June 18-July 6, 2009 John and Jan Oakes
Teaching Trip to Madrid and Berlin
Madrid and Spain June 19-July 1
I am blessed to be able to travel with my wife Jan. Part of the purpose of the trip is to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Our first stop is Madrid. Here we are met by Suzana Galaz and Autumn, a student from Boston. We are staying with Aliza who is from Barbados. It is quite hot here. The first day it is around 93 oF. Madrid is a very modern city of about 6 million. It is at the same time quite European, and uniquely Spanish. The city is quite compact, being relatively small for such a population. It is a city of coffee shops and tapas bars and many places for people to be together out in public.
The church we visited in Madrid has about 50 members and no full time paid leadership. The main leaders are Juan Zaragosa and his wife Olga as well as Carlos Vargas, who is engaged to Carla from Cuernavaca, Mexico. The church is a mixture of Spanish converts with a major sprinkling of Latinos. The Spanish and Latino group normally meet separately "in order to help the evangelism." On our first night I go to a fiesta to raise money for the baseball league which is run by church members. This is an extremely effective evangelistic tool. The church here is quite evangelistic. I am very encouraged by this. They have grown from 25 in 2004 to 50 members now, and they just planted a church in Barcelona. Plans are to plant a church within the next year in Malaga (the largest and fastest growing city in the South) This church has a lot of vision. They are starting an entire baseball outreach program through their league, with big plans to teach baseball to kids in Madrid schools. Every activity is geared around evangelism, and they have several studies going from this.
We spent time sharing our faith on the streets of the city, after which we visited the Royal Palace, the Madrid Opera and the spectacular Prado Museum. From there I taught a class on world religions and the Christian world view for a number of members of the church here. There were many questions, especially about Christian theology. Spain is, on paper a principally Roman Catholic country, but the reality is that most people are very skeptical of religion in general, tending to be agnostic or atheist. There is a need to learn how to reach out to those who have little if any background in believing in God. The next day was Sunday and we met with the Madrid church. I taught a class on Naturalism, Postmodernism and Christian World View for about 45-mainly the church members, followed by a lesson as part of the worship service on God and Science. There were several guests. We had a wonderful time fellowshipping with our new friends, including Carlos, Carla, Juan and Olga Zaragoza. The church here is so friendly and has such a great vision for being used by God.
We spent the next six days touring Spain as part of our anniversary celebration. The tour included Toledo, Granada, Torremolinos, Gibraltar, Jerez, Sevilla and Cordoba. We had a fantastic time visiting these cities with so much history, architecture and culture. Highlights included the al Hambra in Granada and the mosque in Cordoba. Everywhere in southern Spain one finds a blend of Roman, Visigoth, Moorish and Christian architecture and religious buildings. There are charming castles and churches in every little town. In the old section of Granada and Sevilla we visited the old Moorish and Jewish Quarters, with their labyrinthine maze of unbelievably narrow streets and wonderful architecture everywhere. The houses all have wonderful balconies overlooking the streets. In Seville we saw an amazing display of Flamenco dancing.
After the tour we returned to Madrid. We had dinner near the Plaza Major with many from the church. The dinner included sardines, blood sausage and pig ears-a bit controversial for an American. The next day, Sunday, was our last meeting with the church in Madrid. Jan taught a class in Spanish for twenty women on Christian forgiveness. I gave a sermon titled Jesus: Man, Myth or Messiah? for the church. Juan Zaragoza is a fantastic interpreter. My Spanish is still not up to teaching without translation, but being able to teach in Spanish is a goal.
Leaving Madrid, we spend two days in Santiago de Compostela, the ancient city of pilgrimage in Galicia in northwest Spain. This region is very wet and green. Santiago has a beautiful cathedral and wonderful architecture, streets and food. A different dialect of Spanish known as Gallego is spoken here. This is the home of Jan’s ancestors in Spain. We returned to Madrid to fly to Munich where we spent two days with our good family friends Helga and Herbert Streibel in the fantastically gorgeous area of Tegernsee in the foothills of the Alps.
From there we took a train to Berlin to visit with and teach for the Church of Christ in Berlin. We were met by my good friend Andreas Weber and Sebastian. Thirty minutes after being met at the train station I was already speaking at Berlin Technical University on God and Science. There were over one hundred in attendance, including about fifty guests. The questions were unusually penetrating, reminding us that Germany is a country of deep thinkers. The great majority are very skeptical of religion in general. There are about fifteen students from the Boston Church of Christ here spending six weeks evangelizing on campus to build up the campus ministry. The church in Berlin is about one hundred and fifty members, but the campus group has become quite small so the help from the American students has really been a boost.
Berlin is a unique city, being composed of former West Berlin which was an enclave of democracy for over forty years after World War II, and the former East Berlin, which was a rather depressing place for those years, with its drab apartment buildings. Much is changed here since the wall came down and Berlin has become the capital of united Germany again. While here we visited the memorial to the Jewish and Roma holocaust. It was inspiring to see the Brandenburg Gate, the Pergamum Museum and the beautiful avenue Unter den Linden.
I taught a class on Christian World View for the campus group on Saturday. This is particularly needful here because the vast majority of youth have virtually no concept of real Christianity or the idea of God or scriptural authority. Germany may be the home of the Reformation, but it has become a home of atheism. In order to share Jesus, we must understanding the philosophical and practical mindset of people and start by contacting people where they live intellectually. The students had many questions and even doubts which have come up because of their exposure to so much skepticism. Perhaps a basic talk about Christian theology was what they needed. Saturday evening was July 4th. Of course, Jan and I had completely forgotten about this completely American holiday. We had a barbecue, including a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
Sunday we were able to meet with the Berlin church. I spoke on From Shadow to Reality to about two hundred. The church was very encouraged. We could feel that the faith of many was really encouraged. Of course, this is why we came here-to make friends and encourage the faith of many. We toured the city with our good friend Katja Perkoski. Tomorrow we head home, tired but encouraged.
John and Jan Oakes