It may not sound like your stereotypical mission field: coffee bars and restaurants, postmodernism and self-sufficiency. However, Europe is now one of the neediest continents spiritually. And in Spain, like many areas of Europe, church growth is slow and mission opportunities abound.
Spain - the facts:
• More than 45 million people
• A diverse, vibrant, social culture with children and food at its heart
• Nominally Catholic, with a distrust of anything different
• A WEC team of 32 serve in Spain, from 12 different countries - including four Australians
• Long-term workers are needed; short-term intercessors are always welcome
Australian workers Coralie and Steve Preston are the current WEC Spain team leaders. Imagine spoke to them about this unique mission field.
How is Spain different to Australia?
Spaniards are a fun, vibrant people and the lifestyle is very relaxed and relational, usually involving food! Much of life takes place outside in coffee bars and restaurants, as they tend to live in small flats not suitable for entertaining. The family is a very big part of life and they take care of one another in a fairly closed unit. Children are the undeniable centre of attention and parks are full of children, parents and grandparents at about 7pm when much socializing goes on. Lunch is the main meal of the day and is usually a relaxed affair lasting over two hours.
What challenges might an Australian in Spain face in terms of culture shock?
For families it is often difficult to adjust to the daily timetable as children go to bed quite late from a very early age. Also Spaniards are very direct in their comments and one needs to maintain a sense of humour, especially in receiving advice on child rearing!
What are the challenges in reaching this people group?
Spain is now quite nominal but, while the younger Spanish generation is not aware of the beliefs of the Catholic Church, the traditions are still entrenched in society. Anything that looks different is treated with suspicion. Materialism has dominated society as a reaction to the years of dictatorship. Spanish evangelical churches are generally quite small and lack resources. With church growth having been largely dominated by immigrants, the style of church has taken on a Latin flavour, which is not always inviting for the Spaniard.
What are the opportunities for reaching the Spaniards with the gospel?
Spaniards like to see themselves as self-sufficient, however the economic crisis is challenging this worldview considerably as people realise that the foundation on which they´ve built their lives is crumbling. There is a significant spiritual vacuum amongst Spaniards and they are searching in many areas to try to fill this. We have workers with gifts and qualifications in the area of counselling who have found this to be an effective inroad for connecting with Spaniards on a spiritual level. It´s really important to be authentic and not secretive about what you believe. Our colleagues have found English teaching and chat groups very instrumental in building relationships and discussing Christianity.
Are there opportunities for Australians to come to Spain as missionaries?
There is a scarcity of churches and workers in a country that has never experienced a spiritual revival! Spain needs more workers to come and train, encourage spiritual growth, provide discipleship, and persevere for the long haul. Team members here use whatever skills they have from baseball coaching to English chat classes in order to connect with people. It does require self-motivation and a desire to learn Spanish to the best of one´s ability.