This weekend we held our third annual men’s camp for the churches in the province of Castellón, with about 35 men from various area churches, as well as some men who aren’t yet followers of Jesus. Here are some of the highlights:
- “I came feeling loaded down with burdens, but I left them at the foot of the cross with Jesus, and I’m going home with renewed strength” (from one of the pastors who participated).
- Lots of laughter at ourselves and one another, during the sessions and around the Spanish cured ham and cheese table (above right).
- “Jesus is telling me to take on responsibilities with the youth in my church, and though it’s intimidating, this weekend He met me and confirmed that He wants me to do it.” (a local believer)
- Our speaker challenged us to “Confess your sins to one another to find freedom and healing,” and many of us did and felt that freedom.
- A great discussion in our video forum after watching the movie Hacksaw Ridge.
- “I really felt something different here: I want to bring my whole family to an Evangelical event like this!” (One of the non-Christians for whom this camp was his first exposure to Evangelical Christians.)
- Intense competition at the fussball table from men ranging from 18 to 78 years old.
It is counter-cultural for men here (and probably anywhere, non-Christian or Christian) to share challenges, fears, broken relationships and difficult life situations, but this was a weekend where many men found the safety and freedom to do just that. Praise God with us that He was more than just present among us: He stirred us and moved us to be real and to keep growing through our imperfections into the image of our perfect Hero, Jesus. Please pray for us as we continue to point men to Him.
The far left, liberal party in Spain, that makes up 21% of Congress, is proposing a gag-order law essentially making it illegal for anyone to say anything that doesn’t agree with the ideology of the LGBTI movement. This proposal seeks to indoctrinate children through education, that essentially anything goes regarding sexuality, sexual preference, sexual orientation and the like. It would make it illegal to teach a Biblical perspective on sexuality (whether at home or at church), with the threat of fines and prison time. Moreover, the proposal would even prevent people struggling with their sexuality and sexual orientation from seeking help: it would be illegal to seek help and illegal for therapists to give help.
As you can see, this proposed law is a dangerous threat to the freedom of expression and freedom of speech, the freedom to disagree that has taken centuries to achieve in Spain.
So please pray that God would guide the Spanish Congress as they vote on this proposed law tomorrow, September 19th, that He would give Christians courage and wisdom in addressing such a hot-button topic, and that He would guide me as I’ve been in touch with a senator from Alcora that we know and hope to share my concern with her personally.
Here’s the video version of our prayer letter. Thanks for praying with us and for us!
I was on my way back home after picking up Laura from her gymnastics class when we bumped into an old neighbor. I casually asked him how he was doing when this casual, routine interaction went very deep very quickly. He began sharing with me about his sons, all nearly grown now, whom he hasn’t seen for years because of his painful mistakes in the past. Tears of regret, shame and pain began to well up in his eyes as he continued, and I sensed that God had a message for my atheist friend.
“You know, I don’t think this is what God has for you and your life. He doesn’t want you to live with this pain, regret and separation from your sons. Do you know how I know this? God is a Father, and He looks at us with the heart of good Father, and even though we were separated from Him because of our own fault, He took the first step towards reconciliation with us. And, as you know, God gave me the opportunity to see this reconciliation happen in my own life, with my biological father. So what would it mean for you to take one step towards forgiveness and reconciliation with your sons?”
Towards the end of this brief but intense conversation, I asked my friend, who, for as long as I’ve known him, has been a self-avowed atheist, if I could pray for him, and, in the sensitivity of the moment, he accepted. So there on the sidewalk I asked our Heavenly Father to help JP have the courage to take the first step towards reconciliation with his sons. Would you pray with me for this, and that JP would open his mind and heart to the even deeper reconciliation that God the Father offers to him in Jesus?
Three days after we arrived back to Alcora we had the joy of celebrating Minerva’s baptism! As you can see, we held this special worship service with our sister church in a public watering hole, and many who weren’t part of our church community looked on in curiosity, since adult baptism by immersion is not at all common in Spain! Praise God for how He is continuing to transform Minerva’s life, and please pray for her as she continues to grow in Christ.
And, yes, the footing was a little unstable, and we’re all glad that Minerva didn’t go floating down the stream!
For those who’ve not been able to see our presentation in the 20+ churches we’ve visited this summer, or anyone else who might be interested or curious, here’s a 6 minute video giving you an update on how the church plant in Alcora is going and growing. Keep praying for fruit that lasts in Alcora! (John 15:16)
We’ve been back in the U.S. on Home Ministry Assignment for about 8 weeks now, and it’s been interesting to hear what our girls have noticed and questions they’ve asked about their passport country. Here’s a little sampling of some of the stuff they’ve said:
- “Why is there so much water in the toilet? It looks flooded!” Both girls said this in the Charlotte airport on the way over, noticing that American toilets have a lot more water in the bowl than do their Spanish counterparts.
- “Everything is so green!” Both Miriam and Laura have said this, and it’s true. It’s not a complete desert around our area of Spain, but the green is certainly not the same. Our green is more of a dusty Mediterranean green, while the green that our girls have commented on in the U.S. is a deep, vibrant green that seldom is seen in Spain. Oddly enough, it’s actually something that we miss when we’re in Spain.
- “Why do Americans say ‘Awesome’ so much?” Miriam asked this after about two weeks into our stay here. I guess we don’t use this word very often in our house, so to hear Americans saying it for everything made an impression on her. You’ll likely be conscious of this word the rest of the day today.
