Klash of King(dom)s

And that’s my current concern for this generation the world over: we are becoming embittered. And that’s not good. Because bitterness is like the opposite to patience and trust. It causes us to fear and it causes us to hate. And that in turn causes us to make some pretty irrational decisions…

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I’ll start with a confession: I’m not really the most patient of people.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some things I’m willing to wait for: a good curry, my birthday, Christmas… But more often than not, I’d rather have that something now than have to wait for it. And if there’s one thing that God has been talking to me about recently, it’s been about patience. And it really grinds with me. Because I’m part of that generation that been taught to expect things instantaneously.

I mean, we see it everywhere, right? From ‘instant coffee’ and ‘fast food’, to ‘4 steps to instant beauty’, and even ‘two in one shampoo and conditioner’ – who wants to spend longer in the shower than necessary, right?! We’re not used to waiting.

It’s hard for me to not get frustrated with waiting. Even for good things. I mean, honestly, how many people have I seen turn to Christ in the past three years I’ve been in this country?! Two? Maybe three? I’m sick of waiting for people to realise the truth we speak to them. And you know what, that’s not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. There is an urgency to the message we bring. And a right place for that kind of longing. We should most certainly be expectant. But we also need to trust in God’s perfect timing, his authorship, his perfect plan.

A lot has been happening in the world recently (don’t know if you’ve noticed…?!). A lot of stuff that has had me really questioning God’s perfect plan. I won’t lie, when I woke up to the news that Trump had won the presidency, my first thought was, “so, Jesus, when are you coming back?!”

Nope, I’m not even joking.

I’ll say again: it’s good to be expectant and ready – it’s good to be awaiting his return. In fact, we probably need to be more expectant and more ready! But lets face it, when I woke up to that news and that was my thought, I wasn’t really patiently awaiting his return; I was being bitter about the world that we live in.

But I so understand that restless feeling. Because the truth is, there are many things that I’d like to do in my life before Jesus does return: marriage, a family, a job in politics, to name but a few… All good things to desire, too, I might add. But not to the detriment of my trust in God. And I do pray that while I wait, I wouldn’t become bitter.

And that’s my current concern for this generation the world over: we are becoming embittered. And that’s not good. Because bitterness is like the opposite to patience and trust. It causes us to fear and it causes us to hate. And that in turn causes us to make some pretty irrational decisions…

We do live in some interesting times, don’t we? Some interesting political times, at least… Not that I’m saying that every political decision made recently has been irrational, but I do think some votes have been cast that haven’t been entirely thought through (on all sides, I might add).

Do you ever just think, ‘what ever happened to Gordon Brown?’ Or, ‘remember that time we went through the “credit crunch” and everyone thought the world was ending?’ Or, my favourite, ‘did the millennium bug every really exist?!’

OK, I don’t want to make the crises of the past seem like less than they were. There was genuine panic at the time, I remember. But my point is that it is very easy to look back with rose-tinted spectacles, isn’t it? And say that things now are far worse than they used to be…

I mean, the world of ‘Bushisms’ now seems like a world away, doesn’t it? And it certainly doesn’t feel as bad now as it did at the time.

Case in point, I refer you to this, being one of my favourite quotes ever uttered from the lips of former President George W. Bush:

“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people – and neither do we.”
(Washington DC., August 5, 2004)

… OK, funny as that quote is – and I know he didn’t mean it literally – I think we may actually be doing exactly what George W. Bush said. I really do think we may be inadvertently destroying ourselves. (Wow, this took a turn, didn’t it?!)

And not just by the crazy outcomes of Brexit and the recent US presidential elections (amongst many other political outcomes I could mention, but won’t)… We have been becoming increasingly bitter for a while now. Although those two examples are wonderful examples of the culmination of our bitterness: in both of those circumstances, there was a country divided. Both are leaving a trail of very unhappy people in their wake. Both of the winning campaigns were fought on making things ‘great’ again, and not a whole lot of explanation was given as to how.

My worry is that we were never really that ‘great’ to begin with anyway. I mean, if you take both the UK and US as examples, does either country really have a history to be that proud of?! I really do think we’re becoming more bitter about the present and are viewing the past through rose-tinted specs.

Let me put it like this: we’re losing perspective.

The only really ‘great’ kingdom we belong to is the Kingdom of God. And until we’re living in such a time as when it is fully here on earth, we’re in a battle. We are living in a clash of kingdoms; in a game of thrones, if you will. This world is at war with its Master. It shouldn’t surprise us that things keep happening to embitter and enrage us. But we should not fall into the temptation to feel those things.

Here’s a great quote from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters:

My dear Wormwood,
Be sure that the patient remains completely fixated on politics. Arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people they have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things the patient can control. Make sure to keep the patient in a constant state of angst, frustration and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing. Ensure the patient continues to believe that the problem is ‘out there’ in the ‘broken system’ rather than recognising there is a problem with himself.
Keep up the good work,
Uncle Screwtape.

Never a truer word spoken.

Friends, let’s not just blame the ‘broken system’ and become embittered. Let’s remember that we are in a clash of kingdoms, and while this world continues to fail and let us down, there is still a joy and a hope of a greater Kingdom to come. Let’s be a generation that goes against the grain of the instant satisfaction that’s thrown at us. Let’s step up and be patiently waiting – with an expectant urgency – for that greater Kingdom to come. That’s how we avoid becoming bitter. And that’s how we face the difficulties that this world throws at us.

 

Sailing in High Winds

Whenever I come back to write on this blog, I’m always surprised by how long I’ve left it between posts… Sorry, dear readers… Oh well, I’m sure you’ve survived!

Anyways…

I’ve been finding myself rather stressed these past couple of months. If I’m honest, it’s been a real struggle to try and find joy in my work recently. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’ve not written for a while; I thought it’d be a little hypocritical.

