Studying for Spanish GCSE two years ago, I travelled out to Spain to stay with a pastor called Jose Luis and his family, who live in a small town called Moral.
He is one of three pastors and four churches, part of an organisation called Spanish Gospel Mission (SGM). This is a faithful evangelical witness in a south central area of Spain called Castilla-La Mancha.
As a church in Dundee we had known about and prayed for this work for many years, and as a family we had even had Jose Luis to stay when I was about 8 years old! These connections, as well as my dad (Pastor Conrad Pomeroy, Dundee) being on the board for the SGM, meant it was natural for me to stay with them to help me improve my Spanish.
It was a real blessing, not only on a cultural level, but also spiritually. And now, as I am studying for Advanced Higher Spanish (equivalent of A-level), I had an excuse to go again this year!
I was involved with helping with the Holiday Bible Club in Moral, a kids’ bilingual camp, and with some of their evangelistic campaign. God was pleased to again bless my time there and was gracious to help me do the things I expected to do and also those I did not expect to do!
I thought I would give you a feel for what I experienced by reflecting on three things: reminder, encouragement and challenge.
The reminder of the strength of Catholicism in Spain really pressed itself upon me in my time out there.
The third day of the evangelistic campaign in Moral was the gospel choir from Valdepeñas, and as they were finishing setting up, the doors of the Catholic church behind the stage opened and out poured well over 100 people, perhaps 200.
The town is really quite small, with a population of about 5000, and yet hundreds attend the Catholic church, while the evangelical witness is tiny in comparison. Catholicism is also still very strong culturally and can lead to a subtle form of persecution, as I saw for myself with the initial attempts to obtain permission to hold the evangelistic campaign in Valdepeñas being refused, though, after I left, they were eventually permitted to do so.
Even in the few conversations and opportunities I had to speak with unbelievers about Christianity, I discovered that almost all are either Catholics or come from Catholic families.
This may not be a surprise. However, many — especially the young people — hold on to this outlook while living a materialistic life. This spiritual atmosphere is different from here in the UK, where we are used to knocking away at the old wall of atheism, but it is just as hard spiritually, because many have a false assurance of salvation through a religious background and also a disinterest in spiritual things because of a worldly lifestyle.
Having described the disheartening feeling of seeing how deeply rooted Catholicism still is, I must also tell of the encouragement that I experienced.
I think it was about half way through my time there, when Jose Luis took me and his boys to a family’s house quite a distance away. All I understood was that he was going to pray with a young woman who had been having bad dreams.
Only on the way home did the picture finally fit together. It turned out that the aunt and uncle are Christians, and attend the church in Moral when they have enough money to pay for petrol, but despite this, their witness in the home meant Jose Luis was able to lead the niece (the young lady) and nephew to Christ that very day. What an encouragement!
I faced a few challenges in Spain, especially the heat which often peaked at 38-42°C and did affect my sleeping on occasions, though in the evenings it cooled down and there were some great sunsets, not to mention trying to speak and understand Spanish all the time.
However, I felt a spiritual challenge in seeing the zeal and desire that the believers there have to share the gospel. I realised that, with all the activities of the summer in organising, leading, practising and helping out, the summer of many of them is all used up in the endeavour to show the unsaved the way of salvation.
This is quite a sacrifice and, what is more, this pattern of work is the same every year. It was encouraging for me to see their willingness to do it all and I realised that I need to remind myself, as we all do, that God’s kingdom is the focus of our lives.
I hope this gives you a small feel for the situation out there. Despite the strength of Catholicism, God is still at work. Despite small churches, there is still a zeal for the gospel, and though Spain is a place of spiritual darkness, ‘Salvation is of the Lord’, and, through your prayers, there may yet be days of great harvest there.