Thursday, March 18, 2010

Su amor es para siempre

On Sunday, we met the Chi Alpha team from American University then went through an orientation where we learned what exactly we would be doing and why.

I'm sure what I have said about this missions trip has been really vague, and that is because I didn't even know exactly what I was doing!

It was interesting though to see how even though every little detail wasn't planned out, it doesn't mean that there wasn't a plan and vision for the trip. I learned that not having every moment planned can actually be best, because it allows you to be open for what God may do during the trip and you can take advantage of it. We had come prepared to possibly do several things, such as skits, cultural interviews, interactive artwork, and recording interviews, and while we may not have even used some of what we prepared, we were able to take full advantage of others.

I learned that you shouldn't put God in a box, because He is so much bigger and has such bigger purposes than anything we can prepare or plan for. I know this is all ironically very vauge, but hopefully as I blog about this entire week, that thought will make more sense.

What exactly we did:

During the day we would do cultural interviews then host cultural events - intercambios - at night.

For the cultural interviews, we interviewed random people on their thoughts on typical Spanish culture, family, and what they thought of their government, social problems, and religion. All of this was to help Shawn get a better understanding of the people he was ministering to so he could reach out to them better.

We hosted cultural events instead of straightforward evangelism, because Shawn felt that would turn people away, and I really agreed with that. The whole point was to get out, talk to people, and form relationships with them where they would eventually be comfortable hearing about God. I personally believe this makes sense - how many people do you know got saved from a street evangelist? Most became Christians because their friend welcomed them into a church, and this is most logical, because the ultimate call from God is realtionship: with Him and with others.

Why we did it this way:

Also during orientation, we learned about the history and current state of Spain, which helped us understand why we approached our missions trip in this way.

Essentially, there was a dictator named Franco between 1930-1975 that was supported by the Catholic church, and he forced people to go to church. There are people still alive in Spain that remember being yanked out of their beds Sunday morning and dragged to mass.

Obviously this makes the people hate the Catholic church, and therefore, religion in general. Our generation is extremely ambivalent to religion. Most grew up Catholic, but are only culturally catholic and do not practice it. In fact, several call themselves both Catholics and atheists! That is how much Catholicism is only a culture. They also believe that evangelicals are a cult, so basically you can see how the odds were really stacked against us, but as the week progressed, God proved nothing was impossible for Him to overcome.

It is completely eye-opening to me and such a foreign thought (punny) that a well off society such as Spain would be so lost and intolerant to religion. It really makes you appreciate living in America - we don't face the persecution that Christians in Spain do.

We ate lunch with a family who afterward gave their testimonies. They are a well to do, traditional Spanish family, and they all became Christians as adults. They talked about how important status and image is in Spain, and that when they became Christians, they lost several friends and even some of their family members turned from them.

It made me feel guilty how much they have suffered for their faith and how little I have - but also, it made me realize how truly blessed I am.

After that, we went to the Sunday night church service which, ok, I'm not gonna lie: it was reeeeaaalllyyyy loooooong. I don't know how they pay attention for that long! But it was also really cool to sing worship songs in spansish, especially the popular ones back home, such as "su amor es para siempre," or as we sing it, "Your love endures forever."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Let's Hoedown Throwdown

When we arrived in Granada, we met Shawn, the missionary in Spain we were helping to start up a ministry similar to Chi Alpha in Granada and the University of Granada. He took us to our hostel, and it was REALLY nice. I have never been to a hostel before, but the image in my head was just the bare minimum really plain bunk beds or cots or something.

Well, if my original idea was right, this was not your typical hostel. I roomed with 2 other girls and our room was HUGE-I basically had a little room and a double bed entirely to myself. Hotels/hostels are different in Spain than in America though - Spain is older, hence, the hostels are olders, and while the rooms are not as luxurious as the American hotels we are used to, they are still comfortable. And hey, I had hot water, so I was happy.

