A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS
By Jon Konnerup
In its early history, Spain was largely populated by the Iberians, Basques, and Celts. The peninsula later came under rule of the Roman Empire. During the early Middle Ages, it came under Germanic control. Later, much of it was conquered by Moorish (Muslim) invaders from North Africa. In a process that took centuries, the small “Christian” kingdoms in the north gradually regained control of the peninsula with the last Moorish kingdom falling the same year Columbus reached the Americas. A global empire began which caused Spain to become the leading world power for 150 years and the largest overseas empire for three centuries. This has led to a vast cultural and linguistic legacy that includes over 500 million Spanish-speakers, making Spanish the second most-spoken mother language in the world.
Roman Catholicism has long been Spain’s main religion. There have been four Spanish Popes. According to an April 2014 study by the Spanish Centre for Sociological Research, about 69 percent of Spaniards identify as Catholics, two percent claim to be of other faiths, while 26 percent do not identify with any religion. Most Spaniards do not participate regularly in religious services. Recent polls and surveys show atheists comprise anywhere from 8 to 20 percent of the Spanish population. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons are among the various cults in the country. The increasing number of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Muslims is on the rise due to the recent waves of immigrants.
While Spain has been a religious country outwardly for centuries, with many Spaniards knowing of Jesus, sadly, few know him personally as their Savior. Less than one percent of the population — 400,000 people — claims to be evangelical. With more than 6,500 cities and towns having no evangelical witness at all, Spain has fewer evangelical Christians than many Muslim countries. Behind the facade of Spain’s imposing cathedrals and vibrant culture is a dark, spiritual void. Spain is at a crossroads: still recovering from economic crisis while moving from a long history of cultural religion to a modern culture of secularism and materialism.
In response to the need for a spiritual awakening, Lavon and Carolyn Waters, who pioneered the field of Uruguay for the BBFI after their approval in May 1958, once again blazed the untraveled trail by changing fields to Spain in May 1970. Upon their arrival November 1, 1971, they began their ministry in the capitol city of Madrid. Other missionaries soon followed and our current list of missionaries includes the Waters, Jack and Joy Loveday, Bill and Theresé Williams, Steve and Kelli Mowery, Fernando and Carolyn Torres, Arnold and Leslie Belasco, and T. J. and Kimberly Gritts.
In October 2016, I visited with each missionary family serving in Spain. It was a delight to stay in their homes, enjoy special meals, and meet the friendly and inviting people to whom they minister. What impacted me most was hearing the church members’ amazing stories of salvation as a direct result of our missionaries’ ministries. Seeing the joy of the Lord on their faces was priceless. Although the churches may not be large, many lives have been eternally impacted. I was able to visit four churches and participate in one church’s third anniversary.
The missionaries use numerous outreach opportunities to effectively impact people with the Gospel. One such ministry is the camp led by the Waters and Lovedays, which has had an influence on hundreds of lives over the years. The facility is used for youth camps, family camps, and all types of seminars. It plays a vital role in the future of the churches in Spain.
Our missionaries plead and pray for more missionaries to help reach Spain with the Gospel. They desire to see more churches started and more leaders trained to pastor the existing churches. This would, in turn, allow even more churches to be started. With the increase of immigrants all the way from Latin America, our missionaries’ churches have more opportunities to reach people. Many who are saved are looking for good, Gospel-preaching churches in their new communities and they’re excited to find Baptist churches to attend with their families. Our missionaries yearn to have more people meet Jesus in a personal way — whether they be native Spaniards or immigrants from other countries — have their sins forgiven, and find peace, joy, and hope.
The country is open to missionaries. Would you consider helping reach Spain with the Gospel by joining our current missionaries? Would you answer the call of the Great Commission?
Bill & Theresé Williams
Twenty-eight years ago, Theresé and I, with our three small children, arrived at the Madrid airport. What a journey it has been — filled with many challenges, blessings, and difficulties. There were several discouraging times when we were not sure if we would make it, but we stuck it out because our calling was clear. Spain is a very difficult field in regards to seeing people come to Christ. We knew results might be few in number, but the eternal destiny of souls was in the balance. If we left for “greener fields,” how would they hear about the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Now, more than two decades later, with two churches established, dozens of souls saved and baptized, new converts discipled and trained for the ministry, many young couples formed into families, three men prepared for the ministry with one taking over as the pastor of the first church established, it is evident God has honored our decision to “stick by the stuff.”
Due to the difficulty of the field, many missionaries here in Spain have come and gone over the years. We are so grateful for the prayers and financial support of all the churches that have steadfastly sacrificed for souls here in Spain.
“Why is Spain so hard?” – by Steve Mowery
I wish I had a million dollars for every time someone asked me that question or, “What is it that makes Spain so unresponsive to the Gospel?” or “Why does it take so long to start a church in Spain?”
