I stood out. Being 6’7” (2.01m) tall definitely stands in contrast to the generally shorter people of Spain. The meeting was minutes away from starting and it definitely felt different from my congregation back home… most notably in the number of people there. Coming from a congregation of over 130 publishers, seeing 30-something people conversing before the meeting was a bit of a change. Conversation carried through the room quite clearly, as the pre-meeting moments weren’t filled with Kingdom melodies in the background, as I was accustomed to.
We only had a few minutes before the meeting began, so I didn’t have much time for greetings at that point. The meeting was soon called to order and we were able to enjoy a talk from a Spanish brother who was serving in an English congregation in Madrid. And then came the Watchtower study. I was excited about this as a means by which to learn the “who’s who” of my new congregation. The comments people made gave me insight into where people were from, what their names were and how long they’d been in the truth. I made sure to participate actively during this study because attendance was lower than normal due to a local Kingdom Hall construction project.
The coordinator of the body of elders also conducted the Watchtower. I immediately felt drawn to him. He’s a clever British brother who has a funny personality, minces no words and says what he thinks. He’s not afraid to tease. But you can tell that everything he does and says is really integrated with a genuine sense of love for the brothers and sisters. I could tell why I liked him so quickly… he reminded me so much of a British version of Roger, my own COBE back home.
After the meeting, I was able to spend quite a bit of time getting to know brothers and sisters from the congregation. They were so welcoming and expressed their excitement to have me there. I mean, what else should I have expected? They were diverse—some from Africa, Canada, England, and even some from California. I felt like I would come to feel right at home with everyone.
I rode home with the “Green Taxi Services”, the nickname given to a little green car driven by a brother named Guillermo. He lives about a 20 second walk away from my front door and is kind enough to let some in the congregation ride with him to the meetings. Even more important, he lets me stop by and share his Wi-Fi, my portal to the world 🙂
The next two meetings allowed me to see where I could fit in as a brother to really step up my game and be of assistance to our hardworking elders in the congregation. I sensed the need on my first Wednesday night meeting. There was a bit of a last minute panic to get the sound department slots filled in, to the point where I even got asked from stage during the meeting to fill in on handling a microphone. Even later in the meeting, one brother gave two service meting parts back to back. Additionally, on Sunday, the brother scheduled to give the talk had transportation issues on his way to Zaragoza from Madrid and was unable to make it. So, we only were able to have the Watchtower study, and no talk. I saw that I could really work hard at being an asset in the congregation while I was here: one to lend a hand in the sound department, to make myself available for short notice service meeting parts, to be one who can step up and give one of my public talks on impromptu notice. I had my work cut out for me.
Over the following few days, I felt myself starting to get acclimated to the way of life in Zaragoza. For one thing, I’ve had to get used to taking the bus. Maybe I should call this “The Bud on The Bus” ha! It’s definitely been a new experience. At home, if I wanna go somewhere, I get in my car and I go! Simple as that. However, it’s not so easy here. In Zaragoza, if I wanna go somewhere, I need to use my phone to figure out which bus to take, which buses I may need to change to, which stops I need to look out for. I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on it though, and it wasn’t terrible as I thought it might be. There’s not the stigma about taking the bus that exists in the States. Many people depend on it as an easy way to get around town; honestly, having a car really seems to be a hassle here with the limited parking available.
Another thing to get used to for me was grocery shopping. While Alex and Maria had graciously started me off with a few basic groceries to get my first few days started, the time quickly came for me to make my first run to the local market. Seeing as I worked at a restaurant back home, and there were plenty of nearby places to get something to eat, cooking for myself has definitely never been a regular part of my routine. But it was something I knew I wanted to get used to doing in Spain. Strolling through the aisles (fortunately not while hungry), I picked out some basics (bread, eggs, orange juice) and some not-so basics (Nutella, even more orange juice) to get me through the next week or so.
So I get to the check out area. Part way through waiting for the checker to swipe everything, she asks me in Spanish “Do you want a bag?”
