I was having flashbacks as I spent my first full day in Bilbao. I thought back to my first night in Zaragoza. That night two years ago, I’d come off a fun trip to Madrid with a good friend, then came to my place in Zaragoza feeling alone. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know where I really was in relation to anything. I had never really felt like that before.
Those feelings started to come back as I was in Bilbao. My roommate Pawel was very friendly and welcoming. But as he left for a day of work and I stayed at the apartment, I felt this strange sense of being out of place. Again I didn’t really know anyone. Again I didn’t know where I was in relation to anything. I honestly was itching to get out in service and get to the meeting in Bilbao so I could get to meet my congregation. That was a huge part of what really made me feel at home in Zaragoza, and mentally I knew that’s what would make the difference for me in Bilbao. It was a bit of a waiting game that I knew I had to play. I sat home for the most part on a sunny Thursday, briefly stepping out to enjoy the (rare) sunshine. But I just wasn’t vibing yet.
I took some time to try to sink my teeth into Bilbao some more. I got a gym membership and got back to working out, something I’d definitely been missing after the preceding period of a bread and beer diet. I went to IKEA and bought some things to make me feel more at home (side note: I never go to IKEA back home but WOW that place is an experience… so huge and overwhelming… I need a year before I take on that beast again).
But then came what I was waiting for: the chance to go out in service. I couldn’t wait. I’m not trying to sound corny, but I genuinely like service and I was really looking forward to using that as a way to get to know people in my new congregation. Pawel had told me that this week was the first time for a brand new meeting for service arrangement in the hall: Friday afternoons right before the meeting.
So I got to the metro and started making the trek to the Kingdom Hall. And I use the word “trek” purposely as the rain was starting to pour—just in time for my journey to the hall and first time in service. My umbrella and water resistant jacket were put to very good use as I rushed into the hall, about 2 minutes past the 4:30 start time.
Inside were two sisters, Marga and Leire, who warmly greeted me. We started to get to know each other, and it was nice getting to meet two of my fellow pioneers in my new congregation. Soon thereafter in walked Fabian, who was married to Leire and led our meeting for service. I stocked up my service bag and prepared to brave the storm.
To these three brave pioneers, this rain was just the order of the day. It’s so common in Bilbao, so they don’t have the luxury of just not going out in service when it’s a bit wet outside. Grab an umbrella and jacket and they’re good to go! We spent the afternoon doing search work, as I’d gotten a little experience with in Portugal with Taylor. We’d go to a building (keep in mind the territory in Spain is ALL apartment buildings), ring the intercom, and ask in Spanish if the person who answered knew of any English speakers in the building. We also are on the lookout for those speaking certain other languages like Tagalog and Urdu.
Most people replied that they didn’t know any English speakers, that they weren’t going to buzz open the door for us (did I even ask you for that??), or that only Spaniards lived in the building. Fabian would make detailed notes on the territory to keep track of what we were finding. We finally did end up finding one African family, who buzzed us in and allowed Fabian to present the Truth tract. It was neat watching a return visit be set up right then and there on my first service day in Bilbao. The two sisters were working the street with us (which isn’t too common here; often pairs of two are sent into completely different territories) and they had quite a bit of success finding English speakers. It really feels like detective work, but obviously the most fulfilling kind. Spies for the Lord, ha!
But after a while California boy over here was getting cold and wet. When they finally suggested a break, I tried to contain my elation. We grabbed coffee and tapas (typical Spanish style), and from here took off for the next thing that I was excited for: my first Bilbao English meeting.
* * *
I was still cold. I was still wet. But those facts quickly escaped my mind as soon as I stepped in the Kingdom Hall after the evening of preaching. I could barely get to my seat thanks to the warm welcomes of publishers in the congregation. The hall was a lot… hmm, how should I put this… blacker than my last hall in Zaragoza, haha. There were tons of African publishers, mainly from Nigeria as well as Ghana. I’d learned the special Ghanaian handshake/snap back in Zaragoza so I quickly put it back into use as I met brothers and sisters that night. There was a warm, palpable buzz and the hall quickly filled up as the meting prepared to start.
I sat off to the side, where I’d be in an ideal position to see people as they were called on, so I could begin to learn names (which I’m generally terrible with… You could tell me your name was “John” and to me your name will be “Hey how’s it going?” for at least a couple weeks). I knew that I had to be on top of my commenting game, because with so many non-natives in the congregation, solid English are much appreciated. I decided to leave that typo I just made out of pure irony. Solid English SPEAKERS are much appreciated haha!
The greetings only intensified after the meeting, and it was nice to see people light up when they heard I wasn’t just there on vacation, but was there to help the congregation for a few months. I was really happy to get an invitation to go out to dinner right there after my first meeting. It was after 10pm by that point, but that’s how they do it here in Spain. After a brief consideration, I thought, of course I’d go, why not?
I was happy to join new friends form the hall, my roommate Pawel, and our three bonus roommates to grab dinner. It was funny because some were asking if I wanted to split a burger, because they were big here.
“I think I’ll probably grab my own, but thanks!” I replied out loud.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw how right they were. This was literally the biggest burger I had ever seen. It was probably close to 8 inches across in diameter, no lie. It was “YUUUGE”.
But your boy put that whole thing down. 😎 I’ll admit I was scared though.
Nights like this were what would help me to start feeling even more in sync with my new surroundings. The next day helped to cement things for me even more so. That would be my first weekend meeting the next evening. (And yes if you did some deductive reasoning, YES my meetings are Friday and Saturday nights haha 🙃). The way it works here is interesting. The congregation has about 60 publishers or so (with more attendance than that with all the interested ones who visit), and of them a portion are assigned to a group. This group focuses their preaching on a village called Durango, that’s about 45 minutes outside of the city. The whole congregation meets together on Friday nights. Those in the city have their weekend meeting on Sundays. Those in the group in the village have a long service day starting at 10:15 Saturday mornings, followed by a rotated hospitality at someone’s home in the village, and culminating with the meeting at 5pm.
I decided to check out the village Saturday the first weekend and I was glad I did. I rode out there with Jon and Maria, a young engaged couple in the hall. Again, we were focused on search work. It was a bit of a slower morning, but I still got the chance to know some more of the brothers in the congregation as we worked together in the ministry. We stopped by a family’s home for hospitality (I hate to admit it, but at the moment, all of their names are still “Heyhowsitgoing”), and after some time to wind down, headed to the meeting.
It was nice to be with a select few from the congregation in a more intimate setting. Our coordinator, Sam, came to give the talk that day. Typically speakers will give the talk in Durango on Saturday and also in Bilbao on Sunday. It was great to get to know his speaking style.
The little kids in the hall are quite… active! Let’s put it that way, haha. I thought I’d pick a few out and do a little big brother action with them. I’d pull them aside, get to know them a bit, and give them a positive challenge. I asked one, since he was the older of the kids (he was about 7 or so), to help set an example among the other kids in the hall. I tried to ask questions like “Why does Jehovah not want us to play in the hall? Do you think he wants anyone to get hurt?” I was nice but really wanted to help him, and others, to see how we want to act in the hall. I could sense that they respected what I was saying, and I saw their behavior improve. At the time I’m writing this, I haven’t been to the next meeting yet. But we’ll see how that mission goes haha.
I was starting to get in my groove. I was learning names (kinda), figuring out my way around town, making friends. But there was something missing. Something very specific that I loved from back home that I knew I needed here. So I asked Jehovah for it.
And he definitely delivered.