As a BBFI missionary to Spain since 1987, I wish I had the answers to those questions. One of my struggles is to find out how to understand the Spanish mentality and break through this hard Spanish soil. Here are a few ideas.
- The Spanish people are hedonistic. After 36 years of the Fascist, hard-right Catholic dictatorship of Francisco Franco from 1939 to 1975, the people have swung to the other extreme of liberalism and licentiousness. They have cast off the chains of repression and now embrace all the world has to offer: hedonism and consumerism. They want to be like the rest of Europe. But I have hope. I see the children of this generation questioning their parents’ goals and lifestyles. They can see it doesn’t satisfy. They are looking for something deeper.
- The Spanish people are Catholic – when it’s convenient. They tell you they are Catholic, but only 10 to 15 percent of the population practices their faith. Spain is becoming more post-Christian, post-modern, and atheistic in belief than. The Catholic faith is like a vaccination against the Gospel. They are baptized as children, do the first communion, and then think they are “Christians” who are good to go even though they don’t have a clue of what the Bible says. They have been inoculated against the Gospel and it is very hard to convince a Spaniard of his or her need for Christ. Only the power of God can do that.
- Mistreatment of the Jews. Others believe, as a result of the Inquisition and persecution of the Jews throughout the Middle Ages, that God has written “Ichabod” over Spain. According to Genesis 12 there is a curse on those who harm or hate the chosen people. Spain still, to this day, is Anti-Semitic.
The number of evangelical churches in Spain is growing slowly. But according to one source that confirms what I see, “The numerical growth in recent years has not been due to conversions of Spaniards, but to the arrival of believers from all over the world.” According to Operation World, the percentage of evangelicals in Spain is one percent, (India is two percent) and the majority of those churches don’t preach good doctrine (Pentecostal, Charismatic).
Spain is hard, but it is rewarding to serve our Savior and to be a light in the darkness. The need is still great for laborers to come to Spain. We have towns all around us that need missionaries to preach the truth. Maybe the Lord could use you! Are you up for the challenge?
Arnold & Leslie Belasco
The truth makes our jobs as American church planters in Valencia, Spain, possible. It also reduces the stress that would otherwise suffocate our efforts. This truth, given by Christ, encourages us daily to live and work among the proud people of Spain.
Many Spaniards have a form of godliness, but you soon realize it is culturally driven. The more time you spend among the Spanish people the more you hear biblical references and comments. But, chances are they don’t know the significance of their words. It’s just how things are said. For example, parents, not realizing they’re quoting the Bible, say, “The last shall be first” to their children as a means of teaching them to wait in line or perhaps to soothe their own impatience. You also hear thanks being given to God for what has happened and words of hope toward God for things to come. But again, they’re habitual statements that are void of any true devotion to God. In our province of Valencia, many pueblos are prefixed with the name Beni, such as Benidorm, Beniparrel, Benicolet, and so forth. The reason: they were settlements given to and/or named after the youngest son, known as the Benjamin of the family. Our language professor knew himself to be the Benjamin of his family, but he had no idea of its origin in the book of Genesis.
Ministering the truth to the Spanish people will continue to be rich with discovery. However, penetrating their hearts with this truth is a task that requires more laborers than we currently have!
The Ministry in Spain – by Joy Loveday
I grew up as a missionary kid (MK). Being an MK has many wonderful advantages, especially when God calls you to serve Him on the mission field as an adult! Jack and I just celebrated 35 years of ministry in this precious country we call home. Twenty-nine years ago, God allowed us to start the church where we currently serve. We started another new work three years ago.
As a wife, mother, and grandmother, I enjoy teaching the ladies, counseling ladies and teens, and training future pianists for the music program at our church. God has given me the privilege to train Sunday school teachers and one pastor’s wife. And yet the years go by, and our hearts cry to God for more laborers. More than ten million Spaniards live in a city or town where there is not even one Christian living nearby who can witness to them. Will you pray for Spain and the need of the Gospel? Will you answer the call to come and see Spanish souls won to Christ? If God is calling you, please get in touch with us. We’d love to answer your questions and encourage you to serve Him in Spain.
Spain needs missionaries – by Jack Loveday
The lack of long-term commitments by missionaries ministering in Spain has been one of our greatest challenges. This commitment hinges on: a call from God, a stable home life, an understanding of Spanish culture and the European mindset, and a decision to stay when slow growth causes discouragement.
If you feel that call of God to fulltime service, pray fervently, count the cost, and then be prepared to watch God bless in unexplainable ways. It is a life of faith, and although, as in any Christian’s life, there will be heartaches and difficulties, remember the One who called you into His service is always faithful to love and guide you. To see the long-term blessings of a mature, healthy, and deep-rooted work on the mission field takes many years, but it is for His glory and for His Kingdom.
Consecrate your life to the Lord, surrender your will to his, and pray earnestly to see if God would have you serve Him in this great country of Spain.