On top of bureaucratic issues to do with ID cards and social security (far too complicated to explain here, and quite frankly far too boring), I also find myself in a bit of a financial pickle with not enough supporters at the moment… Turns out that if I want to keep living legally in Spain (obviously I do!), I’ve got to raise a lot more per month, dividing up a pretty large portion to pay taxes, ministry costs, insurance, my Spanish mission, my English mission… blah, blah, blah… So yeah, turns out I need a lot more than first thought. (And if you read that as a shameless plug at getting more people to join my family of supporters, you’d not be wrong! Drop me a line if you want to find out more about how to get involved, or click on the “get involved” tab above.) Anyway, I’ve no doubt that God will provide, but if I’m honest, it does weigh on my mind.

I suppose maybe part of it is just finding out what life is really like when you grow up. Maybe I was being naive. Maybe another part of it is just being a foreigner working for a foreign company in a foreign country – in short, not easy – and quite often it feels like they just want to catch you out. Definitely makes you miss home.

But enough complaining! I also feel like it’s been a pretty big learning curve for me. And I mean in terms of learning about who I am. One of the things I’ve learnt about myself is that I am a “worrier” and a “stresser”: I take things to heart, I store them up and I think them over and over and over. I try endlessly to find solutions to the problems I build up in my head. But something else I’ve learnt about myself is that I am a “coper”. Things might worry me, but I also get on with life. Not necessarily a bad reaction, but I don’t always do it in the best way… If something is overwhelming me, I kind of just shut that bit off (I know, not the best reaction), and keep going with everything else.

I recently went to see a physiotherapist as I’d done something to my back. She told me that despite the fact that my left side was hurting me more, it was actually my right side that needed more work. My right side had begun playing up a while ago, and so my brain – being clever – had shut that side down and built a wall around the muscle to stop it from overworking. (OK, probably not the exact medical explanation, but let’s just go with that for the moment.) Problem was, my left side then had to overcompensate for it, and that’s why it was hurting. That’s a little like how I deal with life. Something is stressing me out, I shut it down. And the rest makes up for it. Problem is, the overcompensation leads to extra stress, extra pain, and in the end, a sore back.

I’ve also realised that I’m an “internaliser” – I internalise everything. And while it has its advantages, it also means that I tend to want to find the solutions to my problems on my own. You know, the classic I’ve-made-my-bed-now-I-must-lie-in-it approach. The I’m-fine-and-coping-in-my-own-way-but-really-I’m-stressing-about-everything way of life. The I’m-not-going-to-ask-for-help-because-I-should-be-able-to-fix-this-on-my-own strategy. We’ve all been there, right? … Right?!

Well, that’s where I was. Maybe still am a little bit. But I’m gradually learning how to come out of that state.

Here’s the thing: it sucks. Because the more bits you just shut off, the closer you are to internal combustion. And OK, I never actually did implode on myself  (you’d have heard about that), but I probably wasn’t that far off.

No, I’m not writing this to worry anyone. I’m just being honest. And if anyone can relate, well then, keep reading. Because I want you to know that there’s hope (despite how cheesy that sounds).

And let me tell you, hope does not come in the form of you being able to muster it up for yourself. All I kept seeing was that the more I shut off parts, the more stuff would be added to the already large pile of things that were stressing me out. Trust me, that pile of stuff is not going to decrease.

But the stress can.

I imagine you’ve heard that “the best way to stop stressing about pending tasks is just to get on and do them”. Maybe this works for some people. But what happens when you’ve shut down the things that are stressing you out? Reopening them and “just getting on with them” doesn’t work. I was seeing more and more that it was becoming impossible for me to simply “get on and do them” on my own. Let’s be honest, I couldn’t.

There’s a quote by Aristotle Onassis (great name, right?! He was the husband of Jacky O.) that I rather like: “we must free ourselves of the hope that the sea will ever rest. We must learn to sail in high winds.” So how do we “sail in high winds”?!

For me, that help came in the form (firstly) of two very lovely people called Jon and Lisa. OK, so not everyone is going to have a “Jon and Lisa”, but I guarantee that there are people out there who are totally for you, who have your best interests at heart and care about how you’re doing. Graciously, God has put a heap of people like this around me, and the first two I turned to was this lovely couple. I happen to work with Jon, and therefore almost by default with Lisa. They are also British (that’s were the similarities stop), have three kids and have been living here for a year. And right from the start, they were both so good at looking out for me.

I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t always the best at being looked out for. Remember, I wanted to have it all sorted on my own. And even if I didn’t, I certainly wanted to give that impression. (So sorry for shutting you out, Jon, Lisa, and basically everybody else who tried to help me.) But a couple of weeks ago now, I had a massive cry on their shoulders – trust me, it wasn’t pretty! – and re-opened all the stuff that I’d shut down. It was a kind of painful process. But getting it all out there actually really helped.

You know that part in Galatians 6:2, where it says, “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” Well, I can attest to that. What’s the law of Christ? To love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourself. To love. To be united, to be a family. And if we’re a family, well then, we carry each other’s burdens. We look out for each other.

You know what?! I have to say, I do feel a lot lighter now. No, the problems might not have gone away, but you know what they say, “a problem shared is a problem halved”… OK, maybe that’s not completely true, but that extra weight does suddenly feel a lot lighter.

You want to know what I else I’ve learnt about myself? That I can’t do it all on my own. I’m not as strong as I think I am. But God has deliberately put people around me to help me. In fact, plenty more people than just Jon and Lisa. I’m not going to name them all, because that would take an age, but they are there and I am just as grateful for them.

