|Photo by: courtesy of Tim Harvey|
|Annual Conference moderator Tim Harvey (left) during his visit to Spain poses with Spanish Brethren pastor Santos Feliz, lead pastor in Gijón (center left); pastor Fausto Carrasco (center right) and translator Lymaris Sanchez (right) both of Nuevo Amanecer Iglesia de los Hermanos, a Church of the Brethren congregation in Bethlehem, Pa.|
In February, my wife Lynette and I were privileged to visit the Church of the Brethren in Gijón, Spain. We traveled with pastor Fausto Carrasco and a team from Nuevo Amanecer Iglesia de los Hermanos in Bethlehem, Pa.
The trip was scheduled to provide ministerial and theological training for the three Churches of the Brethren in northern Spain. In considering the options available for my international trip, I was glad to visit the Brethren in Spain because they are so eager to be included among the global community of the Church of the Brethren.
The Church of the Brethren in Spain began as members of pastor Santos Feliz’ family began moving from the Dominican Republic to Spain looking for work. In the global economy, Spain often has been a place for Latin Americans to move for jobs. Generally the women move first, and often are able to quickly find work in domestic trades such as cooking and cleaning. After the women have lived in Spain for a year, it is fairly easy for them to bring the rest of the family to join them.
That was the case with pastor Santos’ family. They (and other members of the family) initially moved to Madrid, where they worked long, unpredictable hours. Eventually, they realized that they were slipping away from church life altogether, so they gathered their family and began meeting as a church. In time the Spanish economy deteriorated and only the women were left with jobs.
After moving to Gijón the work of the church continued. The church there meets in a store-front location in a very nice, commercial part of town. The congregation works very hard at incorporating Latin American immigrants into their community life, helping them get settled, handle necessary paperwork, make new friends and expand the church. They have been very effective at this, and their congregation has members that hail from seven countries. Incorporating native Spaniards has been difficult due largely to the racial prejudice our brothers and sisters encounter.
Throughout the week, and amid very busy and demanding work schedules for those who have jobs, the congregation meets for worship or study multiple times including Saturday and Sunday evenings for worship. While we were there, the Saturday evening worship was led by the women in the congregation, and Lynette was invited to preach. The entire congregation appreciated her sharing; the women were especially grateful when they found out this was her first sermon! I was blessed to preach at the Sunday service.
There are several steps that need to be taken before the Spanish church is officially recognized as a mission point of the Church of the Brethren. Along the way, their presence with us raises some perspectives that US Brethren would do well to consider.
First, what does it mean to thrive as an immigrant church? During one class of theological training, we were studying Matthew 5:44, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." I asked the group if any of them had ever been persecuted. Everyone raised a hand. They know what it is like to be the victim of racial prejudice.
With this, I told them that they understand this verse better than I. When questioned about this, I raised my own hand and asked, "Does skin color matter?" Everyone's eyes widened with the realization that it does. This opened up a helpful conversation about how the prayers and loving support of the church family are a vital part of enduring suffering. Our brothers and sisters in Spain gain spiritual strength and unity because they turn to Christ and the church in the face of suffering.
Second, in spite of a significant focus on outreach, the Brethren in Spain have not yet had an impact on the Spanish culture where they live. This is partly due to their status as immigrants. But it is also partly because they are evangelical believers in a predominantly Catholic, yet essentially secular, culture. It is difficult to be taken seriously when you are a persecuted minority.
What might American Brethren learn from our Spanish Brethren on these points? How is our faith encouraged in the face of suffering? Do we suffer for our faith? And, as the dominant culture, how effectively are we impacting the world around us? These are important questions for us to consider.
The presence and faith of the global Brethren can be a great encouragement to our faith in the US. There is a good chance Spanish Brethren will be with us in St. Louis; I pray you will seek them out.