My central focus since I’ve been in Bilbao has definitely been centered around being in service. (Random side note, I recently discovered that I actually live in a town called Barakaldo, which is actually just outside of Bilbao, ha!) I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve been able to get a good solid schedule, and I try to be there for just about every meeting for service, which ends up equating to about 5 or so days a week. It’s a schedule that keeps me busy, but focused.
Let me get back to those studies I’d started at the barber shop. I was looking forward to going back, and did, just as I’d promised. It was, naturally, time for a shave too. Seeing as this was the case, I figured I’d just go on my own; I didn’t want to make someone wait as I got shaved as well before the study. But Sylvester decided to come with me. And I was so glad he did.
We got to the shop after a morning of search work and took seats as I waited a few moments to get in my chair. I saw a Nigerian woman sitting next to me and figured, hey why not witness to her? I reached into my bag and pulled out the March Watchtower and asked her opinion on the title question, what she thought God’s greatest gift was.
She raised her eyebrows before uttering even a word in reply. “Jehovah’s Witness?”
They all knew who we were. I confirmed her thought.
“You are always giving us old magazines, last month, last year, this one says April, it must be old too.”
Whoa. I definitely wasn’t expecting that. It was pretty ironic considering the fact that that’s exactly part of the reason why we changed the numbering format on the magazines.
“This is actually brand new, just from this month! It says April 11 on the bottom because that’s referring to a special event coming up next month.”
She didn’t look convinced. But she finally replied that she thought “life” was that greatest gift. By this time, I was in Charles’s chair. But fortunately, Sylvester had stepped in to show the woman how John 3:16 gave the real answer to her question. Charles, overhearing the conversation agreed with our points. But she was not having it. She was strong minded, loud, misinformed and aggressive. She knew a lot of scriptural ideas, but in the wrong way. Sylvester was a champion at handling her. The Nigerian culture can be on the more abrasive side, and you have to be more direct and in their face when reasoning.
She had further issues with us. “Why would you want me to go to your church when you people won’t ever come to ours?” she retorted, in her thick African accent. I started reasoning with her from my favorite section of the Good News brochure, lesson 10 about how to identify true worship. I told her that Jesus himself outlines at least five marks of true worship, and after paraphrasing them briefly to her as tufts of curly hair fell to the floor, I made a simple statement. “If you find a church that does all of those things, let me know and I’ll go. But I only know of one, so that’s the one I go to.”
Her contradictions continued and Sylvester continued to do a great job handling her. I asked Charles when James would be there. Sylvester had set me up to study with them both. Charles had had to cancel the day before, so I was really there to see James, who walked in shortly after. I went planning to study, but this also turned into an intense discussion.
He went big right away, asking if I believed in hellfire.
“Well it depends on how you define that?”
“Well I asked you first, so you tell me whether you believe in it.”
“It depends on how you define it though! Because if you think it’s a fiery place of torment, then no. But if you think of it as the Grave, then yes I do.”
I knew he obviously ascribed to the first definition. Our conversation revealed that if a burning hell really didn’t exist, then he didn’t feel the need to live a good life. We reasoned on that for a while. Questions like, “So you only serve God out of fear of punishment instead of out of actually loving him?” “Would you punish your daughter by putting her hand on a stove?” (the classic) and “Do you actually like the idea of hell?” never truly resonated with him. He just wanted to do a back and forth that really showed me how much people have been blinded out there.
Before our time there had concluded, other Nigerian shop customers were getting involved, heaving false reasoning our way, leaving Sylvester and I to defends ourselves, which I think we did very well overall. It was a wake up call. I’m glad I didn’t go alone. I may have some experience doing this, but the Nigerians are definitely a tough crowd, and they’ll take you to town if you’re not ready. Sylvester was an awesome support, leaving the ratio 2 on 5 instead of just 1 on 5. I let him know how much I appreciated his help. We left unshaken, and ready to bring back more information the following week, to which James and Charles agreed.