The thing with sailing in high winds is that you can’t steer a massive ship on your own… You’d sink. (Again, I’m no expert in sailing, but I’m pretty confident I’m right!) You’ve got a have a team of people steering the ship, a family of people that you trust – people who can hoist the sails, drop the anchor, even row the oars if necessary… (No idea what kind of ship I’m thinking of…! But just go with it…!)

And while stepping out and admitting that you don’t have it all under control is actually a hard step to take, He did make us for fellowship and for community. We should be willing to carry each others burdens and ready to step in and lift someone up. We should be a family! So don’t be afraid to reach out for help. The point is, it’s impossible to help ourselves. And that, my dear readers, is what family and fellowship is for.

Working with Students
That’s right – cue photo of a happy, working family of students who don’t look stressed at all…! (Disclaimer: this was totally staged because we’d actually forgotten to take photos of the work we were doing that day. So those laughs are real as we are pretending to work together…!)

 

Embarrassing Spanish Situations

When living in another country and learning a second language, you are bound to run into some mis-communications. Whether that be mixing up ‘paz’ (peace) and ‘pez’ (fish) like I did in an A-Level Spanish paper about the European Union (who doesn’t want world fish?!), or whether it be something even more embarrassing…

To be fair, this took place only a few months after I had first arrived in Spain. But for some reason, I had gotten talking with a couple of girls about our morning routine and whether or not we make our bed every morning. They were not so keen on the idea, but I was adamant that it should be done and went to great lengths to explain that I made my bed every morning. In fact, I went on to describe it. There were three cushions on my bed that I had to take off the bed when I went to sleep, and in the morning I would put the three cushions back on… I suddenly realised the two girls were cracking up, but I had no idea why. In fact, when I asked, they were giggling too much to make sense. Eventually, they calmed down enough and told me they didn’t think I had three ‘cushions’ on my bed. I said I did! No, no, they explained, you have three “cojines” (cushions) on your bed. I was confused. Isn’t that what I’d just said?! Turns out it wasn’t… Apparently you get a different word when you change the ‘i’ for an ‘o’… So I’d been saying something a little ruder… Let’s just say it’s a part of the human anatomy that I don’t possess… Oops!

 

Spanglish Through and Through

My housemate told me a Spanish joke the other day and it made me chuckle. In English, it goes something like this:


Man 1: Guess what?! You’ll never believe it!!
Man 2: What??!
Man 1: I was walking home from work today and I saw a unicorn!!
Man 2: No!! Really???!! You have a job??!!

OK, so maybe it’s not really that funny (maybe you can put a funnier joke in the comments below, or just tell me I wasn’t the only one who laughed at this one…!!!), but such is the situation here in Spain, that you kinda have to laugh! At least it’s now got to the stage where they can joke about it, right?! And it got me thinking, after nearly two and a half years here – and who knows how many more, let’s face it – I think I’m finally beginning to get to grips with Spanish culture! I mean, I must be for a joke as bad as that to have made me laugh!!!!

OK, so getting serious for a second, that is exactly what we’re told to do, isn’t it?! No, not laugh at bad jokes, but get to grips with the culture around us. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. And while that might mean that we don’t necessarily partake in parts of today’s culture, it does mean that we should at least be familiar with it: in order to reach out to those around us, we first need to know them.
We did a training day with the students a few weeks ago and it set my mind a-ticking… It was all about how we ‘do evangelism’. I have to admit, it struck me as a little weird that we based our study on a passage in Numbers (of all places) but then things became clear.

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of itsleaders.’So at the Lord ’s command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. All of them were leaders of the Israelites. … When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, ‘Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are theyunwalledor fortified? How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of theland.’(It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)

Numbers 13:1-3, 17-20


Though the Israelites had a different end goal to the one we have, the point is, they first had to go to the land, research the culture and the people, to find out what they were like in order to bring about change in that place. So do we!! If we want to see change in people, isn’t it important to really get to know them first?! Did you know these Israelite men were there for forty days?! That’s over a month!!  And you can bet that it wasn’t just a month and a half in hiding…! If you really want to know what a people is like, you have to live among them.

Ask yourself a question: how much do you really know the people you find yourself around everyday? Be that work colleagues, classmates, friends, family, teachers, professors, students, neighbours, etc. What are they like? What are their interests? What do they spend their time doing?
A couple of my best friends here have both begun seeing each other. It’s amazing how, even in such a short amount of time, I can see how they are changing! From the way they talk even to the shoes they wear, they are beginning to say the same things as each other, even to dress alike (well, to an extent)! All because they spend so much time getting to know each other! And the more you get to know someone, the more you begin to become alike; the more you know exactly what their interests are, what they spend their time doing, what they are like.
Isn’t that our whole objective in getting to know Jesus more and more as well? That we start to become more like him? Well, in the same sort of way, we need to get to know the people around us! I’m not saying we need to compromise our beliefs and principles (in the world, not of the world, remember?!), rather that it might just surprise you if they start becoming more interested in the gospel if that’s what you’re living. Similarly, maybe you might become more interested in the football results, or going to all the best coffee shops, or gradually develop a love of indie music (all just examples…!)
And I think this is something not just to apply to our individual lives, but also something to take into account as local Churches. Do we not want to be Churches that are contagious with the gospel? That reach out to the community around us? That know our neighbours? That grow more and more with people coming to know Christ?? Isn’t that what we long for?!
Albeit I’m no pastor or Church leader, but I think as a member of the Body of Christ, this is something that we should all long for and start changing. To be Churches that grow, that are interested in people outside, we need to start being more outward centred, to be attentive to questions that people may have and be prepared with answers. We need to start encouraging people in their personal efforts to reach out to people, but perhaps we also need to go out to the people as a group, just like that group in Numbers 13.
Do we as a local Church really know ‘what the land is like’? Whether the people are ‘strong or weak, few or many’? ‘What kind of land they live in’?  Just a bit of food for thought…
And yes, that might well mean getting to know their sense of humour – and even laughing at their jokes*!

