Much More than a Preaching Conference

This last weekend I (Chad) travelled to a camp/retreat center with an elder from our church named Kike. We arrived and greeted some 60 other pastors and elders, and we learned that everyone was really excited for the opportunity to learn more about expository preaching.

The conference did not disappoint, as many of the workshops really strengthened our resolve to preach in faithfulness to God’s Word. However, it ended up being much more than a preaching conference for us. Though Kike and I went with the expectation to learn about exegetical outlines and crossing cultural horizons, we found that the weekend turned into a weekend of refreshment and encouragement.

For Kike,  it was an opportunity to hear from other pastors in his situation. Many others are just like him. They have been handed the preaching responsibility in the church as the older generation of pastors moves on into retirement. However, the younger leaders they leave behind wrestle with their qualifications, whether to give up their day jobs, how much to commit, etc. In this sense the conference was vital for Kike; it showed him he is not alone. He also learned about some great tools and resources for his own theological training and development.

This was way more than a conference for me because it encouraged me to the impact a missionary can have, if he/she perseveres. Everything takes longer in Spain, but I was pleasantly surprised at the powerful impact that many missionaries had in their organization and implementation of this conference. They not only offered vital resources for this next generation of teachers and preachers, they also offered a setting for people to network and encourage one another. I pray that I can eventually have this kind of impact.

On the left–a plenary session / on the right–Kike and I

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Online Bible School Gathering

Every year my Bible college (EET) holds its encuentro presencial or live gathering for students from all over Spain. It is a full day of seminars on a variety of topics given by professors of our school. Most of all, it offers students the opportunity to get to know at least some of their professors and classmates in person. Sometimes they travel a couple of hours to the nearest meeting point, and they often come excited to learn.

This year we had three cities in which a student could attend a gathering: Madrid, Cordova, and Barcelona. Each meeting point was led by a professor whose objectives were to give a seminar in person and then be the technology point person for live Skype lessons from the professors at other locations. I was in charge giving a seminar on exegesis in the Gospels and helping project the Skype presentations from the location in Madrid.

In the end the live (and virtual) gatherings were a success. We had 44 students attend in total and 11 of those students were with me in Madrid. The picture on the left is from the location in Barcelona, and the picture on the right is from Madrid.

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Thankful to God for 2016

Julie and I put the boys to bed last night at 9:30pm, but we did stay up to play a board game and welcome in the new year. We reflected on some highlights from 2016 as a family. Here are just some of ways we thanked God:

  1. Welcoming Eric into our family has been a blessing. It definitely hasn’t always been easy, but we celebrate how Eric has fit right in with us.
  2. It has been delightful to watch Evan and Eric’s personalities blossom this year. They are so very different–Eric more happy-go-lucky and Evan more persistent–but we get excited thinking about how God could channel their special personalities and gifts for his glory.
  3. We reflect with joy on the conversation we had 9 months ago in which Julie told me she was pregnant.
  4. We made it spiritually, physically, psychologically, through the most challenging international trip of our lives.
  5. The Cubs won the World Series!
  6. I (Chad) have been able to work through some pretty tough bumps in the road with in my doctoral research.
  7. I especially enjoyed a moment I had with my siblings in June of this year. We were all together during mom’s cancer treatment and staying the night at mom and dad’s place. Before heading to bed, we had a conversation on the roof of my parent’s house, and as we were looking up at the stars, we brainstormed how to love mom and dad as best as possible.
  8. My mom has been able to fight and come out the other side of very difficult cancer treatment. We are thrilled she is doing much better.

