One of the ways we minister in Spain is serving in youth ministry. One role that we did not anticipate when we came to Spain was that of Youth Ministry. One afternoon, while sitting in the garden at the church with the pastor, he approached us with the request of leading the youth Sunday school class for a short period… 3 months. He needed to give the current teacher a break (the teacher had been in the role for several years with no break) and asked us to step in for a bit. I’ll be honest—my initial gut response was fear and trembling. The idea of teaching teens was a bit equivalent to Daniel in the lion’s den… I just kept thinking about how they would eat me alive! But the poor pastor was a little desperate for a sub for those 3 months and we have a hard time saying no or letting others down (basically, we were sitting ducks and he knew it), so we decided that we could do anything for just 3 months. There was an endpoint and we would have an ‘out’, so we said okay.
Well, here we are, 2+ years later… still teaching the youth class and now serving on the youth leadership team… and loving every minute of it!!! The previous teacher did not want his job back, and by that time, we were smitten with these awesome kids! So, we stayed in the position.
Youth Sunday school mostly looks like a group inductive bible study / disciple group. These kids are smart and driven and eager to learn! They are willing to wrestle with Scripture and with ideas and with each other’s opinions. They go deep… often deeper than we expect. They are growing every week. They are amazing! This past Sunday, we started a discipleship study series with them (Life Transformation Studies). During the first session, they made connections and new discoveries like never before. One student shouted out, “Wait! Stop! I can’t handle this. My head is exploding!” Another said, “I’ve learned more today from the bible than I have ever learned in all my years of Religion class! (Religion classes are mandatory in school here.) I always feel like I don’t know how to respond or argue my point in class. I can’t wait till the next time I get to say something! This is amazing! This stuff about Jesus and God and then Adam and humanity… What?! This is awesome!” Then, to top it all off, an adult came to us after class and asked if we would please personally help them to study the bible like that.
Mind blown!!! Guess youth ministry might have been a good thing after all.
We also serve on a youth leadership team with other CCWs Axel and Delilah (Puerto Ricans), and with a college student (Ana –Spaniard) who is passionate about youth ministry. Axel and Delilah lead ‘youth group’ while we are responsible for youth Sunday school. Axel and Delilah are in their 30s and are younger and more gifted than us in many ways!!! Ana keeps us all straight, giving us the Spanish perspective and making sure we are culturally appropriate, as well as giving us the youthful insight of a twenty year old! She is ‘youth leadership in training’, an intern of sorts...an indespensable part of the team. Priceless. A real gem!
Our youth are diverse, to say the least!!! We have many Third-Culture Kids (TCKs). These kids come from Brazil and Nicaragua, Spain and Argentina and the USA. One has a parent from Ukrania, another has a parent from Canada. Three of them are missionary kids who consider themselves to be from several places and not defined by any one place… including Sarah from Texas / Costa Rica / Peru / Spain, another who has lived in Argentina / Peru / USA / Spain, and another who has lived in Mauritania / USA / Canada / Spain. So, to say that these kids make up an incredible mix of cultures and worldviews is an understatement!
This month, the team hosted an overnight youth retreat. The kids were so excited and we had great plans for teambuilding/community building games, debriefs, bible studies, and creativity activities. A crazy weather pattern caused us to scramble for Plan B on several outdoor activities and re-arrange a few things for indoors, but the rains did let up long enough for a midnight campfire and marshmallow roasting.
To say that the retreat was a success would also be an understatement. It far surpassed our expectations! The kids were fantastic! They dug deep when it was time to debrief the community building games. They mined Truth from the bible study times that we never expected them to reach. They self-instigated times of prayer for each other. They played hard, studied hard, and loved deeply.
Because these kids are so diverse and come from a variety of backgrounds, and because many of them are TCKs, they relate to each other in very special ways. During one session in particular, several opened up about how much they missed family members in other parts of the world and about issues in school, at home, and about being in a different culture / language. Impromptu prayers for each other broke out and tears flowed. Youth hugged each other and talked about how much they understood each other and how much they, too, miss their family members or struggle with home issues or school things. It was really beautiful and special. (Okay… I was a little choked up, too!) I think that Billy and I, and Axel and Delilah are in this role for exactly this reason… we ‘get it’. We get what it’s like to leave home, to be immigrants, to leave family behind and to grieve that loss. We understand what it is like to be working and studying in a new culture, a different language, and a completely different set of norms and values. We understand families that are under special pressures as immigrants. It’s hard. It takes work. It is stressful. And we can relate.
The theme of the retreat was No estas sol@ (You are not alone). The kids latched on to it and are now using it in everything they do. We are a family - a new kind of family, a community, a team. It’s fun to hear them remind each other, “No estas solo!”
We’re moving forward with these youth. We continue with Sunday school and bible study time. We will be having a youth event on May 27th with some out-of-town youth ministry folks coming in. There is a region-wide youth event on May 28th in Malaga that many of the youth will also be attending. In June, we will have a youth pool party, as well as we will be having Youth Sunday in our church (pray for this!). A handful of students have bubbled up to the top and want to go deeper and begin some leadership training and mentoring. It’s a lot of fun to watch these kids rise up and get excited and motivated to move forward!