- “Why are there so many black and Chinese people?” It’s not that there’s a complete lack of diversity in Alcora, but it certainly seems to be less than Laura has noticed in the States so far. It’s curious what 3 year-olds notice.
- “Why do so many people wear flip flops?” People in Spain wear flip flops, but usually just at the pool or the beach, and Miriam picked up on this. This being said, Spaniards do wear sandals in the summer, but they tend to be a bit dressier than flip flops.
- “Are those kangaroos?” This is what our dear Miriam asked when a deer darted right in front of us on the road near my parents’ house in Missouri. Experts say they aren’t at all related (marsupials and deer), but they both jump, their coats are similar colors, and their heads are strikingly similar.
New experiences, new discoveries, and new observations with Miriam and Laura. Life never ceases to be interesting with these two!
From February 26th to 28th we held a historic men’s retreat. Historic, not because of the speaker, nor because of the place, but because it was the first of its kind in this part of Spain.
More than two years ago the Lord began to stir something inside of me. Rachel had returned home from a semi-annual women’s conference in Castellón, and when she arrived I had the thought, “Why isn’t there anything for men here?” There are men in the Evangelical churches in the area, and someone had organized a one-day event many years prior (before we had arrived to Spain), but since then nothing. And the Lord left me with this question as I prayerfully considered it for the next year.
A year later during the Christmas holidays at the end of 2014, as I read through John Eldredge’s The Way of the Wild Heart, the question came back again, “Why doesn’t there seem to be anyone talking about these themes here? Why hasn’t anyone organized anything for men in our part of Spain?”
In May 2015 I bumped into a Christian psychologist from the area, as well as another man from one of the area churches, and they mentioned to me that Eldredge’s book Wild at Heart had moved them and was something that needed to be addressed in Spain, especially since in the Spanish culture men have a certain aversion (or fear?) towards religious and spiritual issues and an unwillingness to talk about wounds. I had read that book somewhere around 2003, and Jesus used it in my own journey to begin healing certain wounds and move me towards a clearer vision of masculinity that reflects His heart.
This confirmed to me that the need was not just my American (touchy-feely?) perception of Spanish culture, and that something could and should be done. So this past September, during a time of prayer and fasting, God spoke to me and said, “Go ahead and do it,” and I began a conversation with a coworker and this Spanish psychologist friend about what a weekend retreat for men could look like. Without a doubt, we couldn’t simply sit around tables, drink coffee and talk about our feelings all day. Men generally don’t work that way. We have to be doing something, fixing something, playing something to really begin to share. There is a hotel in the mountains here with zip lines and hiking trails all around: perfect.
Thanks to a generous donor, we were able to book the hotel and offer financial help to the many of the 20 men who came and are without work. We organized four sessions: the design of man, the wounds and façades we have, Jesus the real man, and walking in the life of the Father, with time for reflection built in, and plenty of free time aside.
The weekend was prepared, though what we didn’t plan on was over a foot of snow. This closed the zip lines, but it created the environment for us to behave like 10 year old boys and mount snow battles and build 8 foot tall snowmen.
In the midst of all the activities, the most moving to me came after the second session, where I shared about the wounds we’ve received, the façades we put on, and the healing that Jesus offers us. Afterwards, we were gathered around the leg of Spanish cured ham and cheese (very typical), and one man began to share about his wounds and how they continue to influence him. Then another shared. Then another pulled me aside and shared about his difficult relationship with his father. I was nearly moved to tears because this was the confirmation that God was moving, beginning a work of healing in men’s lives, and more than one man said, “We’ve never talked about this stuff before.”
I truly believe that this was beginning of something: for some men, the beginning of acknowledging wounds, seeking Jesus for healing; for others, the beginning of truly reflecting a Christ-like image in a masculine way; pray that it would be the beginning of a movement of men who are healed, transformed and used by God to transform their families, churches, neighborhoods and towns with a Gospel that meets men where they’re at and radically changes them.
A few weeks ago I had posted this video about the current spiritual state of Spaniards, and now that we’re a few weeks into Advent, I’ve been reflecting on the reality of what the video reveals. Just last week in my time with the Lord, I read about the conception and birth of John the Baptist, the cousin and forerunner of Jesus. From the angel Gabriel’s conversation with Zechariah to Zechariah’s prophetic song, it is clear that John’s role in God’s rescue plan for His people and His creation is that of preparation, going before Jesus to prepare people for His coming, the establishment of His Kingdom.
In the above video a Spanish pastor and scholar, José de Segovia, says that for a number of reasons we who are working to share Christ in Spain may very well not see the fruit of our labors, the direct results of our efforts. Whether it was the Holy Spirit, my own introspection or a mixture of both, I don’t know, but the question that came to my mind and heart the other morning was, “Am I willing to be like John the Baptist?” He did not see the full fruit of his labor, he didn’t live much beyond the first year or so of Jesus’ ministry, but he played his role well regardless of the cost.
We have served in Alcora for five and a half years, sharing Christ in a myriad of ways, and, honestly, we have little visible fruit to show for it, particularly in the way of individuals turning wholeheartedly to Jesus. But what if the role God has for us is not about results? What if He is calling us to be forerunners, pioneers who are clearing the ground for Him to do a work that we won’t live to see in Alcora or in all of Spain? Am I, are we as a couple, willing to serve God faithfully, regardless of the cost, if this is the type of role He wants us to play?
This is not an easy calling, particularly coming from an American culture where we are programmed to produce. Even so, my prayer in this Advent season is the desire of John the Baptist in John 3:30: may Jesus increase as I decrease.