SIX: Beards, Barbers and Bibles

I’ve been to Europe four times. Each of those times I’ve gone to Spain. Each of those times I’ve gone to San Sebastian, Spain. This time was no exception. I snuck away there for a couple days (it’s only an hour away!) to again meet up with my friends Tish and Malia from California. Additionally, it was awesome to catch up with my friends who live in San Sebastian, Iker and his brother Julen, Yoana, and twins Tamara and Jasmina. And it was a huge privilege to stay with my good friend Antonio, who’s the coordinator of his hall. He used to be a part of San Sebastian’s English group with Iker and Julen, but recently moved back to Spanish to alleviate his heavy load and focus on his health. He’s a great brother and is so welcoming whenever I’m in town.

I always get this feeling of nostalgia when I’m back in San Sebastian. It brings back memories of when my friend Derek and I went to go visit my friend Conrad, who lived out there for a few months back in 2011. The smells, the streets, the landmark locations, the food, the beach… it all felt like such a great throwback.

A tradition that I also always do in San Sebastian is visit a sidrería. It’s a cider house with huge barrels of fermented cider that you drink between courses of typical sidrería food, like cod omelets, cod filets, and the best steak you will ever eat in your life—no joke. Antonio took the girls and me there and the high expectations I’d set for their experience at the sidrería were met and exceeded.

After those brief days, however, I was excited to get back to Bilbao. I was looking forward to really getting integrated into the congregation. I wanted to get my hands on some territories. I wanted to start doing work in the hall. I wanted to cultivate some solid return visits and turn them into studies.

Studies may be my favorite aspect of service. It was hard for me to leave my four students back home, even though it’s just temporary and even though I made sure they were all in great hands. But coming out here, I didn’t have that. I needed that here. Teaching people directly about the truth is really fulfilling.

So I got specific about it. That’s something I’ve tried to work on over the last year or two—being really specific with my prayers. So I decided to put a very detailed request in. I prayed to start one study by the end of the following week. That gave me about 11 days to do so. Doable right? I hoped so.

I made my way on the metro that Wednesday morning, following the details of the address that a brother had texted me, leaving ample time for the metro rides. I rang.

No answer.

I was nervous. Did I go somewhere wrong? Was the time different than 10:15? Was there simply no one who was out today?

I looked up. I was at 28 instead of 26. Ok good! I thought. I rushed down to the proper apartment building and rang again.

No answer.

I was nervous. Did I go somewhere wrong? Was the time different than 10:15? Was there simply no one who was out today?

I texted the brother who gave me the information. He responded moments later. And he did so in true Spanish style. Here in Spain, people love to “spam text” as I call it. Where one text message could easily be used to get a point across in my opinion, they’ll use about 5-6 messages to convey that information.

(shocked emoji)

(shocked emoji)

I mixed Tuesday and Wednesday morning!!!

Sorry!

I will ask the brother conducting to call you now!

I’m so sorry my friend

I assured the brother that it was not a problem at all. It wasn’t. I had to laugh at the barrage of texts that I’d become so used to out here.

His wife ended up getting in touch with me minutes later and explained to me where I could meet the group. I rode the metro a few stops down and got to the intersection where I’d be meeting the group. Since I beat them there, I figured I might as well get my day started. My eyes were peeled. I was looking for Africans. I reflected back on my time in Zaragoza and the ability to distinguish English speaking Africans (primarily from Nigeria and Ghana) from the French-speaking ones (from Mali and Senegal).

There! Found one.

He looked to be in a rush but I figured I’d try anyway. He was on his way to the metro but politely listened as I went through a rather hurried presentation of the Suffering tract, doing my best to gauge how much more time he had to talk. At the moment I was going to go for it and ask for his contact info to follow up, his phone rang and he took off. Ah! SO close to getting my goal, but not quite.

Moments later, the group arrived. The one taking the lead was an older Spanish brother named Jon, as well as two brothers and a sister from Ghana and Nigeria. I was paired with one of those brothers, named Sylvester, and we took off to engage in the search work. My time with him was really enjoyable. I enjoyed getting to hear his story of finding the truth later in life and making his way from Africa to Europe. I told him about my background too and about my goal to start a study. He expressed confidence that I’d be able to achieve that goal soon.

Our search work was something I was getting more comfortable with. Even though most inquiries didn’t end up in new addresses, it was good being able to have a presence in the neighborhood during our “spy” work. However, day one in service had gone by since I’d made my specific prayer for a study, and I’d come up empty. No big deal, I still had time before the end of the following week would be here!

It turned out to be a shorter day for the group. But there was one thing I needed to find… a good barber. On my first day in Bilbao, I’d walked to the predominantly African part of town to get a shave. Since my electric shaver doesn’t work in Europe and I can’t use a razor (perhaps you remember this dilemma from my time in Zaragoza), I’ve decided it’s best to go get shaves once a week at the barber shop. It’s cheap, and more cost effective than buying a shaver for my time here.

Anyway, that first experience was one I was looking forward to. “Ok he’s a homie, he’ll know what he’s doing” when I walked into the shop. I thought back to Godwin in Zaragoza who hooked it up big time. But THIS guy. Different story. He shaved me alright. But I felt like he was trying to shave OFF my face instead of shave my face. It was like he was shearing me like some wild sheep. I would’ve rather gone to the slaughter. I was so mad. I was frowning. I was muttering expressions in my mind that I shouldn’t have been. It was bad.

So, fast forward, it’s time for another shave. Sylvester told me that he knew of a place. We walked right past the last place and went to another barber shop. They were Nigerian as well and introduced themselves as James and Charles. This seemed better. I sat down prepared for either misery or a fresh cut.

Sylvester knew these guys. He’d obviously been there before, and waited to hang out as I got my shave (which I decided to couple with a haircut as well). Early in the process he said something that took me by surprise.

Slipping into a thicker accent, he told the barbers “I brought Eric and he will study the Bible with you.”

The bold statement took me by a bit of surprise. The barbers quickly nodded in agreement, “OK”.

It was that simple. As soon as the cut was done (by the way, it ended with a fresh cut), I grabbed my service bag and got out two Good News brochures. I showed them how the brochure is laid out. I asked them when they were free; one agreed to get together Sunday, and the other on Tuesday. I got their numbers and texted them mine. The deal was sealed.

I kept my cool as we left, but had to break character when I was with Sylvester. I appreciated his direct approach; his bounce-pass turned into a solid layup. Yes, not only had Jehovah answered my prayer a week and a half early, but he gave me what I was asking for and DOUBLED it. I’d started two studies on the very day I’d asked for just one.

The day might’ve started off feeling like a bit of a mishap with the meeting for service mixup. The search work presented no new addresses that morning. But that was no sign of defeat for the day. I’d ended the day on a win, and by no means was that on my own.

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