Sabbatical year

Fresh Breeze

I am sitting here listening to a combination of “White Christmas” (the movie the kids have chosen for our Friday Movie Night) and the wind outside. It has started to warm up and the breeze is so welcome. Quite often the breeze becomes a strong gust. I had no idea before we came how windy it could be here but on those hot days it’s worth the occasional slamming door to have the windows and doors open. I usually open them every chance I get. Teddy is kind enough to tolerate it.

People use the breeze and the air in a more practical way here. It’s common to see the linens being aired out by hanging out of an open window. Also, living in a Mediterranean country and lunch being the primary meal, the open windows help to air the fish smell out of the house after lunch. There’s something about a breeze clearing out the air in the house and giving it a fresh flavor. Sometimes gentle and almost unnoticeable and other times so strong you can barely stand straight.

There’s something in this year that has felt like a fresh breeze. We’ve had time to spend together as a couple, we’ve had more time as a family, we’ve been able to get a more global sense of the church. It’s refreshing to remember and set aside time for the things that are most important, a call to be still at times.

I have to admit that I am a busy-body. “Hi, my name is Emily and I have problems resting.” “If I’m wrong I will resign as the president of the New England Chapter of busy-bodies anonymous.” (Just heard this line in the movie.) I knew this year would be challenging in this way for me. Before we came I had a list of all the things I was going to do while I was here. What can I say? I like making lists. But in hindsight, I can see the ridiculousness of this. Okay, maybe I could see a bit of it at the time but I quickly pushed that aside so that I could “GET THINGS DONE”! My list included many good things: Spending more time with family, having devotions more consistently, practicing Spanish every day, flossing more regularly, wearing my retainer more (totally serious), etc. Some things were obviously more important than others. As Teddy and I were preparing for this year we were able to figure out that if we devoted our time to all the things that we wanted to do then there wouldn’t be enough hours in the day to do them all. We could have scheduled our ‘sabbatical’ year so well that we would have had no time left.

Luckily that’s not the way things have ended up.

We have come to the end. That’s a sentence I have trouble writing. As we reflect over the last year, as in every stage of life, there are times where we got it right and times where we got it wrong. The good times were choosing to sit and watch the kids play or watch the birds outside in moments of free time instead of surfing on Pinterest. After an entire year, I’m still practicing the stillness side of Sabbath. I’ve been reading in Ezekiel where God says that the Israelites “dishonored” his name by not keeping the Sabbath. For me right now there is nothing passive about a Sabbath. It’s staying on my guard for the things that waste my time or direct me/my thoughts toward myself instead of God or others. I used to think that Sabbaths weren’t for those that had young children. Making meals and breaking up fights weren’t what I thought made up a Sabbath. Then I read a fabulous book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, that lists ‘the care of children’ as a Sabbath activity. Nothing turns me/my thoughts away from myself like having to care for others.

Where was I? Oh, yeah the breeze. The breeze of Spain has aired me out. There are so many things that make my heart ache to leave. There’s a spot on one of the trails where I run where you can see 360 degrees around. You can see the Cuatro Torres (the only four skyscrapers of Madrid), the mountain range, our little town and all the fields that cover everything else. I have tried to stop there and force myself to take in everything that I feel and see so that I won’t lose any of it after I get home. But even more than that I will miss the people and the way they spend time together. The other day our group of neighbors had a BBQ. We ate slowly and talked for five hours. There was no sense of having overstayed the welcome. It was relaxed and meaningful. What a lesson in stillness and the value of time spent with people.

I have a refreshed sense of family time, time with my spouse, time for relationships. My prayer in these last few weeks is that I won’t divert back to the ‘to-do’ list but will use what the Spanish people have taught me about not being so focused on accomplishing tasks that I overlook time spent together.

Sabbatical year


As we ventured into this year, we knew there would be a lot of failures, especially with respect to language. Some people have asked us to specifically relate the times that the language barrier guided us into territory both humiliating and hysterical. (Like the time that I followed my friend upstairs when she was going to change her clothes. It turns out that what she was telling me downstairs was “Wait right here for me,” not “Follow me.”)

The bigger question about failure, though, was what would make this year a success or a failure? Time spent learning a different culture? Acquisition of language? Participation in the church around the globe? Making friends? Winning converts? A thriving new church here? The list of possibilities is actually quite long. Funny given that a sabbatical year was also supposed to be about simplicity.

Teddy and I have struggled with what makes this year “worth it.” Will those that have invested in our time here be satisfied with what we bring home?