Shawn was telling us why we were staying in that particular hostel - he said that everything in Spain is relational and familial - a common theme I would see played out the entire week. Therefore, we were staying there because he knew the family, and because he knew them, they were willing to give us a lower rate. And their relative happens to be one of the best Alhambra tour guides in all of Granada that gave us a tour later in the week! So I guess who you know really pays off in Spain - literally.

We had the afternoon to ourselves to relax, take a nap, and walk around the city which I was really grateful for. I have been on numerous trips where you hit the ground running the minute you get there, and I was so thankful for the chance to catch my breath and just take in the fact that I AM IN SPAIN!!! for a few hours.

One of the girls on my team, Jocelyn and I decided to go to the cathedral then got attacked by gypsies.

No just kidding. Well kind of, not really.

Spain has a gypsy population, and some of them stand outside of the cathedral peddling rosemary. If you take the rosemary, then they will try to read your palm and charge you an arm and a leg for it. They tell you that if you take the rosemary a man will fall in love with you, "they can sense it." DON'T DO IT. They will rip you off. And it may be unnerving at first, because they follow you around and are very persistent, but just ignore them. Word to the wise.

Anyway, Jocelyn and I walked around the cathedral and the city some, then of course, we had to have ice cream! It is a lot different in Spain and basically pure awesomeness. It's lighter and not as rich so you don't feel bad eating it every day! Which I totally did when I was in Spain last summer - you NEED to eat it every day to cool down, man.

We actually ran into Shawn and he took us for coffee and I had my first cafe con leche and I can now say that I am ADDICTED. I am not a big coffee drinker back home, but there's something about the coffee here with a TON of milk and wayyy too much sugar that has me hooked. Ok, obviously the "something" is caffeine and sugar, so it's not that magical/mysterious, but who cares, it's great and was very much needed that week with all of the work and little sleep we got.

Shawn started to tell us about the immigration problem in Spain. He said that the Spanish are very intolerant of the illegal Morroccan immigrants that cross the border looking for work. They do not want them here, yet the Spanish are not willing to take the jobs that the Morroccans will.

Hmmm sounds familiar...

The problem of immigration, diversity, and general lack of tolerance was an aspect of Spain I would see played out during my week there.

That evening, we went to a welcome reception where we met the Spanish college and high school students who were members of the church. I was nervous about using my spanish, but it actually went pretty well! I was so excited I could understand what they were saying and be able to talk to them. There were times that the spanish just rolled off of my tongue and I didn't even have to think about it - those moments are so encouraging and gave me confidence for the week ahead.

I met two of the pastor's daughters, Carolina and Nuria, 14 and 15, and really had a fun time talking with them. They asked me if I watched Hannah Montana and knew the Hoedown Throwdown and were so excited when I said yes. Apparently, the stereotype of Americans is we are all cowboys/cowgirls and dance to country music and that is why we love Hannah Montana.

Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Last Call

Yay I just got back from Spain! We were so busy the entire time, so now I am going to blog about each day and what we did :)

The first "day" was all travelling. I say "day," because the time change makes you confused and tired, and it's just easier for me to section the trip off with travelling being its own day.

There were 13 of us on the trip - our XA director and his wife, the intern, and then all of us students - a mix of 1st-4th years. We all arrived at Reagan National airport to fly to Boston then to Madrid THEN finally to Granada.

However, the plane left a little late from Reagan, and we already had a short layover in Boston to make our Madrid flight. So we were in Boston, hurrying to our gate, when they start calling our names over the loudspeaker for last call. Our director Pete, just looks back at us all with this priceless look like, "ohhhh nooooo," and we all just start RUNNING through the terminal to get to our gate in time.

Thankfully, we made it in time, then to end up waiting a half hour before they let us board. Weird.

But the BEST thing was, no one was sitting next to me on the flight to Madrid, so I got the whole row to myself! That made a 7 hour flight A LOT shorter, as I just laid out and went to sleep.

We had a long layover in the Madrid airport then flew to Granada!

Friday, March 5, 2010

I'm Leaving...on a Jet Plane

It's finally here!!!

