Published!

Ok. So the title for this post is a bit exaggerated. However, I did help write up some teaching materials that were published by the Spanish government. Let me explain.

Essentially, I helped draft a syllabus for a high school hermeneutics (Bible Study) course. The course is meant for high school students in public schools that decide they want a course on evangelical Christianity. It is kind of an odd system, but Spain allows students to choose between various types of religion courses. They can choose between islam, Christianity, Buddhism, as well as variations like Protestant or Catholic Christianity. Recently, an evangelical Christian organization was asked to write the curriculum for the Protestant version of a course. I knew one of the authors and was asked to lend a hand with the section on hermeneutics.

So, there you have it. I pray that my contribution will help teachers wisely craft course materials for the handful of students opting to take this course.

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The Spanish ZECNT Project

Spanish pastors and teaching elders are often pressed for time for a variety of reasons. They work full time jobs outside the church and minister to the congregation when they can. Consequently, it is quite common that they struggle to put together a sermon the Saturday evening before they preach. Obviously, this affects the kind of messages that they can put together.

I am grateful for the Bible school and seminary training that I have received. It is humbling to know how many benefits this has provided me. I have hundreds of hours under my belt studying under what I consider to be some of the best Bible teachers in the world (Of course, I’m biased.). Even more, I have hundreds of books and articles available in English from incredible scholars. On the chance that I have to put together a message quickly, I can get the big idea of a passage and rather rapidly put together a sermon or lesson. My Spanish friends don’t have this advantage.

Our friends and colleagues Jon and Kathy Haley are attempting to address the issue of adequacy in sermon preparation. They are investing hundreds, probably even thousands of hours in order to provide the kind of resources that will help the Spanish pastor. They are translating the Zondervan Exegetical Commentaries on the New Testament. These commentaries will be an invaluable resource for pastors and teachers attempting to faithfully preach and teach God’s Word.

They have also asked me to help them out. I will be one of the proofreaders for the project. They haven’t yet passed along the necessary drafts for me to get to work, but they are coming soon and I’m excited to get started! The first commentary is on Ephesians.

Please pray that God helps Jon and Kathy raise the necessary funds and that they can meet their deadlines for translating this vital resource.

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What Have We Been Up To?

Here are some ways we are attempting to partner with God’s church in God’s work these last few weeks:

  1. Chad and the doctorate – I had an oral exam in London a couple of weeks ago and passed! More than anything, it was a reminder of the mountain of work ahead. However, I am more convinced than ever that this step will help me serve the Spanish church. This work has been great, sharpening me through intensive study in the Scriptures.
  2. Christmas play – Right after Christmas, our church presented a Christmas play to the kids of a children’s hospital in the center of the city. We simply supported the effort to reach out to those lost and hurting, but were proud of the team that put it together. Below is a picture of conversations taking place after the show. IMG_2340
  3. Elder retirement – Our church celebrated the ministry of Pépe, an elder who served 39 years. Our little community knows how to celebrate years of faithful perseverance, and we did a good job of thanking him. Now, as we look ahead, a gap of leadership needs to be filled. Please pray for me as I participate in important conversations with the leadership team for upcoming leadership decisions. Below is a picture of me with Pépe. IMG_2352
  4. Youth ministry and small group – Our small group is moving ahead with a study in the book of Ruth. We are also putting together a youth group and have 7 young people attending.  There are exciting evangelism and discipleship opportunities in both groups.
  5. Team member care – God has moved us to support our team on the field through hospitality and general member care. We appreciate the opportunities to help others not make all the mistakes we did!
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Move #13

2015 ended with a bang for us: we moved! The worst part was eleven days from start to finish, but God graciously provided a nice, larger apartment for us.

At the end of November, our landlord called to ask if we would be interested in purchasing the apartment. She assured us that we could continue renting if we were not interested, but she expressed a desire to sell and offered the apartment to us at a good price. Although we loved many things about the apartment and we would love to have more stability in our housing situation, it was simply too small for our growing family.