Salamanca
How do you get to ‘unlock’ people? By getting to know them…! This photo was taken on a trip to Salamanca with the students.

 

Continue reading “Spanglish Through and Through”

The One With The Coins And The Crying

Everyone knows that feeling of biting off more than they can chew, right? You know, you’ll say yes to something, leaving the thinking it through until later. Only by then it’s too late to back out. You’ve made your bed, now you have to lie in it. How do I put this? It’s probably been one of those months for me… maybe more.

It all started with a trip back home that ended up lasting nearly a month. I wasn’t expecting to be back that long (and I won’t go into detail now), but it was a hard few weeks spent with family, mourning the loss of someone very dear to me. And I knew that when I got back to Spain, things would be different and probably a lot harder: I would have a month’s worth of work (or thereabouts) to catch up on; I needed to catch up with all of the students; our events week in Leganés was coming up, with a lot of preparation to do; and to top it all off, our last remaining staff worker would, by that time, have moved up North to be with his new wife, meaning I alone would now be the full-time ‘team’ in the city (although thankfully I wouldn’t be completely alone, as there would still be a couple on the part-time team, and I would be able to talk to my supervisor about everything). Nevertheless, I was going to have to step it up a notch. (I wasn’t even sure if there was another notch!)

As if that wasn’t enough, just before events week began, the whole team began experiencing attacks like never before. We were going to be putting on the Mark Drama again, but less than two weeks before the first performance we still didn’t have a venue for the Monday night. With less than a week to go, we found out one of the actors had exams scheduled during the days of the performances on Monday and Tuesday. With 4 days to go, two of the actors dropped out and we needed to find replacements.

Then there’s events week itself, with events planned everyday – one in the afternoon, one in the evening – Monday-Thursday. The countdown is at 5 days to go before the first afternoon event on Monday, and suddenly we find we have three problems: 1. the university writes that they are now unhappy for us to go ahead with the week, as university policy states that nobody may spread ideas or political ideologies on campus; 2. we now seem to have no venue for the evening events; and 3. on Thursday, the campus is closed, as it is a national bank holiday. With less than 3 days to go until it takes off, we receive news from the speaker of the event on Wednesday that he can no longer speak due to an oversight in his calendar, leaving us less than 5 days to find a replacement.

We were in over our heads. And that’s putting it mildly.

A few of us decided to take the Thursday before it began to fast and pray over things. I decided to send out a prayer letter to get people battling in prayer for us as well.

Within 3 days, most of our problems were sorted. Don’t we have a great God who answers prayer?! Although I should point out, at this point, I still wasn’t completely sure, and had taken it upon myself to try and solve a lot of these problems myself. You’ll see…

A venue for the second night of the Mark Drama was needed; I prayed a bit and got in touch with the owner of my Church’s rooms. Within a couple of days, we had a venue sorted. More actors were needed for the Mark Drama; I prayed. Then I signed up to do it again (after all, this would be my fourth time, I knew it practically by heart now). I prayed again. Another girl from the comité agreed to do it. The university was against us; here I was stuck and didn’t know where to turn. I prayed. We needed a speaker for Wednesday; I prayed a bit again, and made a few suggestions to the comité. Of course, being here purely to support the students means I can only support them and not do things for them (as much as I may want to, and as much as I am a ‘doer’, they are the leaders; I am an enabler and an encourager). Thankfully, by Sunday morning, another speaker was confirmed. Praise God. (And, in my head, perhaps, praise myself, too. I’d done my part, hadn’t I?!) Sadly, the evening events had to be cancelled, and Thursday’s events were called off, since there wouldn’t be any students around anyway. Still, we trusted we still had enough and that God would continue to work in and through what was left.

IMG_20150317_132307
A post to encourage my supporters to keep praying for us: “An evening stroll by the palace the other day with one of my students, just before a committee meeting to discuss the finer details of the (then) upcoming events week. Being by the palace, I am reminded of the fact that I live in a kingdom (even if the royal family doesn’t live in that palace). After all, Spain’s official name is The Kingdom of Spain. The three men in front looked kind of lost… To be fair, I don’t know what they were looking for, but the obvious attraction was right behind them, they were just looking the wrong way. I am equally reminded that I am a citizen of another, greater Kingdom, not of this world, and not of an earthly king. All this week, we have been putting on events to share news of that greater Kingdom with students on campus in Leganés. Much like those three men in the photo, many are looking for something great, but are simply looking in all the wrong places. We are hoping that this week, we can better point them in the right direction. Please pray with us that God would have his hand over it and be working to change hearts and lives.”

Rehearsals for the Mark Drama began on the Friday (3 days before events week began). I was already regretting my decision to be part of the group. I had a huge mound of admin to get back to at home that would sadly not write itself, and a ton of things to continue sorting out for the week ahead. And, as if rubbing salt in the wound, when we started acting, I was taken back to what seemed like a simpler time, in Manchester, as a student, learning the Mark Drama with my friends in the Christian Union. I missed the days of acting in English, being a disciple or even (oh the horror!), as I was the following year, a Pharisee. I missed the days of having it under control, of feeling more comfortable, of being able to act well, of being the joker, of being confident… No doubt I was viewing the past through rose-tinted specs, and no doubt it was not that easy at the time, but compared to the struggles I was presently facing, the past definitely seemed like a better place.

For the second year running, I was given the roles (among a few others) of the poor widow at the offering and one of the crying women at the resurrection. Both, I felt, were fairly boring roles (!) – they don’t get any interesting lines, as such, and they didn’t particularly get much of the lime light. To put it simply, neither was going to be anybody’s favourite character. It wasn’t really until later in the week, doing the other events, that either one really meant anything to me.

