News for prayer for Week of May 16, 2022

Headline News:

Addictions are seeing a rise here in Gipuzkoa. One organization that helps people with addictions saw a ~18% increase in people seeking them for assistance. While alcohol is the largest substance abuse, they say it has stabilized. Cocaine saw the greatest increase for substances people needed help with.

The celebration of first communion is quite large here. For the first time in 2 years they are being celebrated without restrictions. Some 2000 young boys and girls will take part in the ceremonies. Restaurants, dress and suit stores, photographers and hairstylists are reporting a significant increase in use of services for this celebration. The paper reported that families usually spend ~2600€ for the event.

COVID cases were not mentioned in the papers I bought. It seems to be focused currently on the impacts and not so much on the number of cases. I’ll include updates as appropriate moving forward.

Economy:

Amazon has decided not to open a second facility here in Basque Country. This had been in the planning stages for over a year and several businesses were not excited about the facility opening due to the impacts to businesses that could happen. The owner of the facility believes others will be interested in using the space for transportation.

Inflation in the Basque country was reported at 8.4% in April, slightly down from the 9.5% in March. During this time salaries have only increased 1.5%. Questions are being asked on what to do in order to help with the situation. 

The IBEX35 ended last week on a small upward trend closing at 8,338.10,  a 0.19% increase last week.

Political:

The number of ETA prisoners in jails that are in Basque Country or Navarra is currently at 104. While the remaining prisoners are in other parts of Spain (65) and France (29). Most of the moves to bring the ETA prisoners closer to Basque Country have occurred while Sánchez has been the leader of the Government.

The national security agency in Spain continues to make headlines for the installation of spy software on cell phones. New leadership has been installed and they realize the difficult road ahead of them as they try to re-establish confidence in the job needed to be done to protect Spain after the incident. This is also affecting Pedro Sánchez as he looks for how to manage the crisis that happened during his leadership. The judicial system is also reviewing what role it played in the approval given to the agency and sees some faults.

International:

The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to carry a significant portion of international coverage. A few other headlines were: COVID cases starting in North Korea, elections in the United Kingdom and Finland and Sweden requesting to join NATO.

Sports:

Real has won the last two games they played and secured a spot in the Europa League for next year. The team has one game left in the season on Sunday against Atletico Madrid.

GBC is currently in 11th place and in order to qualify for the end of the season playoffs they will need to move up 2 places. They play the 9th place team this weekend, so a chance does exist that they qualify though it requires help to do so.

The women’s handball team Bera Bera won another league title over the weekend. This team has had quite the history over the past 15 years. They have won the league title 8 times and 13 other titles from tournaments. Quite the accomplishment for this club!

Prayer Points and verse for the week:

Prayers points:

  • Addiction Recovery
  • Inflation Impacts
  • Russian Invasion of Ukraine and the wide reaching impacts

The verse for this week was focused on lament, this one seemed to fit well.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!

Psalm 130:1

News for prayer for Week of May 2, 2022

Much appreciation to Jeff for writing an extra news for prayer while we were out for family vacation. Thanks also to Jeff for all the years of writing the newsletter and providing us all with information on how to be in prayer for the Basque people. Wishing you well as you move into the next season of your life after all the years of service here in Basque Country. For the future, my plan is to write these twice a month.

Headline News:
For COVID it’s been a little over two weeks now that masks have been removed from being required indoors. For numbers, it’s hard to share anything as it’s not being reported on any more. The COVID news has almost gone away and it is hard to find much about the current situation.

The president of the Bishop’s council is working to provide protection to health care workers who want to consciously object for reasons of faith to abortions and euthanisims. The bishops produced a document on March 25 that expanded on the theme. The president commented that even in the military it is possible to be able to serve with a conscious objection to carrying a weapon, the same should be the case for healthcare workers. I normally do not read/talk about opinion columns. However I’m including one this time. The title was about the future of faith and the Church (Catholic). The opinion talks about how the area is waiting on a new bishop. In it he talks about waiting patiently for the new bishop and the importance of connecting with the next generation of believers. He talks about the confidence they should have in God to provide the right person to help address these areas and others as the church looks to impact the area. (I’d add in a bit about how you responded to reading this… )

Last weekend was Mother’s day here in Spain. The Sunday paper included several pages highlighting different mothers and the appreciation for them. An article was also written about birthing in Basque Country. 30% of babies born are from mothers outside of Spain, ~40% are born to mothers who are not married and the number of mothers over 40 increased by ~1.5%. They also shared that only ~65% of Basque under the age of 30 want kids, a 17% drop in the last 5 years.