I had a great Bible study the other day. We have been studying Hebrews, and we were reflecting on Hebrews 11–the passage about Abraham’s life. One of the questions was, “Have you ever left a place of security in order to follow God? What was the result? Were you ever tempted to return?” Ummm… yeah, though the decision to come here for a year feels small compared to the decisions of others we’ve met–people who have left home for good to go to faraway places, or those who have answered a call to go to places much more dangerous and difficult than any we’ve been. Still, the conversation turned to me as an example of this. I felt honored and embarrassed. I tried to find things to say about the exact reasons I thought God had called us to come here, but alas, I didn’t have the answers.

I am proud that we chose to do something that we felt God was calling us to. How lucky I am to have a husband who is listening to the pulling of Christ and that we could work as a team to spend this year in Spain. But I always find myself needing to justify it to those around us.

Why would we take a year away from family? Why would we leave financial security for uncertainty? What is God trying to teach us? What is he trying to use us to do? I have many questions, few answers. We trusted that God was calling us to this and that he would provide what we needed. We took a leap of faith without all the answers.

So what would make it a success or a failure? The conversation came up because I don’t know that our kids are going to come back speaking Spanish. “So, you’re telling me that your kids spent a year in Spain and won’t be speaking Spanish??”

No por eso estamos aquí (We are not here for that reason), I have to remind myself. What makes this year a success or a failure?

Back to Bible study: One of the group members said, “You know, Abraham wasn’t the evangelist of Ur (his town). He was revered and regarded as righteous because he led a holy life and passed down a heritage of holiness within his family.” That was a huge weight lifted.

For me, this year is a success if we endeavor to trust God, lead holy lives, and teach our children to do the same. Isn’t it through this that others see Christ in us most?

When I get bogged down with all the day-to-day things to do or worry that I’m not sharing my faith enough, I come back to focus on what I believe is most important right now. I truly believe that years later I’ll be able to see more clearly what this year is about, but for now I find peace in knowing that God’s primary calling for all of us is to the simple, yet difficult, mission of holy lives. I can live with that.

Sabbatical year

Calling versus passion

Hi friends – we’re sorry to have taken so long between updates. Once October hit, things got much busier. The new Algete church has had its first gatherings, kids have begun twice-a-day school (9:30-1, home for lunch, then 3-4:30), and we have begun meeting with several more people for English lessons, Spanish-English exchanges and just to develop relationships.

We have our first young adults’ group meeting on Friday night, a small gathering of youth on Saturday night to call others and invite them to the grupo de jóvenes (youth group), and then our first real children’s group and grupo de jóvenes on Sunday night. Our initial Algete church gathering was excellent. We had 38 people in attendance and a great spirit in the room.

We’ll hope to have much more to share in the coming weeks. For now, a great reflection from Emily about passion and calling…


The other day I had a thought — “What if God calls you to something that you aren’t passionate about?”

In my limited theological experience, I had always equated passion and calling. God would call you to something that you felt a passion to do. Or God would at least call you to do something you were good at doing.

When we came to Spain, we knew that we would need to do things that went outside of our natural talents and areas of comfort. But we also wanted to think about where we “fit and flourish.” We heard that phrase a lot in our training. “In what situations are you using your gifts and personality traits to their best potential — in a way that you fit and flourish?” I believe it’s important to ask that question. But I’m realizing it may not be the only question.

So what happens when you feel God calling you to an area where you don’t have a passion? Where you’re not sure you fit best? Is it still a call? Is it just a need that you must fill?

Here in Algete we’re helping to start a new worshipping community. We needed someone to lead the children’s ministry and hadn’t found anyone. Sylvia, who is definitely gifted with children, will be out of the country for half of the year and so couldn’t do it. Teddy, Paul and Alison were teaming up to work with adults and youth. That left me.

I resisted at first. “This isn’t where I fit and flourish.” “This isn’t my passion” (which in my mind also meant it wasn’t my calling). I love kids, but I’m not a children’s minister.

Then I conceded. “Well, I guess I better do it because no one else can.” I was starting to psych myself out before I even got started.

Then God turned my heart to see things differently. What if he was making this my calling here? My kids make up a good portion of the children coming, so I knew I needed to at least give some help to this. I believe the church needs to make a genuine investment in the lives of children. All children should know that an adult loves them and cares about their salvation. So why didn’t I feel that this was where I was called?

God calls us to do things that seem to flow naturally from us — things we are gifted to do. But He also calls us to things that are hard and unnatural. He calls us to forgive. Everyone. All the time. He calls us to live through difficult situations, to be generous when we would rather be stingy, to sacrifice our will and our desires to help others.