We recently have hosted several weeks of guests from out of country, which always reminds me how different my life is. I forget that it is different. I’m just used to it now. I forget about the things that I don’t have here, or the things that we do differently, or the ways that we do things. They are just ‘normal’ to me now, but I’m always reminded of how different they really are when we have USA guests. So, I thought I would share a few:
We don’t have an oven. That’s right. We don’t have an oven. We have a table-top toaster oven thing that sits on the counter in the corner. It’s big enough to put a 12” pizza in, or a 9x13 pan, barely. It’s kind of a glorified Easy Bake Oven. I think Barbie might have had one in her Barbie townhome (I just showed my age). It’s unpredictable and cranky. Sometimes a cake takes 1 hour to bake, and sometimes it is burned within 20 minutes. Cooking in it is something like babysitting a toddler… don’t leave it alone for a second!
In reference to the above issue… anyone remember the fact that we hosted overnight guests in our home 156 nights last year? Anyone remember that I bake at least two or three cakes or sweet breads a week for bible studies and disciple meetings? Yep… yippie for the Incredible Tiny Wonder Oven!
We don’t have a dryer. Nope. No dryer. We have clotheslines. That makes us dependent upon God and The Weather Channel and the Sahara winds for dry clothes. My own personal nightmare is a week of rain when I have a houseful of guests with sheets and towels and dirty clothes.
We do have a washing machine. It is in the kitchen by the sink. I don’t know why that is always a funny thing to everyone who comes to visit, but it is. Where a dishwasher would be in the States, we have a washing machine. It takes at least 30 minutes to do a load, and that’s the super quicky mode for clothes that haven’t actually seen dirt in their entire lives. A real load takes 59 minutes, minimum. (Why 59 minutes? I don’t know. I would have rounded up that number, if I were a washing machine engineer.)
Foods that don’t exist – at least not unless you make them from scratch: We do not have all the canned goods available to us that are in the USA. That means no cream of mushroom soup and about a gazillion other things. We don’t have a lot of processed foods or pre-mixed foods. Now, this is actually a good thing, because it means that we have little access to a lot of processed stuff and things that are not so healthy. But, it also means that all of those recipes from Mom or grandmothers that call for a can of mushroom soup… those don’t happen without a little thought and preparation. So, thank goodness for the Internet and Pinterest!!! I can usually find out how to make things from scratch without too much trouble.
Air conditioning / heat… debatable as to whether we have it or not. Yes, there is a small air unit in our living room (like those in a motel room under the window). However, it does not work near as good as those hotel ones! And there is only the one, for the whole house. It won’t even cool off the living room, much less the kitchen and bedrooms! And, electricity is really expensive, so it costs a lot to run an air unit that isn’t really doing much. Luckily, we have high ceilings and big windows and we live in the country where we can almost always catch a breeze. But, July and August and September are brutal. Over 100F every day with no air conditioning. Do you know why Spain is big on the siesta??? Because it’s too dang hot to do anything else at mid-day! You just lie real still in front of a window and pray for a slight breeze. Last year, we had some USA visitors in July. I think they thought that they might die of heat stroke. Then they went on to find out that MOST of EUROPE does not have air conditioning. (Right now, go kiss your thermostat in your central air / heat home and give God a little shout out thank you that you live in a place of luxury!!! ‘Cuz the rest of the world is NOT living life at a perfect temperature!)
Heat is almost the same story. We have a cast iron wood burning fireplace in the corner of the main room. That's the heat for the house, unless you count the little brasero heater that goes under the table to heat frozen toes. In the winter, we get down to freezing every night, with frost or ice every morning. The fireplace burns pretty much non-stop in the winter months, except at night. At night, we dress in our finest polar fleece lingerie and curl up under three layers of blankets and down comforters. We never have visitors in the winter! (Again… never take your heater for granted! Send your HVAC man a card of gratitude TODAY!!!)
Other things we don’t have… closets, a bathtub, a dishwasher, coconut oil, sloppy joes, cool whip, cute little craft supplies, awesome office supply stores, lovely bookstores with coffee shops and real live books, fast food, etc. I can’t lie… some of those things are just luxury items to me now. Oh, how I dream of the date nights Billy and I used to spend at Barnes & Nobel, drinking coffee and perusing the aisles of books and magazines. Oh how I have longed for a Chic-fil-a drive thru on those days when I’m dog-tired and have zero ideas for what to cook. Oh how my thoughts dance at the idea of a Michael’s or a Hobby Lobby or an Office Depot. And the thought of sitting in a real tub taking a real bath, complete with bubbles and a real book… surely that will exist in heaven!
Yes, our life is different. I truly forget that it is so different. I really am just used to it, now. I don’t think about these things until visitors come – really, I don’t. But as soon as they walk in the kitchen and say, “Um, hey… is that a washing machine by your sink?”, then I remember – that’s not normal back home. Last week, some visitors brought me a book as a hostess gift… a REAL book, with paper pages, in English! Or last month when my best friend and my mom both sent me recipes for some great new dish, and I realized that half the ingredients are not available. That’s when I think about it.
But I wouldn’t trade my life here. Nor would I have traded my life in rural Peru. It’s home to me now. I’m proud to know how to make so many things from scratch. I’m okay with being a little inconvenienced some times. My life here comes at a price, yes. I have fewer modern conveniences. I have fewer items available to me that are fast and easy. Yet, I also have things in my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I have the best farmer neighbors I could ever ask for (I had great farmer neighbors in Peru, too.) I have a pretty simple life. I have good friends who choose to sit for hours over conversation and coffee, or who will choose a long walk together over watching TV or chatting on Facebook. I live a life that is centered on relationships and ‘living life together’, not on schedules and to-do lists and efficiency. It’s beautiful, and I love it. Give me a few less modern conveniences any day!
Okay… well, maybe I would really love to have a real oven. ;)
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!