Sabbatical year

FAQ: “Sabbatical” … What does it mean? and What will you do?

We’ve called this a sabbatical year. I’ve had mixed feelings about continuing to use that word. Some people hear it and think we’re taking a year-long vacation. That’s probably because when pastors take sabbaticals, they tend to look like extended vacations. That’s something I’ve advocated for. (Not necessarily a year, not just for pastors, and doesn’t have to look like vacation. More here and here.)

We’re still using the word “sabbatical” because it seems the best fit, regardless of some of the perceptions. Here’s some of what that means for us.

1 – Time for the church and people in Spain

For our family, sabbatical means leaving behind what we normally do to focus on something else for a time. That new focus will be the church and people in Algete.

For several months, we weren’t sure Spain was an option. We talked with One Mission Society (the organization that sent us last time), and they offered us other possible locations, but Spain was doubtful. There were some suggestions that we could just go on our own, but then there would be no visas. And then you pray the Spanish government doesn’t realize you’re there illegally… So that wasn’t a great option.

We didn’t enjoy those months of uncertainty but they were clarifying. Would we consider going somewhere else? We prayed and talked and decided that if we couldn’t get back to the same people and church, we wouldn’t go anywhere. This trip is primarily about people and place.

When we were in Algete seven years ago, our little church there was just beginning. Our first worship service happened four months after we arrived––a handful of us in a living room. The missionaries we worked with then have since retired and moved back to the States, but the church keeps on going with local leadership. The picture above is from one of our final gatherings in 2014.

We had wondered whether there was any real need for us there right now. A family of six imposes a big new burden when we show up. (We have several friends in Spain helping us with housing options, vehicles, visa paperwork, etc.) So we asked a lot of questions about whether the leaders in Spain could really use us and whether we would be more burden than blessing. One of the greatest pieces of encouragement came from one of the church leaders right after we decided to go back:

“This reminds me of truths I needed to rehearse –  that God still has a plan for Algete – that I’m part of his plan and so are you. I’m bowled over that God still wants to use me, and that he is moving pieces into place (YOU ALL) that I had not dreamed of, not dared believe for, not known about.”

How exciting to get to work and worship again with people like that! More than any specific thing we’ll do, going back is about our general support and vote of confidence for people we love who are there for the long term.

But for you who ask, “But what will you do?” here are a few of the specifics we’ve been discussing:

  • Helping with worship, studies, and other church activities, and meeting with the church’s leaders to plan for these.
  • English classes in the community. We did these last time, had a good response, and met many new people through them.
  • Establish a regular men’s meeting. I was just beginning a series of men’s lunches when we left in 2014, and we think there’s opportunity to try it again.
  • Retreats. We’ve discussed offering a couples’ retreat and an English weekend for all ages.
  • English week in the schools. Last time, Emily and I went to all seven Algete elementary schools to lead “English Week” presentations. (The country focus was Canada –– Emily went as a Mountie. I went as Justin Bieber. It was as good as you’re imagining.)
  • Missionary support. In 2013-14, this involved over a dozen airport runs, a few people we helped move as they arrived or left, and showing up as extra support for various events.

Last time, most of what we did wasn’t planned until after we arrived. And some of what we expected to do never materialized. We’re sure the same will be true this time.

Aside from church-specific activities, we generally plan to keep our time as free as possible for people. We developed some great friendships last time over long Spanish meals, time at the park and pool, a reading group we started, and for Emily, a lot of teas while kids were in school.

2 – Slowing down

In at least one sense, this is like what most people think of when they hear “sabbatical.” Life slows down quite a bit. We plan to do a lot to serve in the church and to be available for people, but we don’t expect 50+-hour work weeks. There’s extra time for language learning, reading, writing, and being with friends and family. There are fewer deadlines, fewer commitments, less stress. We try to use that freedom responsibly. It’s not a year for Netflix binges.

Some of that extra freedom is probably necessary. Day-to-day life in a foreign country is more taxing. Grocery shopping, going to the bank, or buying a fly swatter can take a lot more effort.

The whole bit about “slowing down” is more for Emily and me than it is for the kids. They’ll be in school, which will be all- or mostly-Spanish, with new friends, new norms, and new curricula (e.g. they have to learn cursive, gone the way of the dodo here). So life may not slow much at all for them. We’re proud of them that they’re up for that challenge. And it’s probably good that we have extra time to devote to them as they manage new schools and new relationships.

3 – Traveling?

Some people ask if we’ll use the time to travel. We’ll travel a bit. Last time included a trip to the south coast during spring break, a long weekend to Barcelona, and several day trips to nearby towns. We’re hoping to make it to the north coast this time.

And if friends or family visit, we’ll make plans to take them places. (Seriously, this is an open invitation. If you book the flight to Madrid, we can take care of the rest. It’s a great deal. You should consider it. Yes, you.)

But aside from a few small excursions, we expect to spend almost all of our time right there in Algete. That’s the people and place we’re going for.

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