Early in December, Chad communicated our decision to our landlord, and she proceeded to inform us that someone else was interested in purchasing the apartment and that she was willing to sell as of January 1, 2016. We quickly realized that we were in a precarious situation with someone who was in a desperate financial straits. We consulted our lawyer. After reviewing our contract, talking with our landlord, and doing some research on our particular housing situation, our lawyer recommended that we move by December 31. We had just under three weeks!

Unfortunately, we have a fair amount of experience with looking for apartments and moving here in Spain. It is not an easy process. It is difficult to find something you like, that meets your needs, at a good price, unfurnished, with a good landlord, who is willing to handle the rental legally. As we have learned, having a good contract does not mean that you will be treated legally and the stress of a legal battle or having a bad landlord is not worth it. We could have fought our landlord legally and stayed through the summer, but we did not want to deal with that stress. We made the quick decision to find another apartment and started looking the next day. Although there were only a handful of rentals available in our neighborhood, one of them was perfect for us and available right away! That was a definite God thing.

It was difficult for us to accept that we needed to move again. We loved so many things about where we were. We were getting to know our neighbors, and there were many children Evan’s age in our complex. The padel court downstairs had provided many ministry opportunities for Chad. Plus, due to moving, we had to cancel some ministry opportunities in December and invest all of our time and energy into packing/unpacking boxes. Finally, we now have to do another home study for our adoption and bring a social worker from the US for another visit. At the same time, it is very clear that God had our time in the other apartment to be done and it’s like He picked us up and put us in another location saying, “Now it’s my plan for you to be here.” We are enjoying our new apartment, and we are looking for the opportunities to serve and love people in our new home.

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A Few Dead Ends

“In Spain, you can’t have all your eggs in one basket.”

A more experienced missionary friend told us this and it has proven to be so true. If you come to Spain with a precise vision, a concrete strategic plan, anything too specific for what you want to implement for ministry, you’ll likely headed for significant disappointment. The more specific your expectations, especially if those expectations all fit into “one basket,” the more likely that basket will go up in flames. The more narrow your perceived ministry path, the greater the likelihood that road leads to a dead end. Spain is a country that specializes in bursting the bubble of great missionary expectations. In other words, Spain needs flexible missionaries who are willing to try new ministries and fail, over and over, and over and over again, and without losing enthusiasm. Spain needs ministers that are willing to fall, get up, shake off the dust, and try something new. Spain requires flexible and stubborn resilience, persevering spirits driven by God’s grace.

Why is this the case? One reason is that any effective ministry means partnering with the evangelical church already at work here, and the Spanish church probably won’t be convinced right away that they need your particular gifting for their church. Of course, they’ll probably be looking for some of what you have to offer, but the truth is that they have their own set of expectations. They are often perfectly legitimate, of course, but inevitably a good portion of them won’t match who you are or where you think you’re going.

Consequently, part of the challenge Spanish missions is holding on to an unshakeable conviction of who God has made you to be and at the same time, having the wisdom to respectably integrate in a church with a servant’s heart.

A missionary must be convinced, absolutely assured, that God has good works prepared beforehand for him/her to walk in, in accordance with his or her spiritual gifting. I’ve found that I must believe with all my heart that God has particularly gifted me for exactly what he planned beforehand that I do in Spain (Eph 2:10). So far, the works he prepared beforehand haven’t all been what I originally pictured. I want to believe that God has given me gifts in Biblical interpretation and exposition and a passion for the text of the Scripture in the original languages. However, especially this year, I have been asked to wait to use these gifts.

I haven’t had much of a platform for teaching and preaching this year. For example, I’ve hit a number of dead ends in terms of designed Greek and New Testament courses (online and otherwise) that haven’t had enough students to be implemented. No churches have asked me to preach other than my own. I’ve tried to start book studies without much interest. I’ve tried to disciple a couple of guys without reciprocating interest. I’ve tried to take a small group to newer levels of enthusiasm only to find the group’s level of commitment waning. I’ve signed up to preach or teach and had those commitments canceled because of circumstances I can’t control. Currently I’m scratching my head, but I’ve got to believe that God will use my gifts and passion for his Word. I have to depend on the Spirit for the strength to believe Ephesians 2:10 and the previous affirmation of my gifts.

