I didn’t get much sleep that night. I went to sleep as late as 2:30 and I’d set an alarm to wake me up at 7:30. I wanted to join the Morenos as they took Sadie to the train station. I went to bed without information on the finalized plan, but I woke up to find a text from Alex that they’d be over in 15 minutes. I hurriedly got myself dressed and ready in my suit. The night before, Aitor had asked me if I wanted to go in service that day. “Man that’s pretty intense,” I laughed to myself as the Morenos laughed audibly, “I just got here tonight and he’s already trying to get me in service first thing in the morning?!” But then I reasoned, why not? What else would I do before the meeting at 4pm?
Through Whatsapp (which everyone here uses to communicate, especially through text), Aitor and I made arrangements to head out for service from the train station after we dropped off Sadie. After saying goodbye to Sadie, and the Morenos headed back home to prepare for their day in public witnessing, I went to a café in the train station and had a small breakfast. Here, Iberian Ham (jamón ibérico) is very popular. It’s a cured, thinly sliced meat that is served in small portions as a premium meat. I had a small baguette with this ham, with a side of fresh-squeezed (and I mean squeezed before my eyes) orange juice, and café con leche. The latter was a bit out of the normal for me. I’m by no means a coffee drinker; I might have one at home once a month IF that. But when in Zaragoza, right?
While waiting in the café, I Facetimed with a group of friends back home who were hanging out, which was a hysterical conversation and allowed me have a little taste of what was going on back in the States.
Minutes later, there was Aitor. He was prepared to go in service (or as it’s more commonly called here, “preaching”) all by himself that day, so I’m really glad that I decided to come join him. He’s not a regular pioneer, but auxiliary pioneers when he can and has an active share in the ministry throughout the year. It’s so encouraging to see someone so zealous and driven at just 18 years old. He had been attending meetings with the English congregation for about 6 months, but had only officially joined about a month before. Despite being a Spanish-speaking native of Zaragoza, he had just switched out of another foreign language group, Arabic. And from the train station we walked.
Let me tell you, this first morning gave me a real taste of what Zaragoza would be like. I can now look back and laugh at how in California we’ll be working on one street, all pile in a car, and drive around the corner to the next street. And after about 45 minutes of door to door, it’s time for a nice, lengthy break. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely guilty of the same things. But it was interesting to see that this would definitely not be the order of the day in Zaragoza.
Our time was great. He spoke a great amount of English and we took the time to get to know about each other, grabbed some cappuccinos (again, the fact that I started drinking coffee is a pretty big deal) and headed to the Kingdom Hall. I got my first taste of the congregation I’d be attending that morning at their meeting for service. The brother who conducted was Ruben, a rather newly appointed elder in the congregation. I met some others in the congregation to include Eunice and Nuria. These sisters, British and Spanish, respectively, had been special pioneers for 38 years! Isn’t that insane?! How cool to have such a long career of REALLY full time service. They’ve been in the Zaragoza English congregation for some years now, but had been in Spanish congregations throughout Spain in the years preceding.
After the meeting for service, I paired up with Aitor and stayed at the Kingdom Hall to begin our service day with a Bible study. He was filling in on the study for another brother who was out of town. We studied with an African man who had been studying since 2004! I loved sitting and watching two people, both of whom spoke English as their second language, overcoming this potential barrier to focus on the truth. Aitor was a great teacher, despite being such a young age. We continued (with yet again more walking) to make some return visits.
During our trek throughout the city, we came across Alex and Maria, who were doing public witnessing in the city with another couple of pioneers from the Spanish congregation. Even though I obviously already knew them, I again got a sense of excitement upon seeing our carts out there in the public. It’s really cool to see how we’re progressing with our ways to reach people out there.
The morning was going by fast, and my stomach was starting to rumble, so Aitor kindly offered to have me over to his family’s home for lunch before the meeting. Seeing as I didn’t know anyone out here, and I was enjoing the time we were having, my response to any invitation was yes! I really wanted to do my best to get integrated as quickly as possible.
His family was such a huge pleasure. His mother and father had the table set, and they were awaiting our arrival with Aitor’s teenage sister and infant (surprise) brother. Of course, one of my first major tests came when a heaping scoop of Brussels sprouts was put on my plate. I’m trying to overcome being a picky eater, and braced myself for the meal to come… but I actually really liked them! I also enjoyed tuna empanadas and café con leche (yep, more coffee). His family was unbelievably kind, and really helped me out in my quest to come home fully fluent in Spanish, as they didn’t speak English. They joked, they laughed, they made me feel like I was really just an extension of their family.
My day with Aitor and his family was one of those that I’ll never forget. He was probably just asking me in service and over to lunch out of a general sense of friendliness, a way to reach out someone new in the congregation. But it was one of those gestures that had a bigger impact on me than he probably knew. To feel alone in a completely new country, to go from having lots of friends to basically none at all, to be dependent on plenty of help just to get from point A to point B… it wasn’t easy. But that sense of true brotherhood really carried through from the hospitality he and his family showed me. It reminded me how much a simple act of reaching out to someone can really mean a lot to that person. It was a basic gesture for them, but something I’ll literally remember for the rest of my life.
From here, it was time for the big moment… my very first meeting with Zaragoza English. “Are you nervous?” Aitor asked me on our way there by bus. “Nah, I’m looking forward to it,” I replied with a sense of confidence. I felt that first meeting was really going to be a bridge to my feeling settled in here in my new home. But maybe I was a little nervous. How would it compare to my home congregation, which I’d known since I was born? Would it be awkward walking into a completely new hall from the other side of the world? Would I feel like I was able to fully relate to a whole new group of people?
Well there was one way to find out… to go inside.
**Thanks everyone for the feedback. I was pretty reluctant to blog, since I’m not really into blogs myself. But it’s been fun getting back to writing, which I haven’t done regularly since I was a kid. Please include your name with your comments so I know who I’m hearing from. Appreciate it!