“I was excited to see how open and responsive the people were to the Gospel. Through all of the affinity events, outreach to refugees, the festivals, rehab centers, and the prison, we were well received. My prayer is that what we started here is just the beginning of an even bigger evangelistic movement that will spread throughout Spain and Europe.” -Reid Saunders
We knew that Spain would be a tough place to do evangelistic outreach and expected to see minimal results from our efforts. The good news is that God is beginning to move in this region, and we exceeded all of our expectations!
In recent years, Spain has gained a measure of religious freedom after centuries of religious and political oppression. A growing number of modern-day Spaniards identify themselves as non-religious or non-practicing. Less than 1% of the population is protestant, and only a small percent of the people are active in any form of church attendance or religious practice. There is truly a spiritual vacuum in this region.
Working with five evangelical church pastors and their small congregations of fifty or less, we were hopeful that things would somehow turn around. After many years of hard work and failed attempts to crack into the hard, rocky soil of Spanish hearts, the team was optimistic but prepared for tough times. Dr. Tim Robnett, a friend and mentor of Reid, has made more than eight trips to Jerez to encourage, pray with, teach, train, and build up the struggling ministries in Jerez, Rota, Ubrique, and Chiclana. He noted that Spain has been very slow in their growth of democracy, and the evangelical church movement has faced heavy oppression and resistance.
Pastor Marco Cruz, a disc jockey by trade and recent convert to Christianity himself, leads a three-year-old, growing, evangelistic church of 50 members in the coastal city of Chiclana. Twenty-two of his invited guests at our first Affinity Dinner Event made decisions to follow Christ. Pastor Marco immediately connected with each new decision-maker, eager to begin the follow-up and discipleship process. Adding another 22 members to his young church will be a dramatic step of growth!
Affinity Events are free, invitational dinners which provide excellent opportunities to invite non-believing friends to hear a Gospel presentation. These events are effective methods of evangelism throughout Europe, especially in Spain, because of the social culture, importance of family, and practice of gathering around a multi-course meal. Often starting at sunset, it was common to observe Spanish guests actively engaged in loud, laughter-filled conversations well after 11:30 pm. After our Sunday evening event in Chiclana, Ruth Daniels and Tara Boehlke remained in the restaurant well past midnight to answer questions and lead the restaurant owners to Christ.
A women’s breakfast event had 35 guests. Each lady received an apron as a gift, sewn by a group of sewing volunteers in the states. Tara Boehlke gave her testimony and told the powerful story of Susanna Wesley’s prayer life. She reminded them that each time they have the opportunity to wear their apron, they too could experience the power of prayer, the life-changing Word of God, and the joy of salvation. The women were grateful for their gifts, encouraged, and motivated to pray for their families. Thirteen women came to Christ, and the waitress too!
As in much of Europe, Spain has experienced a large increase in the number of refugees, many from Muslim countries. Various Christian ministries and local churches have stepped forward in an effort to serve the needs of these migrant populations and reach them with the Gospel. These international NGO groups help refugees find housing, assimilate into the culture, learn the language, and find employment. RSA ministered to one of these groups in Jerez, lead by Pastor Pedro, through a BBQ meal event. The team was able to present the gospel to 120 refugees from Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, North African Sahara region, Ukraine, Romania, and Turkey. Young moms with children were delighted to receive children’s clothing sewn by RSA’s sewing team volunteers.
The team was able to visit two drug and alcohol rehab centers for men and a minimum security prison while in Spain. The positive response to the Gospel was dramatic and well received by all of the men that we saw. Team member, evangelist, and pastor, Chris Kingston was so encouraged that he returned two days after our initial visit to deliver Bibles and study materials to the 12 men who made decisions at the Casa de Acogida Rehab Center. The men, ready with their questions, were grateful for the Bibles, eager to learn and explore their new-found faith.
Reid analysed the situation, ”Believers here seem to be intimidated and afraid to share Jesus with their friends and neighbors. It’s been very hard to get them out of their comfort zone. I’m really just praying that through what we’ve all experienced here this week, the local believers will be encouraged and emboldened to begin sharing their faith.”
The pastors were encouraged by the results and very optimistic about future church growth. “This was the breakthrough that we’ve been praying for,” Pastor Martin shared. Future plans are already being discussed for a similar outreach in 2020.