Pablo and Judi have lived in Granada, Spain as RMM workers for the past six and a half years. Previously, they served in Ecuador and more recently pastored at Shiloh Mennonite Church in Plain City, Ohio. Here they share some of their heart for their friends in Spain and a taste of their daily life as expatriates.
*Note: Last names omitted and names of friends removed for security reasons.
Where are you from in the U.S. and who is your sending church? How do you stay connected with them?
In Spain when someone asks where you’re from, they mean, where were you born? For Judi and I, that’s Kentucky and Michigan, but Judi has also lived in Maryland and Virginia, and I’ve lived in Florida. We met in Costa Rica, married and lived in Ohio, moved to Ecuador, then back to Ohio, so we’re from a lot of places! Our sending church is Shiloh. We stay in touch through Pastor Brian and the people on our Missionary Support Team via a weekly e-mail update. We also visit the church on our bi-annual home assignment.
What is the heart of what you are doing in your country?
Living a normal Jesus life and sharing him with people God puts in our path is the heart of what we do, just like any believer. We would like to someday see little communities of faith spring up, but that is in God’s hands.
What parts of your life and work do you find the most challenging?
Living intentionally out of the bubble of a like-minded community of faith is challenging. It’s like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia
: not “safe,” but good. The good parts are the surprising, unrehearsed opportunities to share our faith with our friends. The “unsafe” part is being in the world but not of the world. Community is comfortable, predictable, fun (most of the time!), and it can (and should) be safe, but that’s not usually where the people are who need the Lord.
Getting to know people is also a challenge. The differences in language, culture, customs, mindset and beliefs are sometimes huge and somewhat overwhelming. However, God has given us many friends through language interchange, English teaching, choir, environmental class, and networking (getting to know friends of friends of friends). The challenge is getting below surface communication to heart stuff. That takes a while!
Understanding how things work can also be challenging. Spain is more similar to the U.S. than many countries, but understanding its history along with the legal, educational, political, economic, social and religious systems is sometimes daunting, even with a decent grasp of the language.
What are some barriers to Spanish people accepting the Good News and knowing Jesus?
Oddly enough, the church itself can be a barrier. That is, the traditional state Church. Constitutionally (since 1978) it’s not a state church, but in practice it might as well be. Nearly 20 centuries of tradition are not changed by a pen stroke! Tradition turns into law, just as it had in Jesus’ day. Much of what he said about established religion and its leaders back then is remarkably similar to the Roman Catholic Church today. Paul said “the letter kills” (2 Cor. 3:6). Many people here are put off by established religion and haven’t met anyone who integrates faith into practical daily living.
Another major barrier is the “enlightened” rationalistic, humanistic, modernistic, atheistic thinking that has so permeated Western society. Religion has successfully been relegated to an “upper story” that has no connection to the real world. People say it’s fine if it works for you, but they’re equally fine if it doesn’t. For many, it hasn’t worked! We say it’s about relationship with God, not religion, but that’s usually received with blank, uncomprehending stares. It seems almost better to not even identify with religion or Christianity, because of the preconceived notion of what that is.
Materialism has also deadened hearts to the good news. Abundance has always been a killer, it seems, to spiritual vitality. Where there is no need, people tend not to seek God.
What is a ministry or project you are doing right now?
We prefer to use the term “activity.” I’m a bit of a dreamer and we’ve tried projects, but they haven’t seemed to work too well. What we want is to give our dreams about people and activities to God and watch him create the story. We often become players in his drama, but it’s his story, not ours, that we hope and pray will become “history.”
What is the most different aspect of the culture?
Maybe it’s the group mindset rather than the individual one. And when Spaniards are together in a group, they’re loud, with everyone seemingly talking at once, which can be quite confusing.
What is something that the culture has taught you and that you want to internalize?
This social, group mentality is evidenced by participation in activities such as choir, adult education classes, hiking, or social groups, called associations. The group gives belonging, identity, purpose and usually plenty of fun! In many ways, it’s a secular version of what we’d love to see as little Christian communities of faith, rather than the formal, more serious version of “church” we were brought up in.
What is the typical way you get around (transportation)?
Walking and bus. For special occasions we rent a car. Mixed blessings: more time spent in getting places, but without the hassles of owning a car and parking shortage. Walking is good exercise, too!
What are some of your favorite things to do for fun?
For me, (Pablo), hiking has become an essential part of life, as a way of keeping in shape, but it also provides a good opportunity to admire God’s creation, be in touch with him, pray and listen to music. I also love biking for the same reasons. Then there is singing, playing tennis, reading, and going out to a film or dinner with Judi. Many of these things are more fun when you do them with other like-minded people, and open doors for further relationships with them. Judi also likes to do word games on her iPad, drink coffee and go shopping with friends.
What’s your favorite local food?
Paella (a rice dish), cured ham, chorizo (sausage), migas (fried day–old bread and meat, a one–dish meal), gazpacho (cold soup), Manchego cheese, tostadas with grated tomato and olive oil.
What is the most recent prayer that God has answered in your life?
I know God loves me, but have been asking him to help me feel his love more. Now I’m asking for a deeper love the same way for him. That’s probably a never-ending story...
A is the unemployed son of T and M, close friends of ours. We met him recently on the street as he was going to the unemployment office. We said we’d pray for an interview. He didn’t have any luck there, but a few days later he got a call from a restaurant in France asking him to go for an interview. This is near where he was born. We don’t know the outcome of that interview yet.
Judi: R is a friend who we had lost touch with for several months. Just recently, I’ve been able to reconnect with her and have had some challenging conversations. She wants to follow Jesus but has many “trappings” of strange beliefs in which she has dabbled in the past.
What is God teaching you right now?
To wait on him, don’t run ahead or lag behind, just stay in step with him. I’m not always a fast learner and don’t get it right all the time, but I’m learning and he’s patient. And he loves me as I am, in spite of my shortcomings.
Judi: To wait patiently with joy and not with bated breath as we water the “hidden seeds” and watch for the first signs of germination.