On the Wednesday morning, I was sat at the stand on campus, promoting the day’s event, when a student came up, interested in what we were doing. We ended up having an interesting conversation. Basically, he didn’t understand the concept of faith; he defined having faith in something as believing something that wasn’t real. I tried to challenge him on this idea, by saying that as Christians, faith is being sure of something we know to be true and real. It is not simply blind faith, following what we are not sure of, but belief and trust based on fact. In fact, faith follows on from fact, not the other way round. However, it wasn’t long before his girlfriend came along to back him up, arguing that some people clearly just needed ‘faith’ to feel more secure.

This was the moment I really felt like the woman at the resurrection. I don’t have faith to make me feel more secure. Rarely do I feel more secure for believing and trusting. In fact, as the whole week – alright, month – had proved, my faith was often a struggle, a battle.

Being the woman at the resurrection is actually a really hard one to act, as moments before, I had to lift Jesus up onto the cross and make sure he wasn’t going to fall off. Moments before that, I had been one of the people shouting ‘kill him, crucify him!’. Even after four years of shouting this, it’s never gotten easier. Then you’re forced to look upon Jesus, spluttering, coughing and groaning in pain, watching him die a death he doesn’t deserve. And at the drop of a hat, you need to be ready, crying on the way to the grave, despite just moments before having been one of the ones crucifying an innocent man, full of hatred and spite. But then that grief turns almost instantaneously to joy, as you hear the angel bring the news that Jesus is alive and risen! It’s an emotional whirlwind. But that’s almost exactly what it’s like when you come to Christ. You realise the part you played in Jesus’ death; you mourn his death, perhaps with a heavy sense of guilt; but then you are full of joy at his resurrection, at the fact you have been saved, forgiven, and all by amazing grace. Friends, faith doesn’t come easy – often it is an emotional whirlwind – but we keep going in faith despite that fact, even because of it. Because despite the battle, there is a sure hope and a secure future at the end of it. But what we have to go through in the meantime is no mean feat.

Which brings me to the widow’s offering. By the end of the week, I was physically, mentally and emotionally spent. I had nothing left to give. I’m still recovering, even as I write this. But this is what Mark writes in his gospel:

 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few pence. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.’ Mark 12: 41-44

Jesus doesn’t require me to throw in more than I have. I may have felt like I had to do it all, that I had to raise the stakes, that it was now all up to me. But that’s not what he asks of me. Sure, he asks me for everything I have – and that’s not an easy request – but if I only have two copper coins, then that is all I can give. I think that all too often I try and take on far too much, thinking I have to give everything and more, lest I let everyone down. But that’s not what it is to follow Christ. I just need to keep trusting him – through the trials, through the struggles, though it might be difficult – that my twopence is enough, and let him take care of the rest.

After all, didn’t God provide us with what we needed in a ridiculously small space of time?

PTL, indeed.

Contagion

To be fair, I don’t know what the news has been like where you are, but in Madrid – and most probably the rest of Spain too – all they seem to be talking about is Ebola. A kind of fear has gripped the nation: “what are we going to do now?”, “will I catch it?”, “are my children safe?!”. Text messages are doing the rounds, scaring people into thinking that many more people have caught the virus (they haven’t, as far as we know). Posters have been put up in the streets – already – warning people about how not to catch it. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a panic quite like this. Because the sad truth is, it goes deeper than just fear; there is a great sense of shame and despair within Spain right now too: “how could we have let this happen in our country?!”, “couldn’t the government have done a better job than this?”, “now we’re going to be held responsible if it breaks out into the rest of Europe”.

Personally, I feel it was bound to make its way over the seas sooner or later anyway; it just so happens that the first case of Ebola outside of Africa happened to be caught in Spain (and now the second in Dallas, Texas). Actually, I couldn’t help but feel the injustice of it all. Sure, it had been in the news before, at least sporadically, there being an epidemic in Africa the likes of which we’ve never seen before; but what do we really know about it?

This year’s outbreak was unusual because it started in Guinea, which has never been affected before, and the virus then quickly spread to urban areas. Depending on the strain of the virus, up to 90% of those infected die. In fact, the death toll in Africa due to Ebola is now over 4,000. It’s shocking stuff. But, I fear, only now that it’s made its way across the border do we seem to be interested in Ebola and the damage it’s doing. And still not so much in Africa…

Meanwhile, in the USA, the death toll is 1. And while that’s still one life that was worth so much, a life we wish could have been saved, I fear we focus far too much on the rare individuals where we are in the West, and then tend to clump everyone in Africa together (we don’t even really distinguish between the countries). How many stories of individuals who have been affected by Ebola in Liberia do we know about? What about the few in Nigeria that have died? Sierra Leone? Guinea?! The answer – at least for me – is none. We treat them as an indistinguishable crowd. And while we may hear the numbers and be saddened, what more do we do? We’re not worried about ‘them’, because we’re not – or at least we weren’t – affected by it.

But now, now that it’s come to Spain, now there has been 1 case in Europe (and 1 in the USA), now we’re affected. But not for ‘them’. Rather, we’re worried for ourselves, here, where it’s ‘happening to us’. We forget ‘them’.

Where is the justice in that? How is that fair?

I can’t say I have any answers to those questions. But to my brothers and sisters in Christ in Africa, I say to you:

‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.’
1 Peter 1: 3-7

Be strong! There is hope! This is something Spain needs to remember too.

Faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire.
Faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire.

