I mean, the “preaching” grind. It’s still weird that they don’t call it “service” here. But I’ll get used to it eventually. I’ve also had to get used to the Spanish accent and differences in diction, but it’s been a cool learning experience. I’ve really wanted to improve my Spanish since being here, however being in the English congregation is a little bit of a crutch in that effort. Obviously, at the hall and while in the ministry, speaking English is the priority. And of course it’s my natural inclination to speak English. But there will be times where I’ll force whoever I’m with to speak with me in Spanish. Once I get the ball rolling, it becomes a lot more comfortable and it comes back to me. There are also plenty of opportunities to use at least some limited Spanish in the territory as well. Often, we’ll approach an African in hopes that he’ll speak English. But sometimes he’ll speak just Spanish, which gives me an opportunity to speak to him and leave a Spanish tract briefly.
I had some good times and some discouraging times in service over the next week. But they all turned out for the best. One notable experience was getting some time with my COBE, Andrew. He asked me to do service with him one day during the week in his style…. Over coffee! How am I gonna deny that? I felt like I was back at home, haha!
As we walked to the café, he gave me some more of the background of Zaragoza English and its establishment. When he and his wife were asked nearly a decade ago to go help in that city, they had to begin with search work. One tactic was to walk to a nearby café (the same one we were on our way to), sit on one of the terrace tables by the busy walkway, and wait for Africans to walk by and witness to them. We sat there and talked, waiting for one of the inside staff members to come and offer us a coffee. About 10 minutes passed, and we noticed that it was a slower morning for Africans.
Still without our coffees, he suggested, “Why don’t we continue inside?” Uh yes please.
So we went inside and he treated me to café con leche and a napolitana, a very common chocolate filled croissant which has become quite a staple of my service diet. And we talked. We got to know each other. It was nice to hear his story, for him to hear mine, and to feel genuine concern for how I was doing with the transition. He continued to ask me what I needed and how he could make things better. I was so satisfied with the way things were. “However,” I told him, “I’ve been trying to figure out the shaving issue!” My American shaver didn’t work in the Europe, and the new one I bought in Europe wouldn’t get a close enough shave for my scruff either.
“Alright, I have an extra one I’ll give you; any other problems I can help you with?”
Uh talk about ask and you shall receive! “Wow that’s nice. Thank you!”
And we talked some more. It was just what I needed. It felt like a great shepherding call where he just got a sense of where I was at and how I was doing. And it was really appreciated.
He had to get going soon. He had a long day of English tutoring ahead at his home. “Sorry we didn’t get to do much ministry today, but we’ll get some more time together soon.” I assured him that I’d look forward to that.
Service continued to be enjoyable. The people we found on the streets continued to be friendly for the most part. There was one guy that was a bit on the crazy side. Aitor and I were street witnessing on evening and we went into a shop to leave a Memorial invitation with a guy that Aitor implied was really out there.
Aitor and I walked inside and exchanged brief greetings with the African shop owner. The TV volume was blasting. Aitor handed him the invitation with a brief explanation and at that point, we were set to take our leave. The man placed the tract to his side, and stared at us with a glare. He turned down the TV and snarled, “Why did Jesus die for us?”
I mentally interlocked my fingers and cracked my knuckles.
As Aitor began to explain the value of the ransom sacrifice, the shopkeeper raised his voice and exclaimed, “No, so we could be in heaven with him!!!”
I stepped in. I knew it would be easier to express myself to this man in English.
“Well, we are really appreciative of the fact that Jesus died for us,” I calmly replied, “and the Bible does teach that a certain number of people have the hope of going to heaven…”
“NO! It says INNUMERABLE…. INNUMMMMERABLE people will be in heaven!”
“Well there’s actually a great hope that we have in Psalm 37,” I replied, emphasizing how verses 10, 11 and 37 talk about a great future and the earthly hope that most individuals have.
But he wasn’t having it. He’d ask a question, demand an answer, and I’d start to answer. But then he’d interrupt. And any question I’d attempt to answer, he cut me off and continue his tirade, even despite my occasional requests to “please finish that sentence.”
But the argumentative tone continued. Then it hit me. Not today, I thought. If this guy thought he was gonna bully and intimidate us, he was completely wrong. I used to deal with angry business people upset that their sandwich platter deliveries arrived too late, angry OC moms yelling at me that their kids’ desserts were taking too long, grumpy families going off that their table was taking MUCH longer to be ready than the hosts had said. I could handle those situations like a champ, and this guy was not gonna shake me at all.
