Time has really flown over the last few weeks. It’s been busy, as is probably evident from my notably slower updates. But I’ve been the good kind of busy! I’ve felt the small impact I’ve been able to have on the territory as part of the very hardworking part of this team that is the Bilbao English congregation, and especially during my long days with the Durango group. The territory itself is great to admire. I see lush green fields. I see snow-capped mountains. I see COWS (and I’m not even eating them). What?! It really abounds in natural beauty. But of course the main thing that brings joy is having good experiences out in service. A few stand out to me.
One call had at least three specific angels on our team. I was with Mark (one of our special pioneers) and we were busy in our search work. We were closing in on a lead from a neighbor that some English speaking students were in an apartment nearby, and we knew we were close to finding their home. Again, we typically talk to people through the intercoms to start off with. However, it’s nice to get inside the building in order to scope out the mailboxes and see if any foreign names tip us off to potential English speakers. It’s not a surefire guarantee but it definitely helps us to direct our efforts in the right direction. Getting inside a building often involves waiting for a neighbor to pass through. But something was different this time: the front door of the building of the supposed English students’ apartment was somehow left open (very Cyrus-conquering-Babylon, Isaiah 45:1). Our Front Door angel had been at work.
We went right up to the door. That’s always preferable; it’s way better being able to talk to someone face-to-face. So we went into the building to ask the neighbors where we could find the specific apartment where the English speakers were, not letting the very Basque and Spanish names on the mailboxes deter us.
We knock on door number one.
After a seemingly never-ending process of unlocking her door (did I mention that Spanish doors lock automatically?) an old lady peeked her head around through the barely cracked door. This gave me hope! This meme does a good job of explaining why…
“Hola señora, buenos días!” I greeted her with a warm smile, preparing to ask her if she knew of any English speakers, “Le suena si hay…”
The door casually shut just about as quickly as it opened.
“extranjeros en este portal que hablan inglés…” I finished my sentence between chuckles to a very closed (and very locked) door.
“Well she was a peach!” I joked with Mark with a smile. It was definitely not the first time someone had rudely rejected me here. I’d gotten used to laughing it off and moving on. So we tried the next door neighbor. There was no way I was coming this far to not find these English speakers.
Mark knocked and a young mom approached, infant in arms. He asked her about foreigners in the building that spoke English and she said there were! She stepped foot outside of her front door and pointed above to where we could find them. She was super nice and we were really appreciative!
Ok, so the Cool Neighbor angel gave us a hand here. We went to the potential door and knocked. Mark started talking to the young guy who opened the door in Spanish initially. The guy responded, but as soon as he replied it was obvious he was no Spanish native. “Hablo un poquito de español” he replied. I recognized that accent.
“Where are you from?” Mark asked, switching into his English.
“The United States,” he said.
I lit up! An American! My homie! It was SO rare to find Americans (I hadn’t since finding Ralph, the English teacher in Deba).
“Me too!” I exclaimed, as if I’d discovered my long lost twin brother.
“No way man, I’m from Michigan, where are you from?”
“California… Orange County. You been there before?”
I felt the speed of my speech picking up. I used colloquialisms and expressions that I wouldn’t normally use in service here. I felt so at home. This was the service I was used to. We talked about why I was out here in Spain, about his cooking school internship he was doing out here, my shared experience in the restaurant industry as a former manager. It was great to connect like that.
Mark continued the great conversation and placed literature with Blake. (Disclaimer: I can’t remember his name for sure, but it was a typical white boy American name, so I feel like that fits)
“It’s pretty crazy that you found me now… I’d normally be at the restaurant now, but I’m sick today so I stayed home.” (Shoutout to the Common Cold angel!)
He went right on to offer us his schedule, letting us know when he typically gets home without even being asked, and that his four other international roommates also speak English. We’d struck gold.
Mark and I walked out of that building both grinning from ear to ear. It was so cool to see how circumstances just “happened” to work out. The door was open. After a not-so-great neighbor experience and no help from the mailboxes, the right neighbor led us in the right direction. He happened to be home that day because he was sick. What?? Come on. That obviously wasn’t some random scenario.
I don’t want to make a blanket statement about all Spanish householders. Many we talk to in our search work are very nice and very helpful. Sometimes almost too helpful! I was doing search work in a Durango outskirt with a Nigerian sister named Vera, who’s been in Spain long enough to be fluent in Spanish herself. She talked to a lady through the intercom to ask where we could find English speakers, and the lady told us to wait right there.
It seemed kind of odd, but we went with it, listening to her instructions. Down came a very Basque-looking woman moments later, who told us to follow her. She walked us around the corner, explaining to us that she thought she knew of someone in the neighborhood who spoke English. We came to an apartment building and she started ringing one of the bells!
I was laughing inside. Here we had this non-Witness who was helping us go door to door! It was over-the-top helpful. As soon as the person picked up the intercom, she rolled into Basque, presumably asking her friend in which apartment a family Africans lived. I didn’t understand a word of what they were saying, as Basque is completely different form Spanish. It definitely intrigued me though! (More on that at a later time)
She turned back to Vera and me and told us in Spanish that her friend had told her where the Africans lived and gave us the right door to ring. We were so appreciative and wasted no time in trying to get in touch with them. We rang, and a dark skinned woman poked her head out from the balcony.
Vera knew her, it turned out. She was definitely African, however she was from Senegal, where they speak French, not English. However, this woman didn’t even speak French really. She spoke the Senegalese language of Wolof, which she explained to us in Spanish. They chatted for a while, and we thanked her for letting us know that no other English speaking Africans were in her building. We wrote her contact information down for the French congregation anyway. If anyone would be skilled in getting Wolof literature, it would surely be them.
These experiences were really encouraging, and helped maintain the fire that was continuing to grow even more for my ministry out here. But one name stuck into my mind—Charles, my barber that I could never really nail down for a real study. He was always polite, he was always there, and he always gave great shaves. But I couldn’t get that to the next level.
But one sunny Tuesday morning as I left the meeting for service, something hit me. I knew what I had to do to change that.
And it worked.