He shines in our weakness. (I sure hope he can shine through horrible-Spanish-speaking Americans.) I become lesser so that he may become greater. I can’t get any “lesser” than in a position of organizing children’s ministry. But alas I find myself with a new calling. Different than anything I would have chosen for myself. But really, it’s the same calling as always—to show His love to those I meet and interact with. Right now, that’s particularly to children, even if that’s not where I would have put myself.

He will be glorified in spite of me.

Sabbatical year

School, English Classes, and Emergency Rooms in Spain

Sorry for the delay in posting. Our plan was to post something Friday night, but instead we were introduced to the Spanish medical system…

Our first hospital visit

All four kids wanted to sleep together in the loft, and we let them since school would be starting next week. It wasn’t long before we heard Abby start screaming. Parents – you all know the difference between an offended cry and an injured cry. This was a major injury cry. We rushed upstairs and found Abigail with blood rushing down her forehead. There had been a game of “monster,” Hunter had pushed Hannah, who fell open-mouthed toward Abby, giving her a gash across her eyebrow.

Paul Cummings came to our rescue and drove Abby and I (Emily) to the UTC here in Algete where they promptly referred us to the hospital since the cut was on her face and she was so young. Off we went, Abby pleading that she didn’t want to go because she was scared of getting stitches. Luckily, they were able to use medical glue instead of stitches, and the doctors and nurses were very kind and comforting. All is well now, but we have to remind Abby that if she is wild and bumps her eyebrow, she will have to go back to the hospital and get stitches this time.

We had made it six years without an ER run with the kids, but it only took us six weeks here! We’re again counting our blessings for having veterans here who have been so good and helpful to us in those kinds of difficult times.

Everybody ready on the first day of school.
Everybody ready on the first day of school.


On to other news… the kids began school today! We registered and dropped off Ella, Abigail, and Hunter this morning. It’s hard in moments like this to put away the American mentality of goals, planning ahead, etc. We found out which school the kids would be attending on Friday, and we received their registration papers as we dropped them off. Completing their paperwork took us all the way until time to pick them up. Note: if you ever plan to live in Spain, plan on LOTS of paperwork!

The kids all seemed to have a great first day of school. The English teacher for the primary school spent some one-on-one time helping Ella, and all three kids already have started making friends.

Our prayers are for easy transitions for the kids. We know they’ll have hard times and going to school in a different language will be difficult. They may get picked on for being different and we’re preparing for that, as well. We have had immense blessings prayed over them by our missionary family: that they would find favor in the eyes of the teachers, that they would find friends, and that they would learn quickly and confidently and be kept safe in an environment that is so different from home. We know so many of you have prayed especially for the kids. Thank you! We will keep you posted.

Doing paperwork for the first day of school! Sylvia tells us this will be a picture enjoyed by missionaries around the world.
Doing paperwork for the first day of school! Sylvia tells us this will be a picture enjoyed by missionaries around the world.

English classes

In our early conversations with the Cummings about the ministry here, we’ve talked a lot about two things, in particular: finding ways to have more contact with youth and young adults, and worship services for the new church being planted here, though there isn’t yet a space available. Then two weeks ago, Algete’s Director of Education called the Cummings and asked to meet. When they met, she asked if Paul and Sylvia would coordinate English classes for youth and young adults. (There’s a huge desire to learn English here.) She offered to provide supplies and space and, to top it all off, in lieu of payment they could have space owned by the town hall for church services. What an answer to prayer!

Sylvia likened this to the story of Moses, when the princess pulled Moses from the river and Miriam offered to bring a woman to nurse and care for the baby for the princess. They were asking the Cummings to do what they had already wanted to be doing here in Algete. This is also giving more definition to what Teddy and I will be doing while we’re here. Teddy will be teaching youth English classes every Wednesday, and we’ll both be teaching young adults’ classes on Friday. We’re hoping this will be a great additional way to meet some youth and young adults in the area.

We thank the Lord for preparing in advance what he wanted to be done here. We ask for prayers for those who come to the classes, for proper preparation and for God to guide our conversations.


Sabbatical year

We have arrived!

Our living/dining room.
Our living/dining room.

