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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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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