Economy:
In Europe the unemployment numbers are at historic lows after the pandemic. The numbers in Spain however have not been recovering as well, they are also seeing high numbers (high unemployment rates?) for young workers.

This past Sunday the paper had an interview with a leader from the Central European Bank. Three key points from the article were about the current economic crisis and pensions. On the topic of pensions they said it was a political decision, though they have methods to help guarantee the system is sustainable. On the current economic situation, the comments were positive, though tough decisions need to be made to prevent a recession. A positive for Spain is they see it as a stronghold in the current situation versus a burden it had been in the past.

The IBEX35 ended last week on a downward trend closing at 8584.20, a 0.79% drop for last week.

Political:
The leader of the Basque government has not left Spain for almost 3 years. The last trip was in August of 2019, when he traveled to the Vatican. Over the coming months he has plans to visit Japan, Corsica and Paris. An objective of the trip is to discuss political strategy with other international leaders.

In 2016 CNI (National Intelligence Center) for Spain purchased a license for Pegasus. This is software that allows you to spy on smartphones. Two weeks ago it was reported that this software was initially used to spy on Catalonian political leaders. However that was expanded in 2019 until now to include several other people. The CNI is now under investigation and lots of push back on the government about who has been spied on.

International:
The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to carry a large portion of international coverage. Immigration of Ukrainian refugees to Basque Country has been increasing. They are seeing that ~10% of them who came are starting to return home. The last number I’ve seen for immigration was ~3,250 in all of Basque Country. The paper also carried an article about the Roe vs Wade conversation with an article from a New York correspondent that shared a little historical context, current response and potential impacts. There was also a small article talking about the history of Roe vs Wade.

Sports:
Real Sociedad has had a tough stretch the past couple of weeks. Last week they played to a draw, then last night they lost 2-1. They have 3 games left in the season and are currently in 6th place.

GBC has won 2 games and lost 2 games since the last news for prayer. With three games to go the team is trying to move up one place in order to qualify for the playoffs. They are currently 2 points behind.

Real Sociedad women’s team for the first time in its history qualified to play in the Europa League. The team has been playing well over the past couple of years winning tournaments against other women’s teams in Spain. This will put them in the next level to compete against other women’s teams in Europe.

Prayer Points and verse for the week:

Prayers points:
Those looking for employment
Catholic Church Leadership
Russian Invasion of Ukraine and the wide reaching impacts

The verse for this week was from a recent daily verse:

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.
Romans 8:26 NLT

News for prayer for Week of April 4, 2022

Headline News:

New COVID cases are continuing a downward trend. One of the big discussions is when do masks go away for indoor spaces. Initially they were talking they would go away before Holy Week, however today it was communicated that it will be going away on April 20. Places where you will still need to wear one are hospitals, public transportation and assisted living homes. The majority of people who have had the vaccine are reporting very mild symptoms. However, 76% of women who have symptoms are reporting them to be severe.

The truck strike finally ended last Wednesday March 30 after 17 days. One of the changes that happened is the government is providing a 0.20€ rebate on gasoline. This does help, though the cost is currently up over 50%, which has far reaching impacts. Not everyone supported stopping the strike, as the vote was 50 for stopping, 31 to continue and 8 abstained. The traffic in one of the busiest ports here in Gipuzkoa reported that truck traffic returned to normal on April 1, the day after the vote happened.

There was a headline story about the increase in opioid use. In the last 6 years they have seen it double. They believe that between 11% to 17% of the population in Spain has chronic pain. To help with the control of opioid use moving forward they are looking to put additional measures in place given its addictive nature. Another story explained that Gipuzkoa has approved space for the burial of Muslims. They have made adjustments in the laws to accommodate Muslims since they do not use coffins and need to face Mecca. They have been working on this approval since 2018.

Economy:

Bars & Restaurants are having to raise prices due to the increase in the cost of electricity and impacts from the Russian invasion of Ukraine on some items. The owners of restaurants feel they have to increase the prices in order to survive the current environment. The increases are small, 0.10 € on drinks and .50€ on plates, though menus and other material will need to be updated to reflect the change.

The IBEX35 ended last week on an upward trend closing at 8503.70, a 2.08% increase for last week.

