Spiritual Needs in Spain
We are serving in Spain. Most people think of Spain as being a Catholic country. In a lot of ways, that is true. It is historically Catholic, and Spaniards are proud of that! The thing that most people don't realize about Spain is that the majority of the population is actually atheist. About 80% consider themselves atheist, even though most would also consider themselves Catholic. About 15% are actually practicing Catholics. Evangelicals only make up about .8% of the population of Spain. The majority of the evangelicals in Spain are foreigners. Believing Spaniards only make up of about .2% of the population. The spiritual needs in Spain right now are staggering. The following article will give you a good idea of the spiritual environment and needs of Spain.
[Spain] Missionaries Wanted
by Matt Williams
[I]t was not long ago that the vast Spanish empire ruled the world. Spain sent out numerous missionaries, and the influence of her riches, culture, religion and language can still be seen worldwide, even here in the United States, where about 40 million people speak Spanish. How things have changed! Today, Spain struggles with 21% unemployment, huge debt problems, and is nearly completely secularized. It is estimated that only about 0.2% of Spain is evangelical Christian. There are many rural areas with no Gospel witness at all. Luis Palau told me he thinks that Spain is the second hard- est country in the world to reach with the gospel, calling it the “graveyard of missionaries.”
Many Americans assume that Spain is a Roman Catholic nation. This is not the case at all. One Spanish friend told me, “Historically, the Catholic Church in Spain has caused a lot of pain. Most young people would point to the Church as one of the reasons why they’re not interested in God.”
Here is a true story that captures the attitude of many Spaniards. Estrella is a preschool teacher in her early 30s. She lives in the south of Spain. As a little girl, she went to a school run by nuns. Recently she met an evangelical Christian for the first time in her life. Estrella asked, “What are the differences between your church and the Catholic church?” The Christian friend chose not to debate the differences between the churches, but to tell her about who God is. God is not only the Creator of the universe but he is a personal God, affected and broken by our disobedience. Despite our desire we are incapable of restoring everything that is broken. But God, full of grace, has restored everything that we have broken through Jesus’ death. We need to accept Him through faith. Estrella responded, “Wow, I have never heard all that before. If people knew all this, there would be more people in your church. As an adult, I’ve always said that I am an atheist. But to be honest, I say that because I am really disappointed with the Catholic Church. I wonder if God is real. Actually, when things are tough, the first thing that comes to my mind is, ‘Oh God help me.’ I just don’t know.”
What can be done to help this country that is immensely loved by God? Pray! Let’s not neglect prayer. Do you believe that prayer moves the hand of God? The need for mis- sionaries in Spain is great. There is a need for short term and evangelistic outreaches that help local Spanish churches reach her neighbors. The key is to help the Spanish church, rather than starting new churches or new ministries that are unrelated to what the Spaniards themselves are doing. Spaniards are a proud people (remember, they used to rule the world), so we need to serve alongside of them.
But to effectively reach the people of Spain, there is a need for Christians to live in Spain long-term; living out their faith in front of their Spanish neighbors in every aspect of life— home, business, friendships, and marriage. As they do this, the gospel comes alive as relationships are built. Spaniards have heard parts of the gospel story; but very few have seen it lived out, showing the daily differ- ence that Jesus makes—the one who came to bring comfort, hope, pur- pose, joy, love, and peace. Spaniards are looking for these qualities as their economy collapses. Jesus offers them free of charge. But, since the number of evangelicals in Spain is so low, it is hard for Spaniards to hear about this solution. “And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom 10:14)
There is also a great need to disciple Spanish believers. If new Christians are not given a strong theological foundation for their faith and what living a Christian life means, they will quickly fall away due to the influences around them. Remember, only 1 out of 500 of their neighbors are believers (0.2%). Many of the young adults in the church where I ministered fell away from the Lord. Drugs, alcohol, sex, lack of Christian marriage partners which often led to Christians marrying unbelievers— these influences are real, and devas- tating to the Spanish church.
The university may be a key to reaching Spain. The postmodern universi- ties mold the views of young adults into thinking that religion is merely an option. Once they move into the “real world,” their views are set, and it is much more difficult to talk with them about Jesus. In Barcelona there are 200,000 University students, but a mere 300 Christian students.
One of my Biola University students recently took a year to attend the University of Barcelona. They have various courses for foreigners to learn the Spanish language and culture. American students can enter Spain with a student visa and obtain wonderful opportunities for minis- try. Teaching English informally to Spanish university students is a great way to spread the Gospel.
Some might think that such a ministry would be a “vacation,” spending a year in a beautiful tourist destination under the guise of Christian duty. Here is what my student said about her time in Barcelona, “No, I was not caring for AIDS victims, rescuing prostitutes, or digging wells. Instead, I was filling up nearly every moment with coffee times to develop relationships with non- Christian peers, inviting them to go on hikes in beautiful areas around Spain, traveling with them, preparing Bible Studies for the University of Barcelona InterVarsity Christian fel- lowship group, etc. After 10 months I felt as though I was finally becoming a part of their culture. I was able to lead Bible studies entirely in Spanish, and I was developing relationships with people in many different areas so that I was seeing even more min- istry opportunities. It is slow work in Spain.”
Many more ideas could be added to these, such as financially supporting current ministries and missionaries in Spain, translating the best biblical/theological works into Spanish so that Spanish pastors have the needed resources (such as the Colec- ción Teológica Contemporánea and the Biblioteca Teológica Vida), sending work teams to help renovate Spanish churches, and prayer (yes, I’ll mention it again). The key is to realize that the Dark Continent is now perhaps found not in Africa, but in Europe, and to seek the Lord of the harvest as to your role in reaching the world with the good news of Jesus Christ.
Matt Williams, Ph.D., is Professor of New Testament at Biola University and former missionary to Spain (1996-2002). He is also the Editor of Biblioteca Teológica Vida and Colección Teológica Contemporánea.
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