Sabbatical year

“So what do you do?”

“What will you be doing?” Several people asked before we came, and we weren’t able to give them many specifics. A lot was still undefined.

When people hear “sabbatical,” they tend to hear one of two things —

  1. A time to break away from work for rest and renewal, similar to a lot of pastors’ sabbaticals. I’ve recommended that more pastors (and others) consider something like this.
  2. A time to break away from normal work and focus on a specific project, similar to the sabbaticals that professors take.

We intended this time to be a bit of both. We wanted to participate in a new church start, learn from veteran missionaries, and give extra support to them. We also wanted to devote more time than usual to family and some of our other interests.

So what have we been doing?

1. Formal ministry work — We’re in the early stages of a new church start here in Algete. That has involved a lot of prayer, a lot of meetings with leaders, and a lot of planning and inviting for our early gatherings.

Our regular church gatherings include three prayer times (two for the church, one for other OMS workers) on Fridays, worship every other Saturday, and groups for children, youth, and young adults on the off-weekends — Friday nights for young adults, Sunday nights for children and youth.

All of those groups have had their initial meetings with small crowds, but we’ve been encouraged by the spirit of the group and having a few committed leaders. I remember the early days of our Offerings worship gatherings back in Lexington — a small group of dedicated people — and it excites me to think about what a great community that became. We’re hoping the same will happen here over time.

We’re also doing a few programmed things to try to meet more new people and build relationships. Those include the English Weekend we had in September, an upcoming Thanksgiving party, Emily’s Tuesday night Patchwork group, and English Week in the schools this spring. We might also be teaching English classes for children and youth if enough people sign up with the Department of Education.

That’s a brief outline. We’ll be sharing lots more about all of these throughout the year. I call this “formal” ministry work because we hope several of the other things we’re doing are ministry-related, too.

2. Language Learning – We spend as much time as we can trying to improve our Spanish. We do Anki flash cards and Duolingo religiously. (If you’re interested in learning a language, I highly recommend both.) We have people over for English/Spanish exchanges. And we’ve just begun Spanish classes through the Department of Education on Monday and Wednesday mornings. Paul and Sylvia have to return to the U.S. for six months beginning in March, which will leave us responsible for more of the ministry work from March through June. That’s giving us an extra urgency for language learning now.

parque retiro
At Parque del Retiro.

3. Family Time – Though we have plenty to do here, we’re not as busy as we were at home. That extra time was something we wanted to safeguard. In Spain’s schools, children have a 2-hour break to come home and eat before going back for an afternoon session. It has been great to have lunch and dinner together as a family most days of the week. We usually find something special to do each weekend, too. While the kids were off school one Friday, we took a trip to Parque del Retiro — a beautiful, 350-acre park in Madrid. Other times it’s something a bit simpler — hot chocolate and churros (i.e. Spanish doughnuts) at the churrería or walking a nearby path full of blackberry bushes and fig and pear trees.

4. Side Interests – I schedule consistent time for reading and writing. I had looked forward to spending more time on a few research interests and working on writing projects. Emily has been working on some sewing and craft projects.

5. Meeting People – We use a lot of our free time to meet people in our neighborhood. They’ve been quick to welcome us, and we’ve already begun making some good friends. When we’re free and the weather is nice, we go to a nearby park where several families go before dinner. While the kids are at school, Emily regularly meets with some of the other mothers in the neighborhood for scrapbooking (a brand new concept in Spain) or tea. And we’ve begun having people over for dinners and being invited to others’ houses. We’ve really enjoyed all these developing relationships and have had several opportunities to discuss faith, too.

6. Keeping in Touch – It was important for us to keep in touch with people back home – especially family. We have at least two or three brief Skype conversations each week with family. We’ve also kept up with other friends, leaders from the church, and the coffee shop, but we try to limit those conversations to about one per week. The Internet and social media can be a great blessing or a great distraction when you go away for a while. We love things like being able to watch nieces and nephews grow from afar and keeping contact with other good friends, but we also know we could spend all of our time here “back home” via the computer.

So far, we’ve been happy with how we’ve been able to use our time. We’re accomplishing a lot, learning a lot, and still having the extra time for family and new relationships that we hoped for. Thanks to all of you who have asked how we are and have prayed for us.

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