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A Spanish Pastor Looks at Spain Today

Category Articles
Date August 15, 2000

As I write these lines a series of violent riots have taken place in the south of Spain after a girl was murdered by a North African immigrant who tried to steal her money. Hundreds of people thought it was time to take some revenge. They destroyed the slums where all these workers from the Magreb live. Many have been beaten by the mobs and some policemen have also been injured in this explosion of xenophobia. This is only the last of a number of incidents which show the problems Spanish people still have in accepting the reality of the new multicultural character of our society.

Like most European countries, Spain has a very low birth rate now. Our population is growing older and the future of our land could be a peculiar combination of an elderly Spanish population and young foreign immigrants. It seems there is no other possibility for the future of our economy and social welfare system. This is the conclusion of the Spanish Parliament in its recent decision to pass a new law to allow thousands of illegal immigrants to obtain residence permits in this country. But where do these people come from?

There were about seven hundred thousand foreigners with legal residence in Spain at the beginning of last year, but there are two hundred thousand more who have come from other countries in an irregular way. Most of those immigrants come from Morocco, but the second foreign community living in this country is Latin American, about 130,000. Most of them from Peru, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. The last problems in Ecuador have brought a good number of people from that country too. The rest come from Asiatic countries like China and the Philippines, Eastern European nations, and Central and South Africa.

This new law will allow many more immigrants to come with temporary residence permission to do the jobs the Spanish people don’t want to do. About 48 percent of them are women, 66 % in the case of the Latin Americans. They are doing domestic work in private homes. The men are working in agriculture and building construction. Others work in the hotel industry, but they have all left their families in their own countries to work day and nigh in order to send some money back home.

Latin American Missionaries

Spain is full of Latin American people. Most of them speak Spanish, but with different expressions to the ones we use. Some normal Latin American words are bad ones in Spain, and the other way round. So you have to be careful what you say. For some years now I have been writing Daily Bible Reading Notes for Scripture Union, which have been published in Spain and different Latin American countries. I always have a vocabulary of the words I should not use close to my Bible and commentaries. It is true what someone said once that we are people separated by the same language.

Many Latin Americans are Evangelicals, mostly related to Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. Maybe you don’t know that every year there are more Latin American missionaries coming to Spain. They are supported by churches full of poor people and most of them have many financial problems. Some of them have to be helped by Spanish churches because they do not receive enough support. They come full of zeal to spread the gospel in our country, but with very few financial resources. However, the main problem they have is that they are used to a situation in Latin America where you can very easily start a group and meet other people with spiritual interest. And the truth is that Spanish people are generally indifferent to religion Most of them would say they are Roman Catholic, but they would not even attend Mass.

Many Latin American missionaries have returned to their home countries disappointed with the lack of results they have experienced in their work here. Some of them had serious problems with Spanish churches because they thought we lacked evangelistic vision. They are now in some cities working with Latin American people, but I have met a number of them who are doing a very difficult pioneer work with Spanish people in small villages across the country. A series of meetings was started recently to give orientation to these missionaries. I have been asked to help them with Biblical expositions and a series of lectures to introduce them to the Spanish situation. I explain to them about our culture, history and religion.

Last year we met in the mountains near Madrid and this year we were together again in May in Torremolinos, Malaga. There are not many coming, but some have shown an interest in attending future conferences. We are also offering them a booklet we have published in the Spanish Evangelical Alliance, about the problem of missionary adaptation or integration in our context. It has been available in English for some years, but now it has also been translated into Spanish. It includes some practical comments and a complete bibliography for anyone interested in doing missionary work in this country.

A new challenge for the Church

Our small congregation in Madrid first came in contact with immigrants when Fidel Castro started to allow Cubans to leave the island through Spain. Many of them came to our services and we helped them with food and clothes; at the same time they had the opportunity to hear the gospel. Most of them were waiting to get a visa to go to the United States, but some remained in Madrid and became Spanish citizens. Cuban people were easily accepted into our society. After all it was our last colony up until 1898. Most of us have someone in the family who had lived in Cuba. There is still much Spanish business done on the island. Most of the hotels in Cuba are Spanish property, and many people from this country visit the island every summer.

The relationship with Morocco, however, has always been very different. We had colonies there too and there were also wars in Africa, as in Cuba, but the Islamic culture seems to have been an important barrier for our Roman Catholic society. We see a million North African people crossing our country every summer to visit their families in the Magreb. Christians from different countries are now witnessing to them and helping them in a practical ways with food and Bibles, but there are now about four hundred thousand Muslims living in Spain who have not yet been reached with the gospel.

There is a great missionary need in Islamic countries but every year we have more Muslims living as our neighbours in our European countries. One of the biggest challenges for the Church on this Continent is going to be not so much the material help these people need, which they are already receiving from the state and many charities, but the spiritual need of all these religious people in our secular society which they think is Christian. They are lost without Christ, but how can we tell them?

We have problem of communication. There are language and culture differences. Very few of us can speak Arabic and understand their customs, but the situation could change soon because most of those immigrants are now learning Spanish and losing their traditional ties. We need to be ready to preach the gospel to our Muslim neighbours.

Jose de Segovia

From the ‘Vision of Europe’ July-September 2000, European Missionary Fellowship, with permission

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