Thursdays and Saturdays are the days I head out to do service in and around the village of Durango. Two members of the congregation that are really spearheading the preaching efforts out there are Mark and Sophie, who were recently assigned to the congregation fresh out of SKE as special pioneers. He’s from Barcelona (and speaks perfect English) and she’s from Wales and I’ve been able to really bond with them during my time here. It’s pretty incredible what kind of quality friends you can make when you’re focused on the same purpose.
I had quite a few memorable days with them out in Durango and its surrounding villages. They frequently took me to some really beautiful areas in their car, such as Mutriku and Deba. These areas were beachside, sunny port towns that felt like a nice change of pace from being in the city. It definitely gave flashbacks to California. Searching for English speakers in these areas really felt anything but monotonous.
One experience in Deba especially stood out in my mind. We were on the lookout for a man named Ralph. We’d been referred to him by one of his employees at the local English academy. All we were given was a general side of the town that he lived on, so we went to work. I teamed up with Sophie as Mark worked alongside us, inquiring at each building if they knew any English speakers. We were coming up empty until I spotted a woman up in her balcony. I pointed her out to Sophie who immediately jumped at the opportunity to ask her in Spanish if she knew Ralph.
And it was a success. She did! And she told us exactly what apartment to find him at. For the most part, people tend to be pretty helpful, especially in smaller towns like that one. Older ladies are the most knowledgeable as many of them have lived in their homes for a long time and have a good sense of who else lives there.
Hmm. He answered in Spanish. Had we gone to the right door?
“Hi, do you speak English?” I replied, hoping for the best.
“I speak a bit” he replied, with a sense of joking sarcasm.
“That’s great! We’re looking for English speakers to share some positive news about current events; can we bring something up to you?” He gladly buzzed us up.
He was standing at the open door with a warm demeanor. I introduced myself and Sophie, and asked his name, pretending not to already know. Ralph told us he was from New York. I was so excited; I was actually talking to an American. That is always such a rarity in Spain, especially while out in service in the areas I’ve been to. It was a relief to (kind of) hear my accent and talk totally freely. For that moment, I felt like I was back in my home territory, doing a “normal” presentation and getting right into the Good News brochure after we’d exchanged a few pleasantries.
He was very kind and polite. I’ll be honest, I don’t know that he would’ve spoken with us quite as much had we been in the United States, but I feel like he was quite happy to have the (rare) opportunity to speak to native English speakers and wanted to take advantage of it. I placed the brochure with him, and he was quite welcoming to the idea of us coming back, even to talk to other members of his family. You never know how that could turn out.
Sophie and I high fived. We were really excited at how that turned out. It was definitely the boost I needed at the time. Sometimes the search work could feel exhausting. It was a lot of work for what felt like few results. On some of my service days, hours of ringing intercoms resulted in grumpy Spaniards and no new addresses. But this day left me feeling so reinvigorated. It was great.
The meeting the very next evening was also such a great boost. There was a quote in the Kingdom Rules book that felt like it was written just for me at that very time. “We remain joyful workers when we keep in mind that Paul stated: ‘Each person will receive his own reward according to his own work.’ (1 Cor. 3:8) The reward is given according to the work, not according to the results of that work.”
Our Memorial invitation campaign got started soon after. It was nice actually doing typical door-to-door, where were going to addresses where we already knew that English speakers definitely lived, and getting opportunities to invite them to the event of the year! Service was feeling great. Usually, my most common reason for “rejection” while street witnessing was that person was already studying with or being called on by someone else—not a bad reason at all.
My attitude was adjusted. I felt happier. It wasn’t just about starting studies and having a ton of great experiences. It was the work that I was putting in that would get rewarded, and that’s exactly what I was so busy with, and what kept me so motivated.
Shoutout to readers: Thanks for the positive feedback on the blog. If you’re reading, please leave a comment and say hey. It’s nice to know who’s keeping up with things out here and I always enjoy hearing from friends and family back home!