Thursday: Greetings in our Lord Jesus! Today I am launching on the longest trip I’ve ever taken—a total of nearly 3 weeks. Here’s how it happened. I planned a trip to Spain, which was designed for 12 days including travel. That’s about my max. Then, an invitation to Siberia came along. The only feasible way to make it happen was to go directly from Spain to Russia. After prayer, I decided to say yes to Russia. So a week in Russia means the whole trip will involve 18-19 days. This is the first time in memory that I have strategized the laundry I will need to do half-way through in Spain in order to refresh my clothes for the second leg of the journey.
This is my second visit to Spain, and my host is the same American missionary who hosted me on my previous visit. His name is John Mark Hill and he’s based in Santander. He is good friends with my friend, Penn Clark, and after he had brought Penn to Spain for a few events, Penn suggested that I join them for a conference. That’s how the last event came together. And now that we know one another, John Mark has invited my return.
When I first arrive in Madrid, however, I will begin with another ministry. Elliott Tepper leads a ministry in Madrid called Betel, a ministry that primarily targets drug addicts. Elliott is a grad from Elim Bible Institute in NY, as am I. When he went to Spain as a missionary, his initial plan for ministry went belly up. In desperation to know what to do next, somehow he began to minister to addicts. And that had the spark of God upon it. Today, Betel is one of the strongest Protestant ministries in Spain, and has bases in 20-some nations I believe. While Elliott is still pastor of the Madrid base, he spends much of his time traveling the world to strengthen the various Bethels all over the world. It’s a ministry that bears some resemblance to Teen Challenge, but also with some differences. The main difference being, they provide their program graduates with jobs, and thus establish communities comprised largely of ex-addicts who are walking in victory and finding success in the marketplace. This strategy has made their base in Madrid one of the strongest churches in all of Spain, with something like 600 adults in the community.
Last year I ministered at a conference in Monterrey, Mexico, where Elliott was also ministering. He happened to be in Mexico visiting the various Betel bases in that nation. It was our first time to really connect on a personal level, and he expressed an interest in hosting me in Spain. When the trip with John Mark Hill came together, I contacted Elliott and he seemed eager for me to make a stop at Betel. So I’m starting the time in Spain by ministering at Betel this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Friday night is for the Betel community, Saturday night is being presented as a night for the churches of the region to join us, and then Sunday morning is the regular weekend meeting.
Also joining us on this trip are Chris & Joan Wood, pastors of Zion Fellowship in Canandaigua NY (where we pastored before them). Chris and Joan live in close proximity to Penn Clark, and when the Spain trip came together, Penn asked if they might want to join us. And they did! It’s my impression that Chris & Joan will be with me at Betel this weekend. Then on Monday we will be collected by John Mark Hill and Penn Clark, and will go from there to two other cities in Spain during the next week—Lugo and Santander. Those events will be more conference-like, meaning there will be multiple sessions each day, which means that all of us will have turns at speaking.
Friday midnight: I felt drawn of the Lord to speak on envy, and the Lord helped us. At the close, around 25-30 folks came forward to indicate their response to the Lord. With great sincerity. I think it was a good launch to the weekend. I think we got the sound system conquered, so Elliott is able to translate for me effectively.
Betel keeps track of how many sign into their program, even if they stay for only a minute. Since inception, 250,000 have come through their doors in Spain. Elliott says most churches in Spain have someone who’s come through their doors.
According to Elliott, Spain “cures” its heroin addicts by giving them methadone—which is actually far more addictive than heroin. Heroin turns people into thugs who rob and steal exorbitant amounts every year to maintain their habit. With methadone, people are peaceful. And rendered incapable of functioning. But it’s cheaper to give them daily methadone and free housing, than to have them stealing to support a heroin addiction. In the 80s and 90s addicts flocked to Betel, searching for help. I understand the amount of traffic to Betel has slowed, now that the government is doping the people with methadone. But Betel’s international reach continues to enlarge.
Saturday 5:30 pm: We’re back from a tourist outing, something I rarely do on a ministry trip. Our host Elliott took me and the Wood’s to downtown Madrid "for lunch". I didn’t realize it, but in the process he had plans to show us around the old city. And he didn’t realize it, but it happened to be a “flag day” in Spain today, and the downtown was crawling with people. Elliott is an excellent tour guide, so we got to see and learn about some amazing sights. And had lunch in what is claimed to be the oldest restaurant in the world (http://www.botin.es/en). Opened in the 1700s, it has been in business ever since (I think perhaps it’s no longer operated by the original owners). And my, was their food delightfully flavored! Salad and roast chicken. A real treat. A hint to the wise: When in Spain, eat the olives. And the cheese.
Saturday 10:30 pm: Tonight I spoke on worship, and the group responded eagerly to the message. During the message itself they seemed rather impassive and hard to read, but at the close when I invited a response, the entire altar area filled with folks, and they were eager to give their hearts to the Lord. The worship team went for it, and we had a marvelous, prolonged time of ministry to God’s saints and to the Lord. Very sweet. Now we’re sitting down to our dinner.
Sunday 7:00 pm: This morning’s service started at 11:30, but by the time the service actually got launched, it was edging toward noon. Excellent spirit in worship. The Lord enabled me to preach on Heb 12, and again the altar filled with folks eager to respond to the word. The people are reserved in their facial responses while I’m preaching, but they have ways of showing an eager spirit after the message is finished. Although they speak the same language and although there’s a lot of traffic flow between the two places, the latinos of Mexico and S. America are quite a different people group from the Spaniards, in terms of temperament and social manner. Spaniards are more reserved. Something I was able to identify on this trip is that when it comes to Spain and Mexico, the baby now parents the mother. What I mean is, Spain is the natural parent of Mexico, but Mexico is now the spiritual parent to Spain. Spain imports much of the spiritual fervor of Mexico and the Americas in order to find fresh faith and fervency. Which is wonderful.
After the service, we were taken for a 30-minute car ride to one of the properties Betel owns (Betel is based on around 450 properties worldwide, owning around 50 of those, the home base being just one of those properties). This place is a palatial home that Betel was able to purchase for an excellent price when real estate prices bombed. It now houses around 12-15 men who are in Betel’s program as well as two families (the complex has 2 separate 3-bedroom apartments) who bring spiritual oversight I think. When you consider only the real estate that Betel holds, you realize the amazing reach of this ministry. It has been such a delight and honor to be with them and partner with them in ministry this weekend.
Next up: John Hill and Penn Clark arrive here around 1:00 pm on Monday (after a 3-hour drive to get here), and after collecting us will take us an additional 5-6 hours of driving, until we arrive in Lugo, Spain. Meetings will start on Tuesday, and I think will run Tues to Thurs. I do not know the schedule of meetings at all, nor do I know if we’re all speaking at one location or if we’ll be divied up to go to different churches simultaneously (I think the latter is quite possible). So the rest of our week here in Spain will be a bit of an adventure as we discover what will happen. The plans may be rather fluid and spontaneous, I don’t know. John and Penn are tremendous brothers, and already I’m looking forward to our times together.