Vol 4, Num 10 :: 2005.05.20 — 2005.06.02
I?m from Minnesota. I live in Madrid now. I used to live in Barcelona. Taken together, I have lived in Spain as a missionary since May 1998. It?s a miracle I?m still here today.
You see, somewhere around early 2000, I almost completely lost my sense of calling and even my faith in God.
I can remember the sense of loneliness, the ache in my soul as I lay in bed one night, oblivious to the surrounding sounds of downtown Barcelona. ?Ministry? had not turned out like I had planned. Prior to moving to Barcelona, I had described my ?life purpose? in grandiose terms. I was determined to turn Barcelona and Spain upside-down for Christ. But a mere two years later (on a night I shall never forget this side of eternity), I was suddenly (yet subtly) seized by a deep, paralyzing fear: ?What if Christians have got it all wrong? What if all of this is one big hoax? What if there is no God? What if Jesus never rose again and it is all just a myth, just an allegory? What if I?ve been living a lie??
To be sure, there are times in one?s life when thoughts like those can be dismissed with a mere tap on the shoulder and a terse, polite mandate such as: ?You can be on your way now, if you please.? But this time the devil had handcuffed me and had pinned me to the ground; naked, bleeding, half-dead. I was ready to give in. Just put me out of my misery. Ya es bastante
For days I let the demons have their way with me. I lost all desire to connect with people, including my wife and kids. Don?t get me wrong: by sheer force of habit, I still occupied adjacent spaces to my family and friends. But I wasn?t really ?there,? if you catch my meaning.
It is now May 2005 and I am still in Spain, working as a missionary. So, what has preserved my sense of calling to Pontius Pilate?s homeland? What has kept me here all this time?
Well, I?ll tell you. I used to live life the same way my mother produces watercolor paintings: by numbers. Now, however, I live life by names.
By way of explanation, here?s how the ?Mathematical Missionaries? rationalize their presence. (I know this because I used to be one of them—and sometimes I still am one of them!) They say things like: ?Spain needs missionaries. Just look at the statistics: On average, there is only one evangelical church for every five towns in Spain. A third of those churches have less than 20 people in them. Another third have between 20 to 40 people. About another third have between 40 and 100. There are only about 5 evangelical churches in all of Spain that have approximately 500 people in them. Only 10 percent of the population regularly attends any kind of church?? And on and on we go, like we?re trying to grasp Einstein, only to discover it?s all relative anyway.
Over the years, I?ve discovered that ?needs and numbers? are primordial temptations. So, in the Spanish desert I need to respond like Jesus: ?Man shall not live by bread alone.? What sustains me now is ?every word that comes from the mouth of God.? That?s where names come in.
For instance, what got me through the Black Hole of Despair in early 2000 was not the realization of a need, but the presence of a person. I will call her Carey.
I met Carey through a group of actors in Barcelona. Shortly after that I started hosting weekly sessions dedicated to developing our craft through improvisational acting exercises. Thank God these weekly sessions weren?t very successful.
On one particular week, the only person who showed up was Carey. Since she had some time to kill, we crossed the street to a small Spanish cafeteria and ordered caf? con leche. To be honest, I had hoped our impromptu outing would be over in about 19 minutes. I was in no mood to talk with anyone, let alone a member of my failed troupe-of-reject-actors. It only intensified the spiritual pain of purposelessness I felt at the time.
I think it was about 47 seconds into our conversation when Carey said: ?So, tell me: why did you become a pastor? Was your father a pastor?? Leave it to an ?unbeliever? to remind me of God?s existence.
I chuckled, coffee came out my nose, and I shook my head. ?No, not at all. Far from it.? And then I proceeded to tell her the story of how God had changed my life and called me into ministry. I told her how God had miraculously saved my life at the age of two and how I?ve felt that God kept me alive for a special reason. I told her how I grew up in a family so messed up we made ?The Simpsons? look like ?Leave it To Beaver? in comparison. Words like divorce, drugs, drinking, stepdad, pornography and eviction dotted the narrative. We had our water cut off. We had our electricity cut off. We went without food many times. We moved from one place to the next. We were poor, wretched, godless pagans.
And, then, one day in the summer of 1984, all of that changed. I was 13 at the time. I knew Jesus was real and I gave my life completely to God. And God changed me. Boy, did God ever change me!
I told Carey all of that. And by the end of telling her my story, I had the answer to all the questions I had been asking. I knew God was real. I knew it all was not a big hoax. I knew Jesus was alive. I knew because I had seen with my own eyes and experienced for myself the miracle of rebirth. How could I ever doubt what God had done? How could I ever doubt God?s hand on my life and the sense that God had singled me out to tell others the difference Jesus makes?
And that reminds me of a few other names. I?ll use pseudonyms, but for each fictitious name mentioned here rest assured there are real people attached: Rene, Julia, Paula, Chris, Sasha, John, Charles, Ben, Isaac, Doris, Sally, Valerie, and Lisa. These are just a few names. Literally, the rest of this page would not hold the rest of the names that could be listed. These are the names of people whose lives have been changed. And these are the people who write notes telling me the specifics on how their lives have been changed. As one of them said, ?I woke up this morning with gladness in my heart. I know that Jesus is alive and that it is all true.? It is for these names that I am still here today.
You see, for me, calling and community are interconnected. You cannot have one without the other. If not for people, ?calling? would be heartless. People keep me here.
And that takes me to the last name on my list. Actually, the last person is also the first. He?s the one who started this whole thing and he?s the one who will finish it. You know who I?m talking about now. I don?t even have to mention his name. Suffice to say, he?s the biggest reason I?m living here in Spain.
I?m here today because I have seen him living in people gone by. I?m here today because when I look up at my wall and see the faces of our strange little family of faith (who yet reside in and around Madrid), I see him at work. I?m here today because I know that tomorrow I will meet someone new. And perhaps the day after that I?ll see them made new by the name above all names. I?m here today because he was and is and is to come.
Discussion: Mission: evangelism
The author displays a clear passion for evangelism. Do you have this gift? How do you share your faith, if at all? Has anyone ever evangelized to you? Are some styles of evangelism better than others? How does the New Testament guide our approach to spreading the Good News?