Political:

Urkullu, the leader of the Basque autonomous region, has started his talks with the other political parties. These are regular talks he has with all the different political leaders represented in the legislature. He plans on discussing the recent trucker strike, the energy crisis and impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The PP party held its 20th congress to approve new leadership. After the recent departure of its leader Pablo Casado, new leadership was elected. Alberto Nuñez Feijóo was elected with 98.35% of the votes and the other leadership roles in the party were filled. This Thursday April 7, Feijóo will meet with Pedro Sánchez for an initial conversation.

International:

The big item here continues to be the Russian invasion of Ukraine. To date they have seen 1500 to 2000 Ukrainians move into Basque Country. The school system has seen an increase of ~250 students (including a girl in our daughter’s class). Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, gave a speech to the Spanish congress on Tuesday April 5.  During the speech he referenced the current situation to similarities of an attack that happened in 1937 to the Basque town of Guernica. Spain also deported 27 Russian diplomats yesterday for security and Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

French elections for president happen on April 24. Macron, the current leader, has been in power for 5 years. He is currently the favored candidate, though Éric Zemmour, a strong candidate on the extreme right, is making a big push. 

Sports:

Real Sociedad had a special pullout in the paper on Sunday as it was the 1 year anniversary after the team won the Kings cup against Basque Country rival Athletic Bilbao. It was such a special win for the team and city last year. They played Espanyol on Monday April 4 to a 1-0 victory. With that victory the team is in 6th place overall. 

GBC has played two games. The first was against Basquet Girona and was a 88 – 91 loss in overtime. Next they played against Oviedo and it was a 79-77 win. Two very close games the past couple of weeks. They are currently in 11th place overall and play again on Friday against Forca LLeida.

Itzulia is a cycling race that started in the Basque country city of Hondarribia on Monday April 4th and will go for the next 6 days. The race has 23 different teams, even some of the contenders for this year’s Tour de France.

Prayer Points and verse for the week:

Prayers points:

  • Russian Invasion of Ukraine and the wide reaching impacts
  • Truckers Strike
  • COVID-19

The verse for this week was from a recent daily verse:

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.

Psalms 40:1-2 NLT

News for prayer for Week of March 21, 2022

Headline News:

COVID coverage has been greatly reduced. Overall the number was up double compared to last week, though they are not seeing an impact in the hospital system. They are currently saying the increase is from the large gathering of Carnival that happened. The territory map is showing considerably more color, as previously it was all red. It was noted that positives in the residential homes increased 45% in our region. Also they are not planning to provide a fourth dose of the vaccine for those in residential homes or those over 65. Thankfully the number of positives in the workers of those facilities continues to be low.

Last week the Basque Country experienced winds that contained Sahara sand. This resulted in the air quality being very low for a couple of days. Additionally everything was covered in sand particles. Since it’s passed the lines now at the car wash places have increased as people look to have their cars cleaned as even after it rained a thin layer of the Sahara sand was still present.

Economy:

We are now into our second week of the truck driver strike. They are on strike as the price of fuel has increased 50%, without them being able to compensate for the increase. It is also impacting the delivery of fresh fish from the docks, as the ships arrive they are not finding the transportation for the fish to the fish markets or distributors. It is also starting to impact deliveries to the supermarket and the paper is reporting some of them are having shortages of different items.

The living cost for a family has increased ~350€/mnth. That was comparing Feb 2021 to Feb 2022. The largest increase was in the housing category which was impacted due to increase in energy cost. The only category that had a decrease was communication, which was a very small decrease. Inflation for the month of February in Gipuzkoa was reported at 7.1% which is the highest level in 30 years.

The IBEX35 ended last week on an upward trend closing at 8417.60, a 3.38% increase for the week.

Political:

The leaders of all the autonomous regions in Spain gathered last week for the first time in a decade. Pedro Sánchez gathered the leaders so they could talk about the current humanitarian and economic crisis that is happening due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. One key point was how to address the continued increase in energy cost that is affecting everyone. During the week the Spanish government put forward a request to limit the cost of electricity to 180€/Mwh. They also talked about how to help the Ukrainian refugees who will be making Spain their home.

Pedros Sánches also made a visit to Morocco. The visit has not been viewed well by several different parties. This is because of what happened 47 years ago when Spain transferred control of Western Sahara to Morocco. While this was a strategic discussion, it is causing quite a stir politically for him. It seems the United States was putting pressure for him to have the conversations.