Not only do you need conviction for the good words he has for you, you also need to integrate in the church with a servant’s heart. Like Jesus, we need to lay down some of our “rights” to humbly serve (Phil 2:5-11). For example, our church has been dreaming that we take on a youth ministry. We have a great group of 6-8 young people that desire to have a place to connect with one another. Julie and I do love youth and we’ve done youth ministry before. We’ve been blessed by it. Also, just because youth ministry was not on our radar doesn’t mean God can’t restart that passion. This is probably an opportunity for us to integrate and submit to our Spanish church leadership. Will it require swallowing a bit of pride as many of our plans, dreams, etc., will get put on hold? Yes. Is it what God has prepared beforehand for us? That seems more likely.

May God help us hold onto Ephesians 2:10 and Philippians 2:5-11 in the days ahead.

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A Spanish Thanksgiving

Awhile ago, Thanksgiving holiday rolled around and Julie and I would experience a good bit of homesickness. We missed the holiday atmosphere and the excitement in the air. We missed the experience of packing up bags and heading off to see family. We missed sitting around the table and looking into the eyes of family and friends as we thanked the Lord for his provision. Obviously Spaniards don’t celebrate the holiday so most of our friends didn’t even realize we were especially homesick the third week in November.

This year, for some reason, our Spanish friends caught the Thanksgiving bug. They approached us in early November with the idea of having a Thanksgiving feast the Saturday after Thanksgiving. One elder and his wife were particularly interested in organizing the event and set out to recruit volunteers. Julie helped translate and then pass out recipes to a few cooks–many who had never even seen food like stuffing or mashed potatoes. I was in charge of telling the Thanksgiving story. Honestly, I didn’t remember much of what I learned in fourth grade about pilgrims coming together with native tribes, so I consulted with the best sources available to me. It’s amazing what you can learn on Wikipedia.

Overall, the day was a success in the sense that we came together in a spirit of worship and true thanksgiving before our God. As is usually the case with ministry in Spain, we can’t write about anything particularly earth-shattering in significance. We do know that God was present and moving in our hearts as we thanked the Lord, and that is worth celebrating.

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Why Did the WorldVenture Board Visit Spain?

Last week the board of our mission arrived in Madrid and the spent a week with the Spain field. They came with WorldVenture Go Team members, so all total there was about 20 guests in Madrid. We had the privilege of attempting to make their stay comfortable and giving them reports on our ministries. As you can imagine, quite a bit of organizational and administrative work went into the week, so you might ask why the board members and their spouses would sacrifice their own time and money to travel so far, and all to simply hold meetings in Madrid?

Way more went into this trip than simple meetings. By coming to Spain, the board expressed their desire to know up close and personal what missions is like, and from the perspective of the long term missionary. We enthusiastically affirm the value that our mission has for making decisions on the basis of mission field needs and not just the home office goals or objectives. If a mission works the other way around, American values and culture can get in the way of effective Gospel advancing ministry in the country of service. From our experience, WorldVenture has always operated with a field led vision, but the visit from the board to our own field showed us even more how this is the priority.

The board also set aside time to hear the stories of each and every Spain field member. In the mornings, before they addressed the meeting agenda for the day, they patiently listened to our 30-60 minute presentations. After we shared, they affirmed us and prayed over us. Many of them encouraged us and asked for prayer cards and our emails. I think that in a way, they were reminded the reasons for the decisions that they make. They don’t just raise their hand to vote on a number for a budget, but actually serve as advocates and guardians for missionaries. Now they have first hand experiences with us to put faces and names with those decisions.

Finally, the board learned about the great needs in Europe. The difference between hearing about secular humanism and seeing it up close is hard to exaggerate. As we introduced the board to Spanish church leaders, they heard first hand testimony of how the secular philosophy permeates Spanish life. They also had a chance to see exciting ministries that our teammates have helped create.

All this to say–their visit was well worth the time, money, and energy invested!

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