-on-one with another man to study a passage each week. And I study with a group of ladies in another town once a week. It is truly incredible how God has given us a great method (via some great teachers years ago) and this method has really appealed to those around us in Spain! We are definitely NOT shriveling up in The Word nowadays… we are THRIVING! Praises to Him!!!
We just returned from the big parent meeting at school. The one where all the parents of 6th grade students file in to the room and sit nervously listening to the Director (Principal) tell us not to be nervous, moving up and changing schools is a good thing, etc. etc. etc. Somehow, I wasn't nervous until I heard how I shouldn't be nervous and watched lots of other parents be nervous... THAT made me nervous.
In Spain, students go to Primary school for 6 years (unless you opted in for preschool before that). They spend those first 6 years together, with the same students in the same class the entire time. They are seriously bonded. They even keep the same teacher for every two year cycle. Although Sarah would be in the 5th grade in Texas this year, her birthday fell squarely in to the dates of all 6th grade students here. So, we had to skip a grade last year and pray for the best. Okay.. I might have shed a nervous tear or two that day in the office of the Director. My baby... skipping a grade? Anyway - that's water under the bridge now. Today, she sits in the top 3 of her class and has risen to the task!
After 'graduation' from the 6th grade, students move to another school building for what is the mandated Secondary classes (4 years). After the 4 years, they can choose to take one of three options... go to Bachillerato (College Prep school), go to a vocational school, or go directly to the work force.
Sarah moves up to the ESO (secondary school) at the end of this school year. We had to make some choices and sign up for the route she would take... would she go in to the regular course work, or would she go the route of Bilingual Secondary education? Only 30 students are accepted for the bilingual program. Of course, we chose the bilingual route... shouldn't be a problem to take 50% of your coursework in English, right? ;) The Director laughed when we signed the paperwork and said, "I'll think she'll do great!" Because the bilingual trac is more difficult for most students, only the top ones are allowed in, and no behavior issues are tolerated...This was Sarah's entire reason for wanting in... so she doesn't have to be around a couple of the behavior issues any more.Tolerance and compassion...even with the behavior issue kids... it's a skill we're working on...
All in all, we have been pleased with the education system so far. In my 16 years as a certified Texas teacher opinion, I think the curriculum is pretty good. Math seems higher and more advanced than we teach in Texas at this age level. Social studies is WAY more advanced... these kids know so much more geography and history than most American adults know! Science is way lower at this point (so disappointing to her parents who were both science teachers), but it seems to pick up in the higher grades. Language arts (in Spanish, of course) is really good and there is a deep understanding of how language works. All children must take English as a foreign language from the moment they enter school, all the way through to secondary graduation. So all students graduate with 10 years of a foreign language. Students in the second half of secondary, will choose a trac that takes them in to a third language (most choose French). So, in many ways, I really like the curriculum. Of course, there are things I don't love, but right now we're all happy with her education.
There are no extra-curriculur activities in the school. Anything extra is on the family. So, Sarah takes piano once a week outside of school...gotta get in that music education and higher level brain function! And, she's just really great at music! Last year, she was in a taekwondo group 3 days a week. This year, she also is picking up a second day with her riding coach (she is in the jumper / dressage group). Piano and riding costs come out of our own family funds.
If you ask Sarah about the future... "I'm going back to Texas for college. I want to go to vet school at Texas A&M. And I'm going to be on the Texas A&M Equestrian team." Gotta love a girl with goals! And one that bleeds maroon... Gig'em Aggies!!! Although, I won't be surprised if her saddle and tack doesn't somehow sport a tiny Peruvian flag and a tiny Spain flag... the girl is multicultural at heart.
I just received a prayer focus newsletter from a colleague who works in Germany. She shared it with me because we had recently been together for a week and we had spent much time discussing the context of working in Spain, as well as her context in Germany, and the context of other peers who work in other areas of Europe. I wanted to share the prayer letter with you because I felt that it is a very good depiction of what the current 'religious climate' looks like here:
Europe Focus on Spain
The church – the key to the nation
“Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” I Kings 18:44
A Brief Historical overview of the Spanish Church
There has been a Christian testimony in Spain since the early days of the Apostolic Church and the following centuries of the developing Roman Church, up until the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The Church continued to grow during the Visigoth era, surviving and remaining faithful even during seven centuries of the Islamic Caliphate, which began in 722 and ended in 1492. Seven centuries of Islamic domination had forged in the Spanish Church, not only longsuffering, but also a defiant and militant spirit that jealously guarded Christ’s testimony in Spain. During the early years of the struggle between the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformation in Europe, the Spanish Church was at the forefront in protecting the ‘Spanish’ Expression of the Roman Catholic Church on the Iberian Peninsula.
The abuses of the Spanish Inquisition and the fate of the Reformed Church in Spain are well known. The Spanish Inquisition virtually drove out the Jewish and Islamic communities from Spain and also extinguished the Reformation-Evangelical testimony within the Spanish Church. The courts and trials of the Inquisition were not officially ended until 1834. A Protestant and Evangelical expression of the faith was not ‘legal’ and consequently almost non-existent until the Law of Religious Liberty was passed in 1967. The modern freedom of religion and the open expression and creation of Protestant-Evangelical Churches and public evangelization in Spain really did not begin until after the death of Franco in 1975.
“For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice….” Zechariah 4:10
The Protestant-Evangelical Spanish Church in1975 consisted of approximately 30,000 Christians who represented less than one tenth of one percent of Spain’s population. Today after 40 years of religious liberty there are approximately 500,000 Evangelical Christians or a little more than 1% of Spain’s 47 million population, a ten fold increase in the Evangelical witness. While this is an extraordinary increase, one must soberly note that it is still a minute minority in a nominally Catholic and secular nation and has not really affected the mainstream of the Spanish nation or culture.
Furthermore all the growth in the Evangelical Church has come from three marginalized people groups: The Philadelphia Gypsy Church (during their 1970’s and 1980’s explosive revival), the Heroin addicts (resulting from the explosive growth of the REMAR, RETO, and BETEL rehab communities and churches during the three decades from 1980 to the present), and finally from the massive immigration of Latin Americans and Eastern Europeans from 2000 until the present where in a ten year period Spain’s population increased from 40 to 47 million.) In the last decade almost all the growth in the Spanish Church has been among the marginalized and already converted Latin American Evangelicals.
Sadly, working class, middle class, the professional and upper class Spaniards have remained unreached and uninterested in the Gospel. Even the Roman Catholics have lost millions of nominal Christians as Spain has grown ever more secular. (In a survey in ‘El Pais’, one of the leading Spanish newspapers, 59% of Spanish men claiming to be Catholic also claimed to be atheists. Incongruous.)
Please pray that:
Senior Pastor of Betel Madrid
International Director of Betel International
Please join us in praying for Spain and for ministry initiatives in all of Europe.
Who am I? In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a Southern Living / Martha Stewart wannabe, a soccer mom, and a short term mission team coordinator / intern director for missions in Mexico... you name it, I probably tried it!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! We have three incredible children... two adult boys who live in Texas, and the Sarah (14) lives with us in whatever country we are serving. I'm still teaching, still taking photos, still leading teams and mentoring, I just do it all in full-time service now! And I'm working hard at giving Southern Living and Martha Stewart a run for their money! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers and immigrant peoples, writing, and trying to figure out what life looks like for a Texas girl serving Christ in Southern Europe. Life in His service is AWESOME! I'm happy to share it with you here... Enjoy!