I don’t suppose there is really much we can do from the comfort of our armchairs in the West, however. And I’m not asking you to leave, get on a plane, put yourself in danger and go to one of the infected countries. If you want to donate money to a charity that is helping out there, feel free, but I’m not asking that of you either. What I wonder is, perhaps we can make a difference – big or small – by knowing something about the ‘them’, out there, who have been struggling with this epidemic for so long. Perhaps we can at least offer a prayer for those who are currently suffering.

Because the truth is, unless we are around a ‘contagion’, we’re probably never really going to take an interest in it. Which says something about our faith too, I think.

Did you know that Ebola is caught through the passing on of bodily fluids? So, saliva, blood, tears, etc. Did you also know that you have to be symptomatic, with a temperature of over 38°C to be contagious? I believe this is generally true of most viruses (any doctors out there, feel free to correct me). Shouldn’t this be true of our faith, too?

We should be symptomatic! It should be pretty clear we’re ‘infected’ with the living Holy Spirit, shouldn’t it? More than that, we should be burning up! Doesn’t the Spirit set a fire in our hearts?! That fire is contagious! And the whole passing on through bodily fluids…? OK, I can’t take that one so literally! But clearly close proximity has something to do it. And fire and infection spread when they’ve got stuff to spread to… So be around people! That fire in your heart is more likely to be contagious if you’re building up a relationship with another person, if you’re with them, if you’re symptomatic around them. I think that’s the challenge as well – just as much for me as anyone else who might be reading.

Reflections from a British ex-pat…ish

So, I thought it about time I updated you all with another blog post. And as my year anniversary in Spain has just past, I thought I’d tell you how life has changed now that I live abroad. Not that I’m sure that really makes me an ex-pat… I’m totally planning on coming back to the UK – not that I know when – but I don’t know what you’d call someone who’s moved abroad temporarily. I think we’ll stick with ex-pat-ish! Anyways, going back home over the summer, I came across some peculiar challenges that I hadn’t entirely bargained for. And I think they have everything to do with me having spent a year abroad in Spain. Which means that when I do finally go back to the UK, I imagine life will only be stranger, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. So, I have made a list of 10 challenges I was surprised to face over the course of the summer in the UK. Read on, my friends, and enjoy!

1. The weather (1) When I packed my suitcase to go back home for summer, there was one crucial thing I forgot. Britain is cold. I know, my British friends, I know: the summer we had this year actually wasn’t that bad – I mean, we had some sun, we enjoyed some heat, I’m sure many of you actually went outside and sunbathed! Sadly, for me, that British summer heat is still a good 10°C colder than the one in Madrid. Who knew I’d acclimatise so quickly to the Spanish summer? Certainly not me! But it felt like coming back home to mid-November. I’d left in a t-shirt and jeans, with flip-flops on my feet. Of course, I had a cardigan in my bag for when I got to England; I knew it wouldn’t be 34°. But when you’re used to that weather, you forget what 24° feels like. And when I stepped off the plane at Gatwick, that’s when I realised the one crucial thing I’d forgotten to pack. My jacket.

2. I no longer feel like I can speak English

I cannot begin to count the number of times I have simply forgotten the right word in English. Occasionally I just want to say it in Spanish, because that comes faster now. Sometimes, there’s an actual phrase I want to say that totally doesn’t translate to English, and you have no idea how stuck I get on those! (See below for a list.) Don’t even get me started on my grammar. I had thought I spoke good English; now I’m even catching myself out. Most of the time, I have to say, I’m fine, but sometimes all that comes out is Spanglish.

3. That doesn’t mean I speak fluent Spanish

It might surprise you how many people have asked me if I can speak perfect Spanish now. The answer, I fear, is still no. Sure, I can speak fairly good Spanish now; I’m better than when I first arrived, that’s for sure. But even after a year, there is a ton that I don’t know: I’m still looking up words in the dictionary; I still get greatly confused by all that Spanish grammar (trust me, it’s complicated); and all those little idioms that people use really get me sometimes. In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure I’ll ever arrive at the point where I think I’m fluent. Sure, I can hold a conversation for the most part, I normally understand what’s going on… But it’s still an effort, and sometimes I still feel somewhat out of place. My danger? I naturally compare myself to native speakers. I’ll never be speaking like a native – because I’m not one – I’ll always have my English traits, but yes, I can at least order you a beer when you come and visit! (And I could probably have a conversation with the waiter, too!)

4. Mealtimes (2) I seem to have adapted rather well to Spanish mealtimes. In fact, so my casera tells me (what did I tell you?!*), I seem to be more Spanish than her! Breakfast at 10ish, lunch around 4, dinner at 10 – with some snacks in between, of course. Although, to be fair, it doesn’t look that much different to a student meal timetable, so maybe that explains it! But when I came back home for summer and told people this, there were a good few horrified looks! Of course, this doesn’t mean I mind eating lunch at 1 and dinner at 6… it just means I’ll probably have a little something else before I go to bed!

5. The presence of two phones

This seemed to be a source of great confusion for some! I guess, when you live in a foreign country, you just end up with two of pretty much everything… Two gym memberships, two bank accounts, two purses (so as to separate your two different currencies!), and of course, two phones. It’s just annoying that I couldn’t seem to connect either one of them to the internet whilst I was at home, rendering me – somewhat ironically – out of touch with everyone.

6. Life has gone on without me

A ‘sad-but-true’ fact of life. I don’t know that I was expecting that it hadn’t, but sometimes it’s surprising how normal life seems when you get back. Occasionally a little disappointing, as people forget that it’s not been quite so normal for you; sometimes it doesn’t occur to ask how your life has been in Spain, so you never get past the superficial. On the other hand, I don’t want to be talking about Spain 24/7 as I know you’re not all going to want to hear about that… There seems to be a fine balance. I’m still working on it.

