The moment I hear this word, my heart and mind are flooded with memories and images of this precious country.
I remember her bright colors and her music, all filled with the intricate strumming of the guitar and the piercing voices of traditional flamenco singers.
I recall her love for celebrations full of good wine, great food, and even better company.
I imagine her loud greetings (marked by a single kiss on each cheek), her passionate conversations (no matter the topic), and her “siesta” (nap) time at 3:00 o’clock every afternoon.
I hear all of her differing accents and dialects, each one adding to both the beauty and the challenge of the Spanish language.
I see her land full of history and her cities marked by so many different cultures.
I feel her broken heart, her bitterness, and her shame.
I understand her longing for freedom, and know that she has only found greater bondage in all of the empty things she’s turned to while seeking fulfillment.
I moved to Spain when I was 15-years-old, after living in North Africa for two years. My family felt God leading us to this beautiful nation, so we packed what we could, sold the rest, and arrived in a little town in Spain called Molina de Segura. I still remember getting off the bus and being approached by an older man who wanted to know how to get to the market. As my mom kindly responded that we were not from the area, this man looked at us and, walking away, loudly replied, “So many immigrants coming to this town!” As you can imagine, we were a little shocked! This was not the welcome we expected. I would like to say that this was an isolated event, that we never again experienced anything similar and it was all smooth sailing from then on out as we adjusted to this new culture, but I’d be lying.
I lived in that town for 8 years before I moved to Louisville, Kentucky to join staff at YWAM Louisville, but my family still lives in Spain. Those 8 years gave me perspective on the culture, the way they view life, and the approach they take to everything from friendships, to jobs, to education. But more than that, I was given a glimpse into the brokenness the Spanish people so desperately try to hide, the hopelessness that permeates everything in their lives, and the deep need for healing that they are so oblivious to.
Allow me introduce to you the little piece of Spain that I carry with me.
Spain is a stunning country that has been deeply wounded by religion. Because of this, there are two very distinct groups within the Spanish nation: Those who have held onto their religious traditions, and those who have tried to get as far away from them as possible.
The people of Spain are either devote catholics, or atheists whose hatred for the church and the idea of God reflects how much they are hurting. There are a few individuals who land somewhere in between these two viewpoints, but it doesn’t take long to realize that those few are the minority.
Less that 50 years ago, Spain was ruled by a dictatorship. Because their leader at that time was Catholic, the church had a great deal of power that was, unfortunately, often abused. Through fear they imposed their doctrine, their sense of morality, and their faith. Anyone who opposed them, acted outside their rules of conduct, or was considered to be even the slightest threat to the church’s power, was severely punished. To this day, the older generation still remembers the atrocities committed under the dictatorship and can tell you story after story of family members, friends, and neighbors who disappeared, each of them likely abducted and killed by the regimen.
The wound left by those who claimed to know God remains open, feeding into so many of the nation’s views and attitudes towards anything that involves Christ.
The younger generations have chosen a life with basically no moral absolutes whatsoever. “If it works for you, if it feels good to you, then do it,” is essentially the motto they live by. They are ferocious fighters when it comes to defending their rights, which speaks of how God created them to be fierce advocates against injustice. Yet they use their God-given passion and fire to defend little else but themselves. Because the Lord, along with any wholesome values, have been taken out of the picture, the youth of Spain have been left to navigate through life with a broken compass. No matter what they pursue–a job, a career, relationships–it all feels like a dead end, and they lack a sense of purpose.
There was a time when Spain was enjoying financial stability and gladly opened their doors to other nations. But this abundance did not last for long, and the nation soon began to experience a severe economical crisis that left many without jobs. Hard times have a way of either producing a sense of unity within a community, or of bringing out the worst in people. With Spain, the hard times produced the latter. One of the biggest areas where this has become a harsh reality is that of racism.
