Sabbatical year

The Church as a Blessing

I’ll start with a confession/acknowledgment. I’ve always turned my nose up at community events put on by churches. I’m thinking about “secular” events––the kind that could have just as easily been sponsored by a Rotary Club or the city hall, where they distribute a little grab-bag at the end with information about the church and maybe a brief articulation of the gospel. Or sometimes a little bolder: someone takes the microphone near the end of the event and shares the gospel and/or invites people to come to a worship service.

Now we’ve come to Spain and helped put on several community events and activities sponsored by the church. We ran an English Weekend in September, held a big Thanksgiving dinner in November, and sponsored a secular concert in January. We’re teaching English classes to government workers for free every Friday. Next week, we’ll be in all seven of Algete’s elementary schools leading an “English Week” program. None of these are exclusively Christian activities. That is, any Rotary Club could do them without needing to make any changes (except for that little handout telling people who we are and giving them an invitation to our church gatherings).

Emily's mom, sister, and sister-in-law came at the beginning of the month. Her sisters just left, but her mom will be here for a month, with her dad joining us for 10 days at the end.
Emily’s mom, sister, and sister-in-law came at the beginning of the month. Her sisters just left, but her mom will be here for a month, with her dad joining us for 10 days at the end.

Rather than turning my nose up, I’ve come to appreciate these activities and look forward to more opportunities for them. That change of heart has come because I’ve seen a different reason for the activities in the first place.

In the past, I’ve seen the invitation as the real point of these activities. Why does a church hold a concert or a children’s fair? So they can invite people to their church or share the gospel. If they knew that no one would respond to those invitations, they wouldn’t waste their time on the events.

But the invitation has never been the point of the activities here. There’s no veiled, “real” agenda. The point has been to bless.


We wrote early on about the way the church here emphasizes prayer––a more serious emphasis than I’ve ever seen or given before. Most unique to the church’s prayers here is a focus on blessing. We spend a lot of time praying God’s blessing over Spain, the city of Algete, and its people.

The church has especially taken Psalm 132 as a word for us. The psalm says,

13 For the LORD has chosen Zion,
he has desired it for his dwelling, saying,
14 “This is my resting place for ever and ever;
here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.
15 I will bless her with abundant provisions;
her poor I will satisfy with food.
16 I will clothe her priests with salvation,
and her faithful people will ever sing for joy.”

One of our leaders began asking last year whether God could say the same for Algete. Whether God has chosen Algete, desiring to dwell here and bless its people.* As the church, the Body of Christ, we want to join in that blessing.

Hunter and Abigail's 5 year-old birthday party. A big event with family, neighborhood friends, and church friends.
Hunter and Abigail’s 5 year-old birthday party. A big event with family, neighborhood friends, and church friends.

Why do we do English camps and classes and presentations? Why do we sponsor “secular” concerts and Thanksgiving dinners? To bless. Those events have no veiled purpose. Yes, we hand out information about the church and invite people to join us. We do that because we want to invite people at every opportunity. But those invitations truly aren’t the reason for the events. If we knew no one would respond to our invitation, even after doing months’ worth of free English classes, would we still do the classes? Absolutely! We don’t do them to add new people to our church. We do them because we’re part of the Church, and the Church blesses.

Maybe this has always been the point of all those “secular” events I’ve seen churches sponsoring, and I’m late to understand it. If their primary purpose is veiled and strategic––trying to bait people with an event, then hook them with an invitation––well then, I continue to turn my nose up at those. But there’s a place for the church to bless just for the sake of blessing. We bless not to achieve some other goal, but because we are a people of blessing. I’m embarrassed that I’m only now seeing that more clearly.

A Ray family update

March has been very busy, and will continue to be, but it’s a good and special month. Emily’s mom, sister, and sister-in-law came at the beginning of March. The weekend after they arrived, we had a big birthday party for the twins. Her sisters just left, but her mom will be here for a month. A friend from church, Caroline, comes on Sunday to help with English Week. The next week, Emily’s dad arrives to spend ten days with us. In all, we’ll be making 11 airport runs this month, but those represent lots of coming and going for people we’re so happy to have here.

We have only 14 more weeks here. Hard to believe! Paul has already returned to the US (must be out of Spain 6 months due to Social Security regulations) and Sylvia leaves next week. That leaves our church without its two primary leaders and challenges all the rest of us to take on much more leadership. A good challenge for the church.

Also, I paid 9.50 euros (~$13) for a box of Froot Loops at a Taste of America store. I didn’t realize the price until I had paid.

Please pray for us. We could especially use prayer for these things:

  • Our leadership roles in the church will increase over the next months. Pray that we can fill well the big shoes Paul and Sylvia leave.
  • We’re leading English Week in the schools next week, and we’re the “featured speakers” (in Spanish!) at our church’s big worship service at the end of the month. Pray that we lead and share well.
  • We also continue to work on jobs for when we return in July. Please pray for our continued discernment and the right opportunities.


* The psalm’s reference to Zion as God’s chosen place isn’t insignificant. There are lots of big theological things happening here. You can’t just replace “Zion” with any city of your choosing. And yet, we still believe there’s a word here for us about our particular location.

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