It was 6:25pm. The sign on the gate said that visitors could enter the cathedral until 6:30. At 6:30, mass would begin for those who wished to worship. As we stood at the gate discussing whether or not we would enter this massive cathedral for a visit, a woman sprinted by us and threw open the gate. She hurried in to the building and we joked, “Wow! She must really want to see this cathedral!”
We followed her in through the enormous doors. The interior was amazing, as most cathedrals are. There were three other visitors milling about, obviously sightseers due to the tell-tale marks of a tourist… the big camera hanging around the neck, t-shirt, shorts and chunky hiking sandals, and a ball cap to top it all off like a cherry on a sundae. Very obviously not locals. And in the pews sat one woman, praying. The woman who had dashed past us at the gate.
I looked at the time. Six thirty. Time for mass. I happened to be standing to the side and two men were talking beside me. The priest and a lay-person from the church. The man said, “What do you want me to do? Should I ask them to leave? It’s 6:30.” And the priest said, “No. Let them stay. There’s only one for mass (pointing to the woman in the pew). No reason to even have it.”
No reason. All I could see was this woman sprinting past us and throwing open the gate so she could be at mass on time. And now the priest says, “no reason”.
Spain has thousands and thousands of amazing churches and cathedrals. Yet this is the case in so many of them. Very few, if any, come to worship anymore. Catholicism has been steadily falling over the past decade. And protestant churches are not growing, only holding steady at the same numbers they have had for the past 10+ years.
The scene I witnessed in the cathedral brought another story back to me. Years ago, when we first started working cross-culturally, we worked in Mexico. We built a relationship with a lovely family. The father, Aaron Berman, was one of the most humble men I have ever known. Quiet, peaceful, full of courage and overflowing with God.
He loved to tell us the story of how he one time visited Tyler, Texas. He was invited to speak at a church’s mission conference. He was invited to speak about his vision and work in Mexico in a breakout workshop session.
When the time came for the workshops, Aaron went to his assigned room to speak. Before him was a room full of chairs, set up theatre-style, and one woman. He thought that maybe he should wait for a few minutes until others came. But no one did. So he closed his eyes and he said, “God, I came all the way to Tyler, Texas to share about you and our vision for Mexico. I spent money I don’t have to come here. What am I doing? What do you want me to do with this one woman?” But God’s only answer was, “Speak.”
So he did. Aaron shared his heart and his vision with that one woman. He said he felt so small in that big room full of empty chairs, but he shared anyway.
In the end, that one woman (who happened to be from College Station) ended up being responsible for starting a movement of people who would eventually come to Mexico and work alongside Aaron and his family, helping to plant several churches and build a church camp for Mexican pastors and churches along the border to use as a retreat and leadership development center. Aaron spoke to one woman, and God used her to start a movement. He always used to end the story by holding up his finger and smiling and winking his eye and saying, “You only need one.”
He loved to share that story with us. And that story has encouraged us on so many occasions. So many times when we feel like, “God, what are we doing? Why are we here and only a handful of people seem to care? What are we supposed to be doing? Only four people are coming to the class. Only a few show up for bible study…” Etc. It’s usually Billy who remembers Aaron in those moments and he just looks at me and holds up his finger and says, “You only need one.”
Our everyday lives in Spain are truly based on a one-on-one relationship principle. Yes, we have a few small groups that we work with and we serve a church here. But mostly, our work is one-on-one. Coffee and coaching with a pastor. Time spent with a young adult. Tutoring a student. Helping a resettled refugee to find his way in a new and confusing place. For us, the Kingdom is built one block at a time. It’s slow, but it’s beautiful and deep and meaningful.
Aaron died 10 years ago, but he still influences our life today. It’s easy to get discouraged when it feels like no one seems to care, when no one shows up, or when it feels like no one is listening. It’s easy to be down when church attendance drops to only a handful of faithful folks in July and August because it’s summer and it’s hot and there’s no air conditioning at church and the beach seems like a better option. It’s easy to feel like we’re spinning our wheels and getting nowhere. But then Aaron seems to find his way back in to our memories, smiling and winking and saying, “You only need one.”
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!