Tomorrow (ok actually today) I am leaving for Granada, Spain on a missions trip with Chi Alpha. We will be evangelizing to college students and helping a local pastor and other students start up a Chi Alpha in Granada.

Granada is in the south of Spain, in a region called Andalucia. It was one of my favorite cities when I visited Spain last summer, and I cannot WAIT to be back in this gorgeous city! The blend of the intricate architecture and mountainous scenery is breathtaking. I have never seen the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal, but for me, the Alhambra in Granada is it - I don't think any view will top it for me.

Originally, I actually wanted to go on an Alternative Spring Break service trip with UVA as an opportunity to meet more people outside of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship. But I missed the deadline to sign up, which is very out of character for me, and looking back, I realize that was totally God calling me to Spain.

I ultimately chose Spain out of all of the Chi Alpha missions trip not because I had been to Granada before and wanted to go back, but because it is an evangelism trip. I am actually not a huge fan of evangelism, I worry I come across as pushy and don't want to add to the negative stereotypes of Christians.

But evangelism is God's great commission. In Matthew 28:19-20, when Jesus was about to go up to heaven, He said, "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

So I figure this is a BIG part of my Christian faith that is lacking! I NEED to step outside of my comfort zone. I know that not only will God will be working in the hearts of the Spaniards while we are there, but He will be working in my heart as well to learn to trust Him more deeply.

Just the other day, my friend gave me a check to help fund my trip to Spain, and later when I looked at the check in the "for" section she had written "for God's glory." In the crazyness of this past week, that check made me stop in my tracks and was a complete wake up call. It was a reminder that this what this entire missions trip is for: God's glory. And her writing that on the check meant so much to me - it was such a sweet and touching way to express why she was supporting me financially!

While the first part of Matthew 28:19-20 is most famous, I feel like the second part speaks to me the most, because Jesus says, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." It helps to remind me that God is on my side, and even if I mess up, He is smiling down on me. I am merely the vessel to do His work.

So I am SO excited to let God challenge me and grow on this trip! THANK YOU to all of my sponsors -I could not be going on this exciting journey if it weren't for your support. I am going to try to blog while I am in Spain - depending on where I can get internet access and if we have time.

Please pray for my team that we can effectively spread God's word to the people of Spain!

And that's my two cents.

Eyes Up

This week was incredibly busy for me and probably one of the busiest weeks of my life (ok - busiest week of my life so far - I'm not that old and that was kind of a dramatic statement). I had midterms, big sis/little sis week in my sorority and initiation, and was preparing for my missions trip to Spain. Everything seemed to be happening all at once this week that I could barely catch a breath!

On Monday, I was excited to go to Monday Night Live at Chi Alpha just to find peace and rest in God and focus on Him. I realized how easily I let the little distractions of the day get me off focus from what is really important: God. And even more so, God's love and comfort is the perfect stress reliever, so it's completely silly of me to NOT focus on Him when I'm busy!

Even when I was at MNL my mind kept going - the homework I needed to finish when I got back to my dorm, when was I going to find time to pack, and how was I going to balance studying with being at my sorority house every night. I worried about all of this instead of just giving it to God - this week could have been a lot less stressful if I had given God the reins.

And yet, even when I didn't turn to God, he still showed me His grace this week - like in me miraculously doing well on a really hard quiz that I hadn't studied for, and finding every single last minute, random thing I needed for Spain in only one CVS run! My friends were all there for me - running me notebooks/formula sheets that I had forgotten, picking up my luggage, and in general just being understanding and supportive of the crazy schedule I had this week. I learned that I can't do it all, and sometimes being Superwoman is overated. As the Beatles song goes, I get by with a little help from my friends. God showed me that He is a source of relaxation in so many ways this week, even when I didn't deserve it.

This week made me realize that I need to do a better job of keeping my focus on God, keeping my "eyes up" to Him and let His love rain down on me.

So here's to keeping eyes up!

And that's my two cents.