What we’re learning about building trust in a wounded place
Bzzz. Bzzz. The dog barked her warning that someone was at the door. It was just about 10 at night—acceptable here in our host country where many are eating dinner at this hour. Because I was already getting ready to end the day, my husband ran down the stairs to answer.
After a few minutes, I hear the door close, and Marvin is back with a small cup in his hand which is decorated with pretty wrapping paper and holds six homemade peanut-brittle lollipops. He tells me that the neighbour lady has just arrived back from her pueblo (town) and reciprocated our offering of Valentine cookies from last week. The lollipops were brought in from her hometown in honour of their patron saint. If this were an isolated occurrence, and we did not live here very long, we might consider this to be in line with our own customs and expectations. In our passport country, when friends invite us for dinner it would be normal that those friends would soon enough be seated at our family table as our guests because we are friends.
A preamble to the gift
Our family has lived in the same house for five years; even so, we’re still working to gain trust from people in our neighborhood. When we give our neighbours cookies, breads or cakes, they usually accept them with ease. This has not always been the case, and still I preamble the offering with how, in our country, we enjoy giving away baked goodies as a token of friendship.
Sometimes I am greeted at the door with a slight frown or furrowed brow revealing a silent question: Who are you and what do you want with me? It is an unseen but real trademark of Spanish hospitality for trust’s foundation to be deep and wide before expectations match. Coffee time, lunch dates or play time happen frequently and joyfully outside while vulnerability is reserved for intimate hosting in our home; only the closest, most trusted friends see our masks removed. However, as in any culture, a smile goes a long way and I readily explain who I am and how I’d love for them to receive this small gift from us.
A gift is not earned; it is given because of grace.
Grace is unmerited favour
What is grace? According to Bible Study Tools website, “the word ‘grace’ in biblical parlance can, like forgiveness, repentance, regeneration, and salvation, mean something as broad as describing the whole of God’s activity toward man or as narrow as describing one segment of that activity. An accurate, common definition describes grace as the unmerited favor of God toward man. In the Old Testament, the term that most often is translated ‘grace,’ is hen [ej]; in the New Testament, it is charis [cavri”]” (https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/grace/).
It has a simple definition, but the ramifications are profound. The fact that we are breathing in and out today is unmerited favour from our God. The fact the sun came up and the sun went down is unmerited favour from our God. Rain falls on both the righteous and the wicked—an unmerited act of favour from our God. Jesus dying on the cross, then resurrecting to victorious life to purchase our freedom, is the most significant act of grace we can name.
Cultural challenges to comprehend
We have lived in the beautiful country of Spain for over a decade and still we learn something new almost every month. In preparation for our move, it was explained to us how the incredible history of battles, betrayals and gross hypocrisies gave way to a buildup of mistrust among its people. Boasting grand imperialism and divine blessing, monarchies abused power while the hope of millions dissipated like a mist and left a chill that seeped into later generations. We could count on hard soil, a graveyard of sorts in which many fellow workers had abandoned their fields after years of attempting to plow cement with a fork. As foreign workers we could expect envy and disbelief; later, we’d receive knowing looks which said, “We’ve done that before and it didn’t produce anything.”
The seeds of doubt and disillusionment had fallen on soil sustained by the Word—fellow believers we came to love and respect. We saw this sense of gloom in our first year when our church planned to participate in an evangelistic outreach. In their minds, pedestrians were expected to ignore us, reducing our efforts to a seemingly hopeless activity.
On the western side of Spain, our friends experienced burnout after energetically serving nearly ten years; they are now relocated in a new ministry area, diligent in their faithful obedience. Back in our agency training rooms, we thought, could this all be true? No stark reality was left unsaid, no stone unturned as to what lay ahead as plans finalized for our new assignment.
We personally know people torn apart in their childhood by severe immoral acts of disgrace affecting their ability to comprehend a God of grace and mercy. Betrayed by men and women who vowed to follow a code of divine authority but willfully denied their consciences a rebuke of their horrid actions.
In a wonderful park, beneath layers of concrete and dirt, lie scattered ashes of those burned to death for believing that Jesus brings transformation, that faith and baptism are by understanding that Jesus saves. We have walked the cobblestones where embittered family treason resulted in centuries of unresolved conflict, just barely out of sight today. A repetition of half-truths still saturates the airwaves within the spired cathedrals corresponding to the gilded wood, metal and stone seen throughout Spain. Thinly veiled are the centuries of bondage to idolatry in spirit and action, defiant to the God of truth and grace.
Yet Jesus remains our treasure
We’ve prevailed through particular sorrows and the highest of joys while sojourning here and we reflect on where God’s grace has fallen on us.
We remember “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:7–10, 16–18). Jesus is our treasure, and he lives to intercede for us, to be our life and hope—and our bodies carry this testament as a letter that breathes.
Grace allows us to receive and give freely
Many years ago, we made a special order from friends in Canada to send us mint flavored candy canes to add into prepared little baggies for strangers and friends alike. During the Christmas season, hearts are softened, eyes are bright with the anticipation of gifts and treats. It appears that almost every child and adult longs for hope in the Christ child’s birth.
A group took to the streets while others stayed behind to pray for the simple act of sharing the gospel story through a piece of candy. On the street, small hands eagerly accepted the baggies while some older hands were closed, brushing off any desire to hear or read any Christmas greetings. A few asked how much they had to pay; eyebrows shot up when we said, “It’s free. A small gift for you.” Finally, an older gentleman took a baggie then beckoned Marvin to a nearby storefront entrance where his key unlocked the door. He grabbed a handful of his own candy, stuffed it into Marvin’s hand and walked away. He’d paid back in full what he’d been gifted.
A sense of indebtedness itches like a bad rash, and it must be alleviated by matching that which was given. It’s not a problem if someone owes you—your aim is freedom from being beholden to anyone. In our experience, becoming unhinged from this sense of obligation happens when Christ becomes Lord. There is a night and day difference between those who live freely in the kingdom of God and those who are yet on the fringes of God’s family.
The disciplines of grace are widely seen in our Spanish family: a collection of singles, families and couples who have embraced us during our years of learning their culture—their language of love. They are born again believers who have drawn from the well of living water and are living in light of the resurrection. The power of God’s grace in their lives enables them to give freely, not expecting anything in return. Coming from a culture of intense mistrust, where you live out your faith often in a solitary community because you are the only Christian and hiding behind an “I’m good, you’re good” veneer, it’s clear to see the transformation Jesus accomplishes.
In Spain, we want to learn how to be better “be-ers” and not only “do-ers” since being the difference seems to open pathways to further communication. We want to model what being a Christian is like when so much of what’s been shown is fraud. We, who have been saved by God’s grace, can and should be reflectors of his kindness. “That the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:10).
Living in light of Resurrection Sunday will look slightly different for each of us depending on where God has placed us. In our neighbourhood, folks are not eager to stop and chat more than just about the weather or simple family news. Our connecting with them will be intentional: more goodies, being vulnerable, asking about the ailing family member and, at the very least, a smile with our “Hola!” Smiles can go a long way to show unmerited favour.
Heidi and husband, Marvin, currently serve with Avant Ministries/EMC in Spain. Heidi volunteers in the front office at a small school where there are mostly TCKs (Third Culture Kids) and loves the community there. Heidi’s great joy is being a wife and mother, relaxing while reading and learning more about God in her surroundings.