In Spain – Week One

If you can shift your mind away from Guatemala for a bit, let’s return to the trip we took to Spain. My narration of that trip was interrupted by other duties until now.

So here we are at Week One in Spain, October 11-18. This is the vision trip for pastors and lay leaders to learn about the culture and religious climate of this country, see the vision our Brethren in Christ churches here, and get a vision of how to be a more effective advocate of world missions when we return home.

We arrived and went to the church’s meeting place, which they call the “local” instead of the “church” to help emphasize the fact that the church is people, not building. Bruce and Merly gave us an introduction to Spain, its people, culture and customs. We had lunch at the Bundys’ tenth-floor apartment. In the afternoon we napped or went for a walk. Today and a few other days JoLene and I went for a brisk walk in Casa de Campo, an amusement park with a huge area for walking and having picnics.

Then we all went to our hosts homes, either a missionary couple or a member of the church.

After a prayer time at “local” we went on a prayer walk through Madrid, going in groups of four or five, praying silently and unobtrusively for the city and the people we saw.

We started at Plaza Mayor, a large four-sided building with an open inner area. The building houses restaurants, businesses and apartments.

Walking further we saw evidence of Catholic devotion in the religious shops.

And evidence of the Spaniard’s love for pork. There is a chain of stores called Museo de Jamon, or Ham Museum. What an array they offer!

Next we came to the central plaza, called Puerta del Sol, or Gate of the Sun. This is the official center of the nation; all roads are measured from this point. At one side of the plaza is a statue of a bear eating berries from a tree. This has become the symbol of Madrid. And for a meeting point, anyone can say, “I will meet you at the bear,” and the listener knows exactly where to go.

Occasionally we talked with each other about these sights, but mostly we kept praying as we walked, until it was time for lunch.

Lunch specials at restaurants include First Plate and a Second Plate, i.e. two main platters, with drink and dessert. It is quite satisfying.

Continuing our prayer walk, we went on for about a mile, past the gate that lies east of the central part of the city.

Then we walked through the spacious and beautiful El Retiro Park.

We all smiled at the work of a creative sculptor.

And a favorite scene in the park is this.

Still in the park, we also went to see the statue “The Fallen Angel,” showing Lucifer evidently at the time of his fall from heaven.

We reflected on spiritual warfare and God’s supreme power and prayed for God’s salvation to come to this city and nation.

We went to the town of Hoyo de Manzanares, about 40 minutes’ drive from Madrid. Here we have our second congregation. The pastor is Antonio Gonzales, formerly a Jesuit priest, now a leader in the Anabaptist movement and professor at two or three institutions. Here is the meeting place for this congregation.

We met several of the lay leaders of the Hoyo Church, who joined us for prayer walks through their town. The group I was part of went to the town center, the Catholic church, the home of a church attender whose child was sick, and the building below, which houses civic offices and apartments.

Through this next scene God spoke to me about the spiritual condition of Spain.

The hearts of many people are hard because of secularism, postmodernism and empty church rituals, but God is able to make something beautiful grow and flourish even here. God brought to my mind the Scripture: “The things that are impossible with men are possible with God.”

Antonio took us on a guided tour of the city of Toledo, which was the capital of Spain from the Gothic era to 1560. For many years Christians, Jews and Muslims existed together in peace, but King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella ordered the Jews and Muslims (Moors) to convert to Catholic Christianity or leave the nation.

We visited a building called the Mosque of the Christ of the Light. This was first a mosque but was later converted into a church and is now open to visitors.

Next, we toured the Catholic cathedral.

The interior contains unimaginably rich treasures in gold, silver, tapestry and art work.

Next we went to Saint Mary the White Synagogue, once a Jewish synagogue and now a museum.

The fourth site we visited in Toledo was a museum devoted to the instruments of torture used during the Spanish Inquisition. This was a difficult thing to see, and we left with sober thoughts.

Bruce Bundy had told us that a movement known as Anarchy is opposed to all present political organization, and the people of this movement are working to bring disorder in any way they can. Their symbol is the capital letter “A” in a circle. We saw it painted on a wall in Toledo.

But there were also lighter moments in this city. I was reading Cervantes’ novel, Don Quixote, on this trip, and was delighted to see Quixote outside a store.

Later, when we spotted Sancho Panza, two of our men felt a kinship with this figure.

That evening, back in Madrid, Antonio gave us a talk on Catholicism and postmodernism in Spain. This nation is a difficult place for the true gospel of Jesus Christ to take root.

Several times throughout the week we had prayer times together and took time to debrief what we were experiencing and what God was saying to us.

In the morning we went to visit the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, literally the Monastery of the Royal Barefoot Ladies. It was founded in 1559 by Princess Juana (Joan) and is a cloistered monastery, or convent; the nuns never go out in public. Visitors are allowed once a week to one part of the monastery while the nuns stay secluded in the other part. The nuns go barefoot all year long as part of their mortification of the flesh. Part of the work of the nuns is to say a Mass morning and evening for Princess Juana’s release from Purgatory.

Bruce wanted us to get a feel for the night life of Madrid, so on Friday evening, actually from about midnight to 2:00 AM, we walked through a section of town with many tapas cafes and restaurants. Actually, it was an area where many gay people gather. We found a cafe with a back room where we could be served tapas, which, as you may know, refers to small portions or various foods, somewhat similar to hors d’oeuvres. Many of the items were seafood. I surprised myself by actually liking the tiny squid, deep fried whole, eyes and all.

This was a day to rest from the previous “night” and to have free time.

We attended the 12:00 noon service of the Madrid church. Mark Cintron of Miami, one of our visiting group, preached an excellent message. Then the congregation held a carry-in meal of international foods, especially Latin American and Zimbabwean.

Here are a few men from the church. We were welcomed warmly by all the people.

Then we went to Hoyo for their service, which is held in the evening. Antonio preached a clear message about putting away sin from our lives.

The congregation includes many children.

Most of the group returned home. All of us were full of thoughts, impressions and insights from our week in Spain.

Part of our goal is to take intentional steps back home so that this short-term experience will lead to long-term change in our lives.

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