Friday, March 31, 2006

Glimpses Into The Spanish Heart

This article was written by my wife and some observations that she made during the first two months of ministry in Jerez.

This last month I’ve done a lot of observing. Watching how to properly greet a neighbor or a friend. Watching how traffic flows so I don’t drive up any narrow one way streets in the wrong direction! Watching for the labels that differentiate whole, clean chicken from whole chickens that include the head and neck attached with a few feathers thrown in for good meaure! But more than anything else I’ve been watching the Spanish people. Two specific observations have touched my heart in a profound way.

I first noticed a middle aged woman as we were walking to the store to buy some groceries. She was sitting in front of a shrine to the local patron saint. She sat very still, weeping quietly, praying to an image that had no way of listening to her requests. Crying out for hope with no one to give it. Carrying a heavy burden with no one to help her with her load, her faith placed in a wooden idol with no power of its own.

The second person I observed was a man in his late 20’s. Renae, Elizabeth and I were at the park in front of our house where he sat with his other male friends talking loudly with crude gestures. His rough demenor made me a bit uncomfortable and as I turned to leave, Frank came driving around the corner with Pastor Carlos and Caleb. Renae and I walked over and giggles and laughs soon filled the air as the children greeted their father. I glanced over my shoulder and noticed the young man had intently watched the interaction between the children and their father. His face was no longer hard and calloused but a look of longing flooded his eyes. The longing for love perhaps. A longing to belong and to be cared for.

This corresponds so well to the heart of God expressed in Isaiah 45:22: "Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” Pray for us that we might direct the eyes of the Spanish people towards God who is much greater than the works of human hands, who carries the burdens of the weary and desires an intimate relationship with those who would but simply look to Him.
Here is the second article which I wrote, entitled "Spain: The Seeds Of Revival." Again, this was written about 5 months ago, shortly after entering into Jerez De La Frontera.

“…Phillip considered himself as ordained by God as “His Catholic Majesty,” and also as special paladin to defend the faith in the way that he, God-inspired, considered most appropriate.… Philip in his own words, ‘would rather not rule at all if he had to rule over a nation of heretics.’ …Gone were the days when Erasmus, once the friend of Charles V could be admired in Spain. Gone was the right to use freely man’s God given and inquiring mind. Spain was sunken now in an ossified dogmatism from which the nation has not even yet recovered.”
Excerpt from “Spain: The Root And The Flower, by John A. Crow

When I read the preceding comments, my heart was burdened under the weight of heaviness. This person, King Philip II lived over 500 years ago, and yet the seeds of his intolerance of protestantism is still felt to this day! In our first month, we have come to a realization that this nation has been under an incredible spell for the last 500 years. Today it is alive in the form of antiquated catholic buildings, which look more like shrines than cathedrals, dotting the city landscape. Everywhere one drives, images of the virgin Mary and of a suffering Jesus are the predominant thematic elements.

One can also see this manifested in the faces of skepticism and mistrust that are worn on the faces of many Spaniards. It takes only a few conversations to come to the surface, that basic instinct that has been bred in the Spanish heart, to believe that anything non-catholic is intrinsicly wrong. This has happened several times, especially after being seen in the company of Pastor Carlos, protestant extraordinaire!

This has been an uphill fight in our minds. Everyday we look around at the culture and the city which has been conquered by Catholicism and we wonder: Where is the hope? And then I read the following excerpt from the same book:

“Spain was not a unique case when it came to religious intolerance during the Golden Age. However, Spain is a unique case when it comes to how long this intolerance lasted. The inquisition itself was not abolished until 1820, and at the time the first edition of this book came out, in 1963, there was no religious freedom for non-Catholics in Spain.” Ibid, pg.182

This got me thinking: When was freedom declared for expression of religion here in Spain? When General Franco died in 1975, freedom of religion was granted, though this was obviously not necessarily encouraged. What this means is that 30 years have passed in indifference and mistrust of the Protestant Church. This is the first generation of freedom. Much like the first generation of the church of Acts, there is much more that has to be undone than done!

What makes me think that this is the time for spiritual breakthrough and renewal in Spain? Consider these facts:

• This church in Jerez and her leadership have gone through an incredible time of testing over the last 2 years. The bigger the testing, the greater the blessing!

• There are more than 12 missionaries moving into Spain as I write that I know of, which means there are several others that I must not know of! God is getting His pieces in place!

Couple that with a generation of people who have grown up in a vaccum of spiritual reality and you have a recipe for a time of great renewal.

I am hopeful, especially in the Youth who are lost in their disillusionment of the religious establishment and have turned more toward Atheism. This could be the time that the Lord, who with His love and grace, finally begins to conquer Spain. May it happen in our time and may we be useful tools in His hands.

Blessings To The Friends Of Spain,
Frank Sanchez

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Good Works Where Good Words Are Absent!

Hello Friends Of Spain -

I wanted to put up a few items that were to be put together in a newsletter, before we had this wonderful vehicle of communication. They were written just after the first month of being in Spain and there will be 3 in all. Two were written by me (Frank) and the other was written by my lovely wife of almost 9 years, Lela. This blog is titled "Good Works Where Good Words Are Absent!"

The elevator moment always feels so ackward. You enter into an enclosed space with a stranger that you know nothing about and you wait. In this case, we were all going to the Mercadona on the second floor. The man in the elevator with us was Spaniard through and through, tall and strong featured. I stood on one side with the shopping cart and Elizabeth and Lela stood on the other side with Renae and Caleb. The man looked at Elizabeth and said, “insert witty sounding spanish banter” and Lela and I joined him when he laughed. After the man exited the elevator, through my laughter, I asked Lela if she knew what he said. Through her laughter she replied, “I don’t have any clue,” to which I replied through my laughter, “Me neither!”