Uh of course I want a bag, lady, I think in my head, but politely reply “Sí, por favor.” But then it hit me why she asked… you have to pay for bags! Oops, didn’t see that one coming. Whatever, not a big deal.
So she continues to scan and pass, scan and pass. My groceries begin to pile up on the other end of the check out stand. “Man,” I stand there and wonder “who’s here to bag up these groceries for me? I got go soon!”
Cue sudden-realization part 2… I WAS there to bag up those groceries for myself haha. Note to self for the next grocery shopping excursion: bring my bags and bag my bags.
I’ve also had to get used to the pace of life here. I’m always on the go back home, but being here has afforded me the opportunity to really slow down and live a much mellower lifestyle. Weekends are definitely different here. Back home, Friday nights and Saturday nights that I had off, I wanted to go out with my friends somewhere. On a Friday or Saturday night here, I could expect to go over and watch a new JW Broadcasting episode, head over to friends’ for appetizers and karaoke, watch a movie, or something like this. And you know what, I like it! It’s been surprisingly enjoyable to come here not knowing anyone, be the odd man out, and “start over” with my circle of friends. While I definitely miss my friends back home, I do like the challenge of having to readjust to a completely new social scene.
My normal routine has been to go out in service pretty much every morning at 10:15, stay out until around 2:30, and come home and relax during siesta time, then spend time with some friends out here during the evening. I almost feel like a special pioneer, because service is really the key thing that I do here. And service has been such an awesome experience.
It’s nice to feel a bit of an escape from service in Orange County. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy it. But all the apathy, lack of interest and misguided sense of contentment that people feel can get a bit old after a while. My first week in Zaragoza service really gave me a spiritual boost when it came to my ministry.
The key individuals that the English congregation here seeks out are Africans. Often they come from Ghana, sometimes Nigeria and other smaller African countries. The closest thing to “door to door” here is getting a territory card that has addresses in a certain area that have been identified as having English speakers in the home. The recent part in Our Kingdom Ministry about witnessing at intercoms had basically NO impact on me when we studied it back home in Orange County, not gonna lie. However, here that’s huge, so glancing again at that article came in handy! Everyone lives in apartments here so using intercoms is the primary way to contact them. If we get no response, we’ll sometimes ring the next door neighbor to see if there are in fact English speaking Africans there.
I’ve worked quite often with a brother named Bernard, who comes from Ghana and speaks Twi. He’s been baptized for four years and now serves as a regular pioneer and ministerial servant. He used to live in Zaragoza before he was a Witness, but just came back to the area and has been in the congregation for only about a month—so he’s a newbie like I am. Being from Ghana, he can often make a quick connection with the Africans in the area. A simple “hello” is all that’s needed to get a conversation started. The Africans have a cool handshake—Aitor and Bernard have both helped me on my mission to perfect it. You shake hands as normal, but before you let go, you snap from each other’s index fingers onto your own palm. Between those aspects of a greeting, you’re in to talk!
Bernard talked to one African who was walking at a pretty brisk pace, and he informed us that he was in a rush as he whisked by. But Bernard didn’t hesitate to mention that we were sharing good news from the Bible. The man’s face lit up. “I love the word of God!” he exclaimed. He took the time to listen to Bernard’s presentation, which opened him up to future contact with us. Some of the Africans looks rough around the edges (Have you seen “Captain Phillips”?), but the ones I’ve spoken to have been nothing but polite and kind as soon as you begin to talk. It’s nice to actually be able to have conversations with people.
My first notable experience came Tuesday of that first week. Bernard and I were walking through a park in an area of Zaragoza known as Delicias. We could spot a few Africans hanging out in the area, enjoying the sunlight. Back home in California, walking up to people on the streets to start preaching to them can be kind of awkward, since it feels almost “too” direct. However, that’s the way to preach here, and it feels really natural to just walk up to people and say “hello.”
So that’s what I did with the next man I saw, having no idea how significant the impact would end up being from one simple word.