Not too long ago, a campaign began under the slogan, “Spanish for the Spaniards.” This meant that, among other things, the Spanish people wanted to see businesses give priority to citizens over any other nationalities when it came to job offers, no matter who was better qualified for the position. It wanted only the agricultural jobs, such as harvesting potatoes and fruit, to be left for the “immigrants,” because most Spanish people believed they were above that kind of work. At the time, the Latin American, Arabic, Chinese, Nigerian and North African populations were growing in the country, and due to the crisis, the fear of these minorities brought even more racism to the peninsula. Despite this campaign being the cause of many violent outbursts across the nation, the majority of Spaniards would never identify as or admit to being racist. They truly can’t see the truth of what they’re doing.
During my 8 years in the country, experiencing racism became part of my daily life.
Wether it was weird looks because of my facial features and the color of my skin, people pretending not to understand my Spanish because of my accent, or questions like, “But, in your country, do they know how to read?”, I was faced with racial slurs for being a Mexican living in Spain every single day. No matter how long you’ve lived there, how well adjusted you are to their culture, how well you speak their language, or even what nationality you actually are, if you look different, you will never be welcomed into their culture. They will never accept you as Spanish.
One of the strongholds in Spain, along with a legalistic spirit of religion and hopelessness, is disunity. The Spanish national anthem has no lyrics, and no matter how many times people have tried to put words to it, no one is ever satisfied, no one is ever on the same page, no one agrees. This bleeds into more than just a few areas of their culture, and even affects the Christian church. It is very hard for the church to walk in unity, and there is a constant fear among pastors of new ministries “stealing” their church members. They can’t seem to get past their doctrinal differences. Instead, they hold onto them as both their identity, and what separates them from other churches. Sadly, they buy into the lie that these differences set them apart, when in reality, they are actually what is breeding isolation, loneliness, and pride.
I’ve heard the town I lived in referred to as “The Cemetery of Ministries,” because new ministries would always end up dying due to disunity, gossip, rumors, and lies…. It was heartbreaking! Nevertheless, the church is slowly beginning to wake up and recognize their need to lay down their own ways and sacrifice their own preferences for the sake of Jesus being proclaimed throughout Spain. In the last few years, churches from different denominations from around the country have come together for a march called “Espana, Oramos Por Ti” (Spain, We Pray For You), where they seek unity and pray for their land. It’s a beautiful sight.
Where the Enemy has sown discord and isolation, slowly but surely, God is bringing unity and restoration. The church in Spain is rising up.
More than anything, Spain needs to see Christians to actually living out the Gospel. It needs people so in love with God, so passionate about Him and so sold out for Jesus, that the wounds caused by religion are healed through the reality of who God is. They long for purpose. They are desperate for hope. They silently cry for the pain to be taken away and replaced with freedom and joy. But they keep rejecting the One who came to save them. They are searching for something real, and we have what they have been looking for! The question is, what will we do about it?
Pray that the body of Christ walks in unity and love so that this nation might see the love that God wants to give them.
Pray that their eyes are opened to their need for Jesus, and that their hearts will be softened to the truth that will set them free.
Pray that pride won’t keep getting in the way, and for the humility to cry out to God in their need.
Pray for more missionaries, people with the passion and heart to do whatever it takes to reach this nation; men and women who will be willing to love and share Jesus despite the bitterness and hardness that Spain hides behind.
Pray for Spanish Christians to rise up and become missionaries among their own people, so they can reach their own nation.
Pray, pray, pray. And go.
God desires to bring Spain back to Him, will you be a part of the fulfillment of the longing of His heart?
Gail’s family is from Mexico and has served as missionaries in North Africa and Spain, so it’s no wonder that the YWAM lifestyle called her name – it’s in her blood! We’re glad this free-spirited nomad has made Louisville her home. Gail is a gentle sunbeam, bringing warmth and beauty to those around her through joyful creativity and deep relationship. She’s a worshiper through and through, whether it’s writing songs that honor Jesus, delighting in his creation with her photography, or celebrating what God has done in the people around her. Gail has many talents, but she’s quiet about it, so you might have to bribe her with Chik Fil A to get her to show them off.