Unfortunately, while this is not an isolated distant memory, it is also not always this bad. However, the truth remains that we are unable to really communicate here in a verbal way, leaving us feeling painfully inadequate to the task. It begs the question as to how we might communicate the reality of Christ to the people of Jerez De La Frontera. The answer came to me at 4 AM one morning. (Ever notice that God rarely does mid-afternoons!)

Notice our mission verse: “Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.” (Psalm 37:3). Notice it does not say “speak good!” Consider also this verse spoken by Jesus to His disciples. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Notice again, “good works,” not “good words!” This is good news to a man who once told a group of teenagers in Juarez that they should pray, “Perdoname Mis Pescados” which means “Forgive my fish!!” Not necessarily a biblical concept, though forgiveness of “pecados” is!

Do good! There are small things like smiling when a policeman has just told you that you need 30 more documents that you don’t have. How about helping a young lady down some stairs with her oversized baby carriage? Helping a elderly man, overloaded with groceries from his car often brings a smile. Finding the man whose mail you have mistakenly received and pledging to always bring it to him inspires thought. Complimenting the copyist who is handling your 5 passports seems to lift the spirit. Even laughing out loud so that the neighbor comments that you have a joy in life plants the seeds of wonder in the heart of the Jerezana/Jerezano.

All of these things, done with frequency will likely open a conversation of broken spanish and broken english about the reason why anyone would do, act a certain way. And it is that moment, when authenticity of character, meets the explanation from the Word of God: We do this because our faith in Jesus demands it! We pray that the character that He has built in us will speak louder than any words that we could share and that it would always speak of the reality of Jesus our Lord.

Blessings to the friends of Spain,
Frank Sanchez

Thursday, March 09, 2006

What Happens Now?

Hello All.

I have had many inquiries regarding the next step in this visa process. I want to attempt to answer that question without taking away the necessary intrigue. If the rapture happens anytime between now and anytime over the next 6 months, then all bets are off!! LORD COME QUICKLY!! :)

Barring the sudden joyous heavenly relocation, here's how it looks as we stand here on March 9th 2006:

April 5-10 - Miracle of miracles, we receive a call from the Spanish Consulate telling us that not only have we been accepted, but that we now hold the record for quickest visa response in Spain's History!!!

April 11th - We return to Jerez. We return as tourists, which means we have three months to hang with the church, continue to make contacts, and learn how to live among the people.

** If our visas are approved and ready anytime during that 3 month period, then we must respond and pick them up within a month of the initial notification. The good news is that I can travel alone and pick them up. The bad news, otherwise known as the not-so-good-news, is that Lela and kids will still have to travel outside the EU to validate their visas. But a 4 or 5 hour trip is preferred to a 20 plus hour trip!! AND, it will not be as expensive!

July 11th - We return to the states for another period of waiting, at least two months, as September will be the 6 month mark.

Lord willing we will be granted acceptance by September. If we are denied, which of course is a possibility, at that time, we will reassess how we might re-enter the country and through what possible agency.

Of course, the rapture could happen!

Blessings To The Friends Of Spain,
Frank Sanchez

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Visa Applications Are In!

Hello Everybody!

Our Visa Applications have been turned in and stamped by the Spanish Consulate! I feel so relieved to be done with this intensive load of paperwork. Just getting the paperwork completed and ready to turn in was a major undertaking. Every waking moment for the last 3 months has been concerned with this process. When I finally completed the necessary copying and assembly, all that was left was to actually drive it into L.A. A simple task right?

For those of you from Southern California, you are aware of the heavy rain that came over the area on Friday. We received roughly 5 feet of water and we drove right into the heart of the storm, hitting it just before Downey. Now, I had put all of the paperwork in my computer case and put it behind Lela's seat, just in front of my infant daughter Elizabeth. I left the computer at home and filled the interior with the paperwork for each of our visas. We drove through the rain, going approximately 2 miles an hour and slowly made our way to the downtown area. It was at this point that I asked my wife to pull the directions from the computer case. She replied, "The very wet directions?" And I just about lost my heart. As it turns out, Elizabeth's window was cracked open and the outside of the computer case was wet from the deluge of rain that we had just driven through!!!! "AGH, the PAPERS!" I cried. Sure enough, some of the papers had gotten wet, but the file folders were wet and unusable. I was devastated! I could not believe I had guarded those papers with my life, and not made sure that Elizabeth's window was securely closed!

So there we are, at the Consulate, with a boatload of papers in our arms. At this point, I just wanted to give them to the lady at the window, turn around and go home!! But alas, I was directed to give the papers agonizingly slow, to the new lady of the office! She told me that she was new and not very experienced yet in the process of visa application reception. NOT VERY COMFORTING TO HEAR, even though she was exceptionally kind and complimentary!! Anyway, it took almost 40 minutes just to get my visa application in before she was relieved by the veteran of the office, who sped through the rest of applications like lightning! Her comment was that we were so organized and had everything together in a very impressive way. I thought, "You should have seen how impressive we were about 25 minutes ago!!"

Then to top it all off, she told us that this could take anywhere from "6 to 7 to 8 to..." and she kept climbing and climbing! "45...62..." to complete!! I wanted to point out that the paperwork specificly said "3 to 6 months" but I just gave it over to the Lord and let Him have that anxiety as well.

And while this is all a relief and we are celebrating the present achievement, we are mindful of the fact that this is only the beginning. There is more to come, so we are bracing ourselves, but at least we are finished with this part of the process. Please pray that our visas will be handled in a miraculously quick fashion. After all, the Lord is a veteran at handling these things!!