As many of you know (and the rest of you at least hoped) we are in Spain. Paul and Sylvia Cummings had a wonderful welcome committee to meet us at the airport, had cleaned our place and had scheduled several nights’ meals to prepare for our arrival. We arrived in the afternoon last Monday and spent the first week getting settled (with great thanks to Peggy Ray), figuring out our surroundings, having lots of conversations in Spanish, and going to the pool to cool down. Our chalet (i.e. a townhouse) is a good size and has worked well for us. We are on the top of a lovely hill which affords an extensive view of the surrounding area, although it also means a pretty good hike to get home from the center of town. (We’re going to take pictures of all of our calves and compare again next year!)

It’s hot and dry here in August. Really dry. I find I can’t be more than 2 meters from a tube of chap stick. There’s a nice breeze that comes from living on top of a hill which keeps us comfortable during the day. We all have fans in our rooms which helps to keep us comfortable at night, but I must admit that this is when I miss air conditioning the most.

The front of our chalet
The front of our chalet

Like most Spaniards in August (who aren’t gone for vacation), we spend daily time at the neighborhood pool. It has been a great early way to meet neighbors. We’ve already met one little boy who came over to play with Hunter while his dad (a local English teacher!) helped us with Internet problems.

Already we have had a wonderful welcome party at the Cummings’ house to meet some of the missionary family, and they took us to nearby Segovia to see the huge, ancient Roman aqueduct there and a Spanish castle. We have also been to out to eat twice (both way too early—meaning that we tried to eat dinner at 8pm) and tipped the waitresses way too much! Oh well, they got paid extra for the inconvenience of patrons who had no idea what they were saying.

On Friday we attended our first prayer meeting for the budding church here in Algete, and on Sunday we attended a worship service in a neighboring town and met a number of beautiful people. For its 21,000-person population, Algete has only one Catholic parish and one small Baptist church. Combined, they may have 150 people in worship each week. We’re excited and hopeful for the many new families that a new community of believers may reach.

I’m really glad that we’re here during Spain’s vacation month. It has been nice that our primary job right now is to learn to speak Spanish better. For the next two weeks, Teddy is away at formal language school from 8-3, the kids get tutored daily for 1-2 hours, and I have a tutor a couple of times a week. Teddy and I will switch roles after two weeks. Everyone we have talked to has been very kind and tried to work with us through our broken Spanish. Language learning is a humbling experience.

I know this post is somewhat random but it wouldn’t be fitting to end this post without a couple of funny stories or interesting things about Spain:

  • In the grocery store I almost dumped a skinned rabbit (head, eyes, nose, and all) out of its bag.
  • On the plane on the way over Ella said, “How much fun is this?!?” and Hunter exclaimed, “The clouds look like cotton candy!”
  • When taking his placement test for Spanish, Teddy said he had brought his husband with him to Spain.

We have a few pictures here. Look for more on Facebook.

Sabbatical year

Who knew we would need a RAFT to get to Spain?

mk puppets
The mission kids (MKs) after their puppet show at Cross Training.

So we are nearly through with our Cross Training (I always have to think about this so I don’t say Cross Fit) at the headquarters of the One Mission Society in Greenwood, IN. The training has been wonderful and covered a wide range of topics. We have worked through personality types, what behaviors we use when we are stressed, our interpersonal skills, our team styles, physical health, mental health, spiritual warfare, theology, evangelism, church planting practices, and others… phew. And we still have three days to go.

All of the information has been good and helpful in preparing us before going into other cultures and working with missionary teams. One topic that stuck out the most, however, was the concept of “leaving well.” In order to really leave well, we needed to build a RAFT (a great tool from Interaction International). This gave us some helpful things to focus on, and I think it would be helpful to anyone preparing for any form of leaving (a job, a country, even loved ones near death).

Reconciliation — Making sure to take time to extend the hand of peace to anyone that you felt a rift with. This applies to those with whom the rift began several years ago or recently. Even though you may be physically leaving this place, the wounds carried with unreconciled relationships will be a drain and a distraction from afar. Cracks in the heart will become canyons in a new place and environment. Even more important is that forgiveness — true forgiveness — is not optional in the Christian life. Christ forgives us as we forgive others.

Affirmation — Take time to affirm those who have meant something to you. Write a note, make a call, give a hug. Don’t leave without those people knowing that they have been a blessing to you. The encouragement that was poured into you can be returned so that it may be given to others in turn. Another side of affirmation is to notice and encourage gifts that others may either not recognize or have no confidence in. These may be gifts of encouragement, leadership, or potential, which need only to be spotlighted in order to shine.

Farewell — It’s important to have proper time allocated to farewells. Time needs to be taken to allow for closure. It is sometimes awkward but very necessary to give proper farewells. Don’t limit it to people. Places, pets, and things are also things that need to be given a proper farewell. Take pictures, take a moment, make a blessing over it.

