PART 12: That Blurry Selfie
Times were starting to change in Zaragoza. People were coming and going. We had to say goodbye to Veronica, from California. But despite having to see her go, we got some boosts. Justin and Nicole moved to Zaragoza from Florida to give the congregation a one-month trial run, and Danny and Sara from Australia moved here for 6 months. Native speakers are really valuable in the congregation, so having them here was a huge privilege. I had a great time getting to know them better, and the congregation really responded well to having these four new regular pioneers boost its energy.
As my time was beginning to wind down, I wanted to make it a really good time for my ministry. And that’s just what happened.
My friend Mason came for a visit. He’d spent 6 weeks doing a special preaching campaign in Israel, a few weeks in London, and after Spain planned to head to Italy for a month. It was cool getting to show someone else from California how to do our ministry here. There was one Tuesday where I woke up feeling a little sick, and he was pretty tired, but we decided to go out in service anyway. And you know how that story often goes; it ended up being an awesome morning.
We spent some time doing some street witnessing. My COBE, Andrew, was big on this; he often reminded us that this was how Zaragoza English Congregation was started. It still proves to be a successful means of finding interested ones. Over these months, I’ve gotten better at identifying which Africans are more likely to speak English (often the Ghanaians and Nigerians), so Mason and I hit the streets seeking them out. That morning we found three interested ones just by approaching them on the streets, all of whom were readily willing to give us their phone numbers and contact information. It was great to see how thirsty for the truth they were.
My favorite experience of the day came near the end (of course). Mason and I had plans to go back to that all-you-can-eat Argentinian place that I’d gone to a few weeks before, especially as rain started to pour down on us, making being out in the territory a little less appealing, to say the least.
But I decided to call Apostle. I’d met him in street witnessing all the way back during my first month in Zaragoza. I’d called him a few times, but he was always busy or unavailable to study. For some reason though today, I decided to give him another call.
I made some small talk with him and checked on how he was doing. I also asked about Henry (it turns out that Apostle was the friend who had to go pick someone up from a bus stop before taking Henry to the hospital that day ha!). But then I asked him what I really wanted to know… could he study today. After months of going back and forth on trying to make plans around his busy schedule…
He said yes.
Finally! I thought. And it was a good way to escape the rain too, haha.
We got to his house and he warmly welcome us in. After catching up for a bit, he took a look at the Good News brochure’s back cover and told us that the question that appealed to him was “What is the good news about religion?” So that’s where we started. But after a paragraph into it, things got clearer about what he was really asking.
“Well how do we know which religion was the right one?”
Mason and I agreed it would be time to switch gears a bit and instead consider my favorite part of the brochure, lesson 10 asking “How can you recognize true worship?” He liked the way it sounded, so we got right into it. The lesson is really awesome. It’s not biased or anything. It just says what Jesus says marks a true worship, obviously the best source to check ha! I also really like that the brochure doesn’t ever explicitly answer the question that Apostle asked. It presents the facts and ends with the rhetorical question “What do you think?” to help the student draw his own conclusion. I think that’s awesome.
He stayed focused, despite plenty of distractions. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many colored people in such a small place. Roommate after roommate kept walking into the apartment. They’d be rifling through the kitchen, holding loud conversations, lighting up joints in the bedroom, but Apostle stayed focused throughout it all. And he was super into the New World Translation… he quickly saw how much better and easier to understand it was than his own.
After studying the lesson and reading that last paragraph, I was about to tell him that he didn’t need to answer that question of “What do you think?” I just wanted him to take some time to let it sink in and have him just make up his own…
“Jehovah’s Witnesses!” he excitedly answered before I even had the chance to tell him that he didn’t need to. It was nice just taking the time to analyze the scriptures and let him see for himself how clear the answer was to him.
That energy needed to be furthered. I set Danny up to continue visiting him.
I also got to study again with Fifi and since he’d been pretty regular with it, I thought it was time to get something special for him… his very own Bible. He was so thankful; he even took it and kissed it when I gave it to him. We sat down at a park to study and I encouraged him to open up the shrink wrap and take it out! But he declined.
“Can we pray first? I want Jehovah to bless me as I use this Bible.”
Wow. How could I say no to that? We began our study with a customary prayer, being sure to mention the impact that the new Bible would have on him. A great study followed.
The highlight of my days in service with Mason, though, came during our congregation’s monthly trip to the villages. It was my favorite day of service when we went there last month, and I was excited to be heading back out there again. Jon, my friend from San Sebastian, had come out for the weekend to visit as Mason arrived, so the three of us, along with Guillermo, made a group of four to head out for preaching in the villages. We went this time to a village called Alfamén.
This village was quite a sight to see. Its sprawling wheat fields had a glow about them as they waved in the mellow breezes. Some modest apartments and paved roads served as the main hub of the village, but small, shanty homes were sporadically placed throughout the area. You could sense the poverty that was obviously an issue here.
A Ghanaian brother from our congregation lived in that village. He only had a bicycle, so it was hard for him to make all of our English meetings, but he attended some locally. We were able to find him there in Alfamén, and he literally walked us around to the homes of different individuals from that country. He’d ring their bell and walk to the next apartment, ring their bell, and repeat this process. After a few moments, plenty of Africans were standing at their doors and our brother told us to study with them all!