In Basque politics, it looks like the education reform will finally be passed. Conversations for changes began in February and it’s been quite an effort to get the reform passed. They believe this is a good pass for the future of the Basque Education system. Though not everyone is in agreement with the direction of the reform as the teacher’s union was calling for a strike on March 25. To date the document has not been published publicly. It will be a couple of weeks before that happens as it works its way through the approval process.

International:

The only story covered in the international section has been the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Last week the leaders of Poland, Scotland and Czech Republic traveled to Kiev. The purpose of the trip was to ensure that Ukraine knows they have the full support of the EU in its effort to defend themselves. A lot of concern existed for the safety of travel given the Russian missile strikes, which is why they chose to travel by train. People in Gipuzkoa have been very generous and last week 5 trucks from the area were driven to Ukraine with donated items. The Basque government is working on a plan on how to help those who will be arriving from Ukraine. They are expecting between 350-700 people, though the number could be more.

Sports:

Real Sociedad played against Sevilla to a 0-0 draw. The team is currently in 6th place overall. They also lost the team captain Mikel Oyarzabel with a knee injury for the rest of the season. The next game is against Espanyol on April 4th.

GBC played against Mallorca Palma to the result of a 85-67 loss. Then they played against Hueseca and lost 68 – 85. Then another loss, 68-74 to Palencia. With the 3 losses the team is now situated in 11th place overall.

The women’s hockey team in San Sebastian won the championship in the Iberdrola Hockey league, for the first time in its history. The team had an incredible regular season winning 17 of 18 games. Then they went on to have victories in semi final and final to win the title. The team has quite the makeup of ages from 16 to 40.

Prayer Points and verse for the week:

Prayers points:

  • Russian Invasion of Ukraine and the wide reaching impacts
  • Truckers Strike
  • COVID-19
  • Education Reform

The verse for this week was from my weekly reading:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”

declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV

News for prayer for Week of March 7, 2022

Headline News:

COVID continues moving in a very positive direction as the overall number of cases continues to be low. With restrictions easing people are returning to activities that they used to do. One of those is going to a Cider house where they eat a meal and drink cider. The Cider houses are seeing a few changes in habits. People want to eat in the afternoons versus evenings/nights and they prefer to eat outside on terrazas versus inside. In the hospital system face to face appointments were very limited during the pandemic. Now with the current state of the pandemic people are able to make in person appointments. Another change is that quarantines for close contacts have been eliminated with or without a vaccine. Lastly they are tentatively talking about a date for the end of masks inside. It looks like it could be either March 21 (start of Spring) or April 11 (start of Holy week and the more likely date).

Tuesday March 8 was international women’s day. The paper had quite the coverage building up to the event. Then in the Wednesday March 9 paper they dedicated the first 7 pages of the paper to the coverage of the event. The focus continues on ensuring that women have the same rights as men. The paper included testimonies from 6 different people where one of them said that equality only exists on paper not in real life. Additionally the Basque Government passed a new law for the equality of women and men and life free of male violence. It includes government monetary assistance for those who have been affected and need economic assistance. It took more than 2 years for this legislation to get approved.

Economy:

The impacts of the Russian invasion in Ukraine on the local economy were starting to be reported on. A study by the Basque government found that 5% of the economy depends on Russia. Additionally they are seeing the impacts on some raw materials and a rise in energy costs due to the cost of oil increasing. They are also starting to limit the purchase of sunflower oil as Spain imports ~20% of it from Ukraine and they are looking to prevent panic buying that happened during COVID. Additionally ~40% of natural gas imported in Basque Country comes via sea from Russia.

I feel like a broken record about the cost of electricity. The thought was the price would stabilize, though with the Russian invasion that has not happened. The costs are beginning to increase and setting records for the maximum for 2022. 

The IBEX35 ended last week on a significant downward trend closing at 7,720.90, a 9.02% drop for the week.

Political:

Juan Carlos I the King emeritus in Spain is back in the headlines as the anti corruption investigation continues. They reported last week that he defrauded the tax authorities between 30 to 56 million euros. Pedro Sánchez believes that he owes the Spanish population an explanation for what he had done. Some are also looking for a way to reform the existing laws that protect the King without touching the constitution. 