“Sir,” I interrupted, “we really appreciate talking to people that are as passionate about the Bible as yourself, because we truly value it to. But we’re not here to argue with you and…”
“I’m not arguing, I…”
“May I finish my thought, please?… We are here to leave you that invitation to a really special event and we hope that you’ll be there. But we are going to take our leave now.”
“It’s like he has a demon inside of him,” Aitor joked as we had left the shop. I told him that it was a good learning experience. “Those are the type of people we don’t want to waste our time with. We’re not here to ‘throw our pearls before swine.’ Our time’s way more valuable than that, so don’t let him waste it.” The experience did give us a bit of a laugh afterward, and it was a nice relief to step out into the crisp night air, shake the dust from our feet and roll out of there.
Let’s talk about my buddy Nicholas. As you may remember, I was able to get a study started with him soon after I arrived. So over the next week, I made it a point to regularly stop back and see him again. But nailing him down was getting tough. I would go and a roommate would be there. I’d go again and he’d be tired from just getting home from a job. I went again, and they said Nicholas would be right down. But, in true CPT fashion, he took his sweet time, just as is apparently common for Africans to do, so I left after waiting for about 10 minutes. I went again and, they were busy in the home because they had just killed a goat and the place was too smelly. Yeah. KILLED A GOAT. I couldn’t remember seeing THAT as a conversation stopper in the Reasoning book, so that was one excuse I was just gonna let him win.
But after a while that started getting old. Did he WANT to study? Was I wasting my time? Over the course of a week I stopped by probably 5 or 6 times (which is more normal to do here apparently; because in the States if you did that, people would think you were crazy).
So, I was kinda done. I was out with Bernard one day, and my attitude was pretty lame. I told Bernard that I wanted to make a return visit on another man I’d met from Africa named Fifi (yes, Fifi), who happened to live around the corner from Nicholas.
“Do you want to try Nicholas?” Bernard asked, since we were near to his home.
“You know, I don’t,” I retorted, “I keep trying and I’m not gonna pressure him or be annoying about it. If he wanted to study I’m sure he wouldn’t be avoiding me.”
So we were all set to pass Nicholas on our way to visit Fifi.
But as we walked by, who just happens to be standing outside on the phone? Nicholas.
I whispered to Bernard, maybe 75% kidding, “Psh I’m gonna tell him we weren’t even here to see him ANYWAY… we were going to his neighbor.”
So we waited until he was off the phone for a few minutes and approached him. We exchanged the typical African snap handshake and started to talk. I was still a bit apprehensive.
“I’ve been busy lately,” he explained. I responded politely, disguising any sense of frustration I’d had in trying to track him down.
“But I can study right now,” he told me.
Ok, Jehovah, I get it.
“Really? Well… ok, let’s do it!”
As I followed Nicholas up to his apartment, Bernard walked next door the nearby café to look for his student. “I’ll be right there,” he told me.
So Nicholas and I sat down and caught up for a bit. He was friendly and engaging. I took note of the great manner of teaching that I’d observed an elder, Ruben, use on his study the week before. I went really slowly, not feeling any sense of obligation to get all the way through lesson 2 of the Good News brochure. I really had to focus on slowing down, checking for basic understanding, taking the bulk of the reading since he still struggles with English to an extent.
But he answered the questions well. And when he didn’t, I worked to help him reason on the scriptures we read and adjust his understanding. It was a great study. There was no sign of Bernard, but it was a nice opportunity to get some time with Nicholas and really connect with him over such important material.
I left feeling reinvigorated. I needed that boost. I had walked onto the street basically ready to shine him on. But it really taught me a lesson. I had to be patient. I had to be persistent. I wasn’t here to let my own ego get in the way. I was here to teach someone the most important information he could ever learn. And that’s bigger than my own mindset is.
As I left, Nicholas showed me to the café next door, where Bernard had gotten into an extended conversation with Samson, his student (and Nicholas’ roommate). We’d both gotten the opportunity to enjoy some return visits.
Sorry Fifi. I’d have to come see him another day… but definitely for a worthwhile reason. It was a great way to wind down the week. I didn’t think it could really get much better. But it did.
That Sunday at the meeting, Andrew handed me a bag with a handwritten card of encouragement. And a shaver.