Think Destination — In order to really leave well, you have to be preparing for the situation you will be entering with whatever knowledge you have. What are the expectations for the people, culture, or daily life in this new place? Are there hidden expectations? What will happen if those expectations aren’t met?

We took a final trip back to Lexington for the kids (with cousins) to play a big role in Ashley & Elijah's wedding.
We took a final trip back to Lexington for the kids (with cousins) to play a big role in Ashley & Elijah’s wedding.

I’m not a person who loves acronyms. I think it’s maybe that my work uses them ad nauseam. Despite my jaded past, I like this acronym. I think I like it because it is freeing. It’s a first step in freedom from past hurts. It allows for leaving the past location with encouragement to be the best people or group that they/it can be. There’s intentional space for adequate goodbyes. And it encourages you to process the future. I think it’s a tangible guide to making any transition better, whether leaving for missionary work, moving homes, changing jobs, or even for preparing for the end of our earthly lives.

Before we even heard about this concept of ‘leaving well,’ we felt we had done well with the farewells to people and the affirmations. The other concepts we wanted to make sure we considered before we left. The area we lacked the most was encouraging our kids to go through these steps. We had been so excited that they were excited that we didn’t want to draw their attention to things they may find sad or make them focus on the things they were going to miss. How wrong we were! Children have the need to go through the process just like adults. Luckily, we were going to be in Lexington one last time for a family wedding before our flight to Spain. We asked the kids about people or places or things that they felt they needed to say goodbye to before we left. We drove by our house and said a blessing. We played one last time at “the blue park” with one of Ella’s friends from kindergarten. We blessed Ella’s school, the twins’ school, the church, their grandparents’ house, and the Chick-fil-A on Nicholasville Rd. It felt good. The kids were better involved in the process of our family being able to leave Lexington well so that we could fully be free for the service to which God has called our family in Spain.

We’ll be saying our final farewells this weekend in Louisville, and then we’ll be on a plane Sunday night. Please keep us in your prayers for the journey and for those last steps in leaving well.

Sabbatical year

In Emily’s Words — “From A to C (we’re nowhere near Z yet)”

emilyI (Emily) wanted to share a little about the process from when we were thinking about doing this crazy, exciting thing to how it all came about.

The idea of taking a Sabbatical year started after Teddy had done some intense study in the book of Leviticus about 6 years ago. God calls the Israelites to take a Sabbatical year every 7 years. This is a time where no planting or plowing is to be done and for the Israelites to rest (and worry a little) in the fact that they had to trust God for all their needs. There is a higher power in the world besides the work of man’s hands. There were great economic and environmental benefits to this as well. It was the idea of restoring relationships and the earth in a consistent cycle.

Fast forward to 2006 in the Ray household. “We should do this! We have 6 years to think about it and should do it in 2013!” Fast forward to 2012 in the Ray household (four kids later). Wow, those years went fast. Teddy and I had a moment where we had to come to grips with what God had been working in us.

Do we actually do this?

Yes. Yes, we do. Or at least we take some steps to see if we really believe this is something God would have us do.

From there God took us on a great journey. First we decided to contact some people that we knew in missions. Teddy set up a meeting with John Mark, a friend who was in town from the Asia Pacific, where he serves. I made plans to contact a guy that was in my youth group way back when, Patrick. Teddy met with John Mark on a Thursday and had a great talk. John Mark shared about his work with the One Mission Society and, after hearing what we were considering, suggested that Columbia and Ecuador were countries he felt compelled to mention.

The next day our family went to visit my parents, who had just received a postcard from my friend Patrick. The postcard showed that he and his family were with One Mission Society and that the countries where he had done his training and work were Columbia and Ecuador!

We arranged a phone conversation with Patrick and let him know what we were considering. During that conversation he spoke of the Every Community for Christ initiative with OMS and its main principles. The more Patrick shared, the more excited and surprised Teddy and I became. The principles that he was talking about were the same things that we had already felt God drawing us into — things like developing home churches, empowering laity to be pastors to their own communities, and having a tool to teach the basics of the faith to both Christians and people who are interested in learning more about the faith. It seemed like for the last 5 years God had been preparing us for this, and now our eyes were opened to it.

After more conversations with One Mission Society, we were steered in a different direction than Ecuador or Colombia. But those early conversations, before we had even begun telling anyone else we were considering this, were some of our strongest early confirmation that God might be leading us in this direction. He has been so faithful! I can’t wait to share more.