7. Courage (or lack thereof)

There have been a ton of people tell me how brave I am for moving and living abroad; perhaps they, too, would do it if they had my courage. Let me dispel that myth right now. For me at least, courage has about 10% to do with it and that is it. Probably less. The other 90% (more likely more) of making life-changing decisions like moving abroad has been absolute terror and trusting God. In all honesty (and just between me and you), I never really wanted to move abroad in the first place. I mean, there were dreams of visiting Spain, learning the language, etc., but I wanted to find a job in London! What changed my mind? God. And trust me, He’s still working on it!

8. Saying goodbye

I had thought that saying goodbye got easier the more you had to do it. It doesn’t. If anything, it becomes harder, because you already know how much you miss these people and now you know you’ve got to put yourself – and them – through that again. Packing your life into a suitcase, leaving home, saying goodbye – it all sucks. And a lot of the time I wish I could take you all with me. Not least so you can experience all these things too! Because despite hating saying goodbye, I know there are good things ahead, too.

9. Greetings

One day, I’ll get this right and not keep getting mixed up. Is it a handshake and remembering to leave lots of personal space? Is a hug acceptable? Or should I just throw caution to the wind and kiss you on both cheeks? Life is so confusing.

10. I do actually love Spain

Flowers on Gran Vía Despite my lack of courage, my still learning the language, my hatred of goodbyes, being back for summer I have realised that I do actually love the country I’m now living in. Which is probably a healthy thing, to be honest, otherwise I’d be pining for home the entire time. But I now have good friends here, a great Church family, I love my job… It may have been hard to leave the UK again, but I reckon it’s going to be equally as hard to leave here too.

Words and phrases I can find no English Translation for:

Ganas (n.) – These are something that you have. They come from the verb ‘ganar’, which means to win, or gain. However, you can’t have wins or gains in English – at least, not in the same way you can in Spanish. If you were to say ‘tengo ganas’, it might translate as something similar to ‘I’m looking forward to’, or ‘I can’t wait to’. However, you can also bring them with you. In which case, it might translate better as excitement. Yeah, we just don’t have this word. *Casero/a (n., ad.) – As a noun, this would best translate to landlord/lady, however it also implies that they live with you, as there is technically a different word for the person that owns the property and takes your rent. As an adjective, it simply means ‘homemade’, and normally refers to food. Estrenar (vb.) – There is no similar word for this verb in English. The closest I can get to is ‘to wear something in’, however you can only estrenar something once. It’s more like wearing or using something for the first time. … Yeah, they have a word for that. La de la vergüenza – Possibly one of my favourite little phrases in Spanish, I think it’s really cute! Literally, it means ‘the one of shame’. However, it does not just refer to anything shameful. It’s the final piece of food left on a shared plate or table that nobody dares take for fear of being rude, depriving someone else of it, and therefore being banned from all future tapas activities! For a country known for being uptight about politeness and manners, I’m really quite surprised that we don’t actually have a phrase for this! Merendar (vb.) – To have an afternoon snack. I mean, yes, we have ‘to snack’, but una merienda (the noun form) is really only eaten in the afternoon. Whereas we will happily snack whenever we like! Tutear (vb.) – This verb doesn’t exist in English because we only have one form of ‘you’ – which, personally speaking, is so much easier to learn. Tutear literally means ‘to  somebody’, or to speak to them in the informal version of ‘you’, as opposed to always having to be formal with them and use usted. If you were to ask somebody in English ‘could I “you” you?’, I imagine you would get some strange looks. Desvelado (ad.) – There is a translation for this, but it’s way more than a word long. It is: ‘unable to sleep because you have been kept awake by someone or something’. Just rolls off the tongue. Leche (n.) – OK, so leche just means milk, but there’s not much we can do with milk in English unless you’re crying because you spilled it. In Spanish, it is far more confusing. There’s ser la leche, which is cool (to be cool); dar una leche, which is painful (to hit); be a toda leche, which is fast (full speed)… Then you could really go crazy, and be all like: “Ay, la leche! Qué mala leche! Y una leche! Me c*** en la leche! Hombre, me has puesto de mala leche!” Which translates roughly as: “Darn it! That was bang out of order! No way! Blimin’ heck [but slightly more vulgar]! Man, you’ve put me in a bad mood!” But then that’s really milking it.

Hollywood Beckons… (or not)

My dear readers,

My sincerest apologies for having left it so long between now and my last post. My, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?! And in that time a lot seems to have happened… One of the most magnificent and significant things that took place – which was significant for us all, actually – was Easter. The humble death and glorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And although we technically celebrated it just over a week ago, I was reminded of the real and lasting joy behind it just this last weekend when we performed the Mark Drama here in Madrid.

Experimento Marcos
Experimento Marcos – or the Mark Drama, as it is known in the UK… 15 actors, 90 minutes, and the entire gospel of Mark.

The Mark Drama is a dramatised version of the entire gospel of Mark, performed by just 15 people in 90 minutes. We start the rehearsals two days before we start performing, but have six weeks prior to that to learn the entire gospel by heart. Easy, right?! Well, having taken part in it twice before when I lived in Manchester, I thought it couldn’t be too bad. I knew how it worked, and this had to be the hundredth time I’d studied Mark in the last five years. The only thing that really worried me was having to do it all in Spanish. That bit wouldn’t be quite so easy…

So we arrived on the Thursday evening in one of the Churches in Madrid, all fresh-faced (or not so much, in my case!) and ready to learn the drama. I was particularly grateful to not have such a big part this year, as I did not want to have to learn too many lines only to mess them all up. I mean that’s easy enough to do in English! (Although a part of me has to admit I feel like I’ve been demoted each year… I started off a disciple the first year, then became a pharisee, and this year was simply an extra… Having said that, the only part now left for me to play is Jesus, so things could well be on the up!!!)