An especially exciting experience was when Guillermo pointed us to a home where he knew Africans lived, and he sent Mason and me to witness at that house. As we approached, a man walked out and warmly welcomed us. I was quite surprised when I saw the inside of his home, as it was far different than any I’d seen in my previous days in the ministry. The home was basically a large room, mainly full of beds, lined up in rows. Flies buzzed around in swarms, flowing water seemed to be scarce and layers of dirt and dust lined the home. Mason and I politely took a seat and he readily asked us to share our message.
Right away I noticed another African man in the house who was working around the house. He briefly greeted us, but went back to his chores. But, I went ahead and opened the Good News brochure and got right into lesson one with the first man. He was so engaging and definitely displayed interest in our discussion. And this energy was palpable. Not long after, the man in the background decided to join in.
“May I have a brochure too?” he asked.
“Of course!” I replied, handing him another one.
I bounce-passed a discussion of the second question to Mason, and as I did I saw a figure stir. I struggled to pay attention as my eye darted to the movement. It was ANOTHER man.
How many people are in this HOUSE?!
He rose from his nap, also ready to join in on the study. Most people don’t even want to be seen for at least an hour after waking from sleep, much less study the Bible. But these guys were full of surprises.
We stayed for over an hour, struggling to get to a “convenient” time to stop. When considering the fact that this would really be the only time I could study with them, and one of the rare occasions during which people from the congregation could even visit, we really had to take advantage of the opportunity. Jon and Guillermo had finished their visits by this time and joined us in the home. We made chat with the Africans before leaving, making conversation about the incredible mural the first man had painted on his wall. His level of artistry blew me away.
I truly loved going out to the villages. The humility of the people we preached to out there was truly unparalleled. The conversations we held were organic and natural. The hunger that people had to know the truth was so tangible and it felt good to have a small role in satisfying it.
* * *
I knew I had to take advantage of my remaining days in Spain. It was so hard to believe that they were coming to an end. Three months. Gone in what felt like a blink of an eye. Cliché to say I know, but it truly was that way.
Days before I was set to take off, Guillermo took Mason and me to the most beautiful place I have ever seen in the world. I don’t say that lightly; to this point it truly has been. We hiked through a valley called Ordesa which goes through the Pyrenees mountains. This seven hour hike was stunning. It started off alright. I brought my big jacket in preparation for the cold (thank God I didn’t let the initial sun fool me). But on we trekked. We came across a waterfall. Cool. Then we’d hike a little more and get a better view of the same waterfall. Cool. Then we’d hike and get to a bigger and better waterfall. Cooler. Then we’d walk more and see a massive waterfall that cascaded outward form a lush green valley. Then we’d head into that valley and take a seat by a babbling brook that ran through it. Amazing. Then we’d walk farther into that valley, spread with verdant grass and flowers, only to be greeted by snowcapped mountains. INCREDIBLE.
The pictures that go with this only do the scenery a limited amount of justice. I can’t begin to describe over-the-top beauty of this place. So I won’t 🙂 But it was definitely memorable.
Things REALLY sank in when, all of a sudden, I was back at Lindsay and Junilo’s place. However this time I wasn’t there to have lunch (and beer) with the circuit overseer. I wasn’t there for an afternoon meeting for service.
I was there to say goodbye.
They were kind enough to host a going away party for me with some friends of the congregation. It was so nice. And I impressed myself by taking the most difficult selfie I’ve ever taken… there were at least 20-25 people in it. Even my gigantic arms struggled to fit everyone in. But I did.
In that blurry selfie were Justin and Nicole, fellow Americans with whom I got to bond those last couple weeks.
In that blurry selfie was Sara, the always sweet pioneer sister whom I’d wished I’d had a chance to work in service with.
In that blurry selfie were Alex and Maria, the first people I got to know in this big new city.
In that blurry selfie was Aitor, who, along with his incredible family, made me welcome from the moment I started my stay.
In that blurry selfie were Ruben and Vanessa, whose contagious laughter lit up any room.
In that blurry selfie were Bernard, Dory, Raquel… all of which I had such great times out in service with.
In that blurry selfie were Guillermo, Laia, Ashlee and Miguel, the kind of people I could just sit around with on a random Monday night and have the time of my life.
Yes, that picture brought back a flood of memories of people, who in some way, whether small or great, shaped me as a person. They came along with me on my journey to figure out how to start fresh. To challenge myself. To get uncomfortable with my surroundings. To make new friends. To get integrated into a new congregation.
Who knows if they have any idea how much they really meant to me. But having people that I consider my family on the other side of the planet, is truly a feeling that can’t be experienced out there in the world.
May 24, 2015 is a day that I’ll always remember. It was a Sunday. It was sunny. It felt typical. And I knew that this would be such an impactful day in my life. It’s the day that I came home. It’s the day I hugged my parents for the first time in three months. 365 days after deciding that I wanted to do this, I had done it. I had served abroad in foreign territory. And what an unforgettable, genuinely life-changing adventure it was.
But the first order of business upon setting my feet on California soil? A run to In-N-Out of course!