 

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Current Events in Spain

I have been keeping my eye on a few things going on in Spain that may have a direct impact on my family. Julie wisely reminds me that I need to think about these current events with my eyes firmly upon the Lord. We read the news (occasionally) and cast our cares upon the Lord, for his plan is perfect and we can trust him. At the same time, we also need to be prudent and prepared for what may come. For now, I’ll just share a few current events that may affect us and our friends:

  1. There is a radically left political party gaining ground in Spain called Podemos. They currently have 20% of the Spanish vote and are the second biggest party in Spain. They are very similar to the politically left party of Hugo Chavez (and now Nicolas Maduro) in Venezuela, a party that morphed rather quickly into a dictatorship and effectively destroyed their country. It may be that Podemos is different, but we may not have to wait very long to find out.
  2. Taxes have risen and keep rising at alarming rates. While most Spaniards don’t realize it or seem to care that much, we have really felt the last 51 decisions to raise taxes. Julie and I compare gas and electricity bills over the last few years and are shocked at the differences. Just to give one other example, while the price of gas has gone down in the rest of the world over 50% in the last few years because of the drop in oil prices, here the price has gone down about 5%. This is because politicians have seen fit to raise taxes and disguise it while prices on oil are low. When the price per barrel of oil rises again, Spaniards simply will not be able to afford the cost of travel. Neither will we. Just imagine what doubling the price of gas will do to the economy (the cost of food, etc.).
  3. Spain’s social security program is about to run out of money. By most estimates, the Spanish pension plan will not have a dime left midway through 2017. My guess is that Spain is going to ask Europe for another buyout, and it may be that the EU gives in yet again. The alternative to another buyout are tax hikes that would simply devastate the majority of Spanish families. I look around at the people in my little congregation and seriously wonder how they would get by if taxes rose another 75-100% in the next couple years. Half of the families of our church would experience a significant financial crisis.
  4. Sexual ethics in Spain have taken a “progressive” turn. The Spanish government just passed a bill which requires elementary public schools to invite homosexual couples to come talk to children about the dangers of homophobia. Podemos, the political party I mentioned earlier, wants to include with this bill a preposterous clause. They argue that a child of any age, and without the approval of their parents, can undergo a sex change paid for by the government. The key authority over the child in this case would be the school counselor and the school. If any “non-progressive” parents would disapprove such a decision, the school could intervene and pay for the surgery, removing the child from the home.

There are a few other current events that I could share, but this is probably a sufficient overview. Please pray for our dear friends here in Spain, that God would have mercy on them and help them stand strong in their faith in spite of these events. God is on his throne and Jesus the Son of God is ruling at his right hand. The Spirit of God is moving in our little church and making us more like Jesus.

 

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Ministry Off Balance

The other day I spoke with a mentor and shared some of our recent experiences. I remember he said, “Wow. It’s like you guys have had the rug pulled out from under you.” I remember feeling really affirmed by his reaction.

In many ways, we have been off balance this summer. With our imbalance, Satan has been attempting to exasperate us with a subtle lie. He wants Julie and I to believe is that we can only minister with a certain set of variables in place. He wants us to believe we can only minister with with equilibrium.

We tell our supporters that our ministry vision is to see the lost of Spain come to Jesus through a newly inspired local church and effectively trained leadership. If we aren’t careful, we can believe that a few variables must be in place for this vision to become reality. For starters, we have thought that living in Spain would essential. We also have envisioned enough stability in our living situation in order to get to know neighbors. Good health would also be nice too, right? Additionally, in order to train leaders for the future, we have planned that I (Chad) could prepare and teach at a Bible School.

Though these variables would certainly be nice, God’s providential plan has been different. The last 12 weeks we haven’t lived in Spain because of my mom’s cancer and our international travel to adopt Eric. All summer long, we haven’t been in one place for more than a few weeks. Consequently, we definitely have not run into our Spanish neighbors. Instead, we’ve spent time with people from Greenfield MO, Maseru Lesotho, Johannesburg South Africa, and Chicago. These relationships have been temporary and have seemed random. And when we flew to Madrid, Eric’s almost immediate hospitalization meant we saw Spanish doctors and nurses instead of Spanish neighbors. When Eric recovered and we did finally “arrive” in Madrid, I looked up my Bible School’s class schedule to learn that there was not interest in the classes I planned to teach.

But are these really the necessary variables for ministering in Spain? No. Did any of these twists and turns ruin our chances to love other people? No. Life has been off balance, but God is always working for his purposes and his good. He has been teaching us faith and growing us exactly as we need to grow. He has even given us chances to minister with lives off balance.