The first rehearsal was generally fine. So far, the only lines I had to remember were, ‘Simón, Simón! Venga! Tu suegra está muy enferma! Que vuelvas a casa ya!’ (See if you can guess who I was! Comment below!) Although I have to admit, it took me a couple of goes to be able to say that fluently without getting my tongue in a twist! Nevertheless, not too bad so far…

The second rehearsal the night afterwards seemed to go pretty well too. Although this time I was given more lines to learn… ‘Sí, María es mi vecina’ (very hard not to say ‘vecino‘ after you’ve said it once, mistakenly… and trust me, you don’t want to be doing that!), then ‘sí, es cierto – es Elías’, and simply, ‘malos pensamientos’, before finally coming onto stage, begging, ‘Jesús, por favor… mi hija está poseída por un demonio… ayúdele, por favor.’ And then finally, ‘sí, Maestro, tiene razón… pero incluso los perros comen debajo de la mesa las migajas que dejan los hijos.’ (Who was I that time?! Sadly no prizes for correct guesses, just the pride of knowing you got it right! And yes, you can use google translate!) Naturally I went home that night recounting those lines to myself under my breath. And I even tried out some interesting facial expressions in the mirror that night whilst brushing my teeth! (I know, Hollywood, I know… ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you’! I’m waiting, whenever you’re ready!)

Of course, I’d written it all down, so I felt fairly prepared. Still, as I was praying over it all that night, the nerves were certainly beginning to crop up. My dreams that night were some weird mixture of Spanish and English and involved a lot me running around in circles centre stage.

We had the third rehearsal all day on the Saturday and the first performance that night. And we still had two sections left of the drama to learn.There was no way we were going to be able to pull this off without the help of the Lord – no way that I was going to be able to pull it off without the help of the Lord. Thankfully, this time I didn’t have any real lines to learn, just an imaginary baby to hold, a chair to move at the right times, and lots of pretend crying with a good few ‘no lo sé’s.

However, this was the first time we went through the crucifixion scene. I knew from previous times how hard it was to shout ‘crucify him!’ at the person playing Jesus. After all, I reckon anybody would find it hard to shout that at someone portraying a person you actually love. But even in Spanish, it was hard to bring myself to shout ‘crucifícale’ and ‘mátale’. (It’s difficult enough even just writing that, actually. Those are horrible words.) To rub it in more, I had to be one of the people that lifted the chair that ‘Jesus’ was going to be crucified on. So when that hammer banged against that wood, I couldn’t react.

It seriously makes you want to cry. If you’ve seen the Drama in the past, you’ll know exactly what I mean. It’s awful. And all this really happened. I mean, we weren’t just acting out a story. These were real people, who lived real lives, who actually experienced all of this in real life. I can’t imagine what witnessing that crucifixion in real life must have been like, hearing the crowds shout ‘crucify him’, jeering at him, taunting him, hearing those nails being banged into that wood, the cries as Jesus the man was fixed to that tree.

But then it hit me.

I am one of those people, and I shout ‘crucify’ everyday. I haven’t lived a single day of my life so far where I could actually say I’d lived perfectly. Every day, in one way or another – through my thoughts, my actions, even my lack of action – I am basically shouting out ‘kill him’ and I’m nailing him to that cross all over again. Every single day. So every single day I should be struck by the weight of the cross – not just on the days where I’m actually made to say out loud in a crowded room ‘crucifícale’.

Not exactly a happy thought, I have to admit. But true, nonetheless.

So it wasn’t exactly difficult to then act out the scene with the women at the resurrection. It felt quite real, actually. We had to enter crying. I think I was close to tears, anyway – I’d just watched Jesus die on the cross (well, fake Jesus, fake die, and a fake cross, but still, powerful stuff).

But then the angel appeared. And it hit me:

No os asustéis,’ les dijo.’¿Buscáis a Jesús el nazareno, el que fue crucificado? ¡Ha resucitado! No está aquí. Mirad el lugar donde lo pusieron. Pero id a decirles a los discípulos y a Pedro: “Él va delante de vosotros a Galilea. Allí lo veréis, tal como os dijo.”’ *

He’s alive! Yes, I may be in part responsible for nailing Him to that cross, but He died for me! And did it willingly so that I don’t have to do it myself! And now He’s alive again, death couldn’t hold Him! Praise the Lord! Because He is alive, I too have life! So I can stop shouting ‘crucifícale’ and start shouting ‘Hallelujah’ everyday because He’s gotten rid of all that rubbish stuff and given me a life to live! And now I can look forward to a perfect life with the living Jesus Himself… That’s the joy behind Easter! Hallelujah!

‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”’

 

A Few More Spanish Words and Phrases I’ve Learnt

Pillar – to get, catch, nab. Just as we might say in English ‘I get it!’ (as in, ‘it makes sense to me’), so the Spanish say, ‘lo pillo!’. Helpful, I’m sure you’ll agree (although I’ve yet to use this one… Perhaps because most of the time, the phrase below is what more naturally comes to mind…).

Me confunde – I’m confused, or literally, it confuses me. From the verb, confundirse.

Trueno – thunder. I don’t think I’ve experienced any Spanish thunder storms yet, however ‘los hijos de trueno’ were highly popular in the Mark Drama!

Viudo/a – Widower/Widow. Learnt also thanks to the Mark Drama, as I had to be the poor widow who offered all she had in the Temple.

Abeja – bee. Not to be confused with oveja (oh-BEH-ha), which is definitely not a bee. While I don’t particularly want to experience being stung again by a bee, I’d hate to imagine being stung by a sheep!

Quemarse – to burn. Wouldn’t want that to happen now the weather’s getting nice again!