I was encouraged in my devotions this week by Hebrews 11:24-26:

“11:24 By faith, when he grew up, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 11:25 choosing rather to be ill-treated with the people of God than to enjoy sin’s fleeting pleasure. 11:26 He regarded abuse suffered for Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for his eyes were fixed on the reward.”

I find it so encouraging that Moses chose to be ill-treated and receive abuse for God’s greater purposes. Why? We are learning that missions life IS life off balance. If you choose missions, you can try and write a vision statement, but you ultimately choose to be off balance. In missions, the rug more often thrust out from under you than it is actually under you! Whether we like it or not, we have actually chosen instability and chaos.

Thankfully we don’t have to feel crazy or alone. Moses chose 40 years of instability and chaos with the people of Israel. He willfully rejected a calm and peaceful life in Egypt. But along the way, he witnessed one of the greatest redemptive acts of God unfold before his eyes (Heb 11:28-29). God worked in Moses the faith decision to live off balance, and Moses eventually watched God redeem for himself a people.

So, by faith, we pray that we can minister to Spaniards, but God may choose that we share our faith with a woman in Lesotho or a homeless kid in Chicago. We may choose to live in a place where we have no consistent housing, but maybe God will use our honesty and perseverance to point someone to Jesus. We may not have students in Bible School, but we may find mentor relationships elsewhere. We now know that we have the incredible privilege of discipling at least three little boys!

We may be off balance, but God is here and he is at work. What if God is planning to redeem for himself a people through our own little, off balance, wilderness wandering?

 

 

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Back in Spain

More than a week ago we decided to come back to Spain. I thought I would share a couple of our highlights since we’ve been home here.

Two days after we arrived, we went to an annual Sunday service that our church has in the mountains near Madrid. We arrived late, but when we walked up a little hill to surprise our church friends, they welcomed us with applause! It was special to hear their clapping, to see their smiles, and hug and kiss them. It reminds me of the warmth of greeting that Paul encouraged his congregations to have for one another.

A couple days later, in the evening, Julie and I were walking through our nightly ritual with Evan before bedtime: bath, story, prayer, and song. Out of nowhere, Evan started to sing along with us to the song “Jesus Loves Me”–word for word. This was the first time he had ever even attempted to sing with us. He did a nice job, and as he sang, we couldn’t help but look at one another with hearts full of joy. There is just something special about your children taking developmental leaps, and more importantly, joining you as you praise Jesus!

Last Sunday, I was able to share an important conversation I had with my Mom while we were with her in the states. I stood up during the testimony time before a quite full service–perhaps 60 people were in attendance–and shared how my Mom has reiterated that no matter what happens with this cancer, her situation is a “win-win.” In other words, if she goes home to Christ, she will be with Christ in paradise. If she overcomes the cancer, she will have the opportunity to live for Christ here on earth. I read Philippians 1:21 as I closed out my thought. I pray God uses her faithful response to encourage many in our church.

 

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Thankful

The last four weeks we have been able to spend time with my (Chad) parents in Missouri. The reason for the surprise visit is that my mom has been diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing strong doses of chemotherapy. We are around to help with chores in the house, as well as figure out the medications, appointments, treatments, etc. Most of all, we have also had some sweet time of fellowship and encouragement together.

I am particularly thankful for the ability to be with my mom and let her know how much I appreciate her. When I was a little guy, my mom taught me what it means to know Christ as personal Savior. I received Christ as a direct result of her diligent teaching. Beyond this, she taught me much more about the Bible. She helped me apply God’s Word while navigating my insecurities in public speaking or sports’ achievements/failures. She helped me understand the importance of finding a Christian spouse. She always built me up and positively reinforced Christ-centered decisions. She continues to pray for me, support me, and encourage me, even as she struggles these days with fatigue.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that mom has invested in me more than almost anyone on the planet, so it is a bit of an understatement to say I am grateful to have this month with her.

We are also thankful for the churches that helped pay for our flight last month. Two supporting churches came together to cover the total cost of the trip, eliminating a significant financial burden.

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