Urkullu (PNV) and Andueza (PSE), met to talk about two key items they have not been in agreement on publicly, education reform and autonomy status next steps. They also spoke positively of the collaborative work that exists between the two parties. They cited several different laws that have been passed under the current coalition. The talk for the education reform was timely as also last week results of the academic levels for Basque students were reported on. The results are from 2019 and were the worst seen in the last 10 years. The largest drops were in the areas of science and Basque language, along with lower results in math and English.

International:

The main news item in this section is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Several times the invasion was the headline story, including a very graphic and powerful image showing the impacts of war. The people of Gipuzkoa have responded very positively to supporting the Ukrainians. This has been seen by positively receiving refugees, sending supplies, the Basque leaders speaking against the invasion or families who are already living here driving to pick up family members and return here with them. Basque Country currently has a population of ~3000 Ukranians and that number will be increasing as more arrive.

Sports:

Real Sociedad has played against two LaLiga opponents. The first was Mallorca and was a 2-0 victory. Next they played against Real Madrid, who are currently in 1st place. The result was a 1-4 loss. Overall the team is in 6th place. The next game is Sunday March 13 against Alaves.

GBC has only played 1 game since the last news for prayer. It was against Leyma Coruna with the result being a 62-49 win. The current league standings with the win in 9th place overall. The next game is against Mallorca Palma on Sunday March 13.

Prayer Points and verse for the week:

Prayers points:

  • Russian Invasion of Ukraine and the wide reaching impacts
  • COVID-19
  • Women’s Rights

The verse for this week focused on being a light and I thought this verse was appropriate:

No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

Matthew 5:15 NLT

Intentionality in Ministry

Ever since we moved to the Basque Country, we’ve been very intentional and specific about where we do our shopping, what restaurants we frequent, and how we spend our time. We make a point to talk to the people who work in the stores and restaurants we go to and have even exchanged phone numbers with some of them. They will stop and speak to us in the street and call us by name when we come into their stores and restaurants. The Basque culture is all about relationships and that requires investment. Yes, we could have the newspaper delivered to our home or buy a printer, but then we would miss out on building relationships with the people in the local office store. There are tons of restaurants we haven’t tried out, but then we miss out on being greeted with “Hola familia!!” when we go to the places where they know us and what we like to order.

These investments are starting to pay dividends. Just this week I went into one of these local shops and greeted the woman who works there like always. When I asked her how she was doing, I got the standard “good, thanks”, but she hesitated a bit and then started opening up about how worried she was about the war in Ukraine and the possibility of it turning into a world war. She exclaimed that there were problems all over the world and she was a bundle of nervous energy. I felt a strong sense from God to share the source of my peace with her, so I explained that when we stay focused on worldly events we will stay worried and anxious, but if we focus on God, we can have peace from Him. I told her that the Bible tells us this world is not our home, we’re only here temporarily. She told me that the fact that I was able to find peace during all of this was a “wonder” and was very interested in what I was telling her. 

This interaction would not have happened if she didn’t feel like I was a safe person to share this with, and that only happened after consistently going into her store for over 2 years. Building relationships with people takes time and a lot of effort, but when it gives us the opportunity to be heard when we share about our faith, it’s all worth it. Our prayer is that God will continue to put people in our paths that are open to hearing about this Good News, and that we can be bold in our faith as we talk to them. 

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

-Philippians 4:7

News for prayer for Week of February 21, 2022

Headline News:

The big headline as of late last week is the schism that happened in the PP party. I’ll discuss it in the political section below.

Over the last week COVID cases have continued the downward trend. This is good news considering that our restrictions have been greatly reduced. Night clubs are open and the first large community gatherings are starting to happen. One happened this past Saturday night, called Caldereros here in Donostia. Then tomorrow (Thursday, February 24) Fat Thursday starts the kick off of carnaval in a nearby town of Tolosa.  With the number of cases down significantly normal surgeries have restarted at the hospital.

The trial of a serial sexual predator who assultated women for 7 years in Lasarte-Oria (small town just outside of Donostia) has started. They believe he assaulted at least 10 women. During the trial it was reported that he used chloroform to subdue the women in the attacks. They were able to confirm his identity thanks to DNA.

The sexual abuse that happened in the catholic church continues to be reported on. An independent council of 18 people has been established to review all the cases. The two focuses of the council are to review the previous work done by the dioceses and to establish contact with the victims. The Basque Government made a statement that it condemns what happened and will make available all protocols to hold those responsible for what happened.

Economy:

The cost of inflation for January reported at 6.1% which is down 0.4% compared to December. This was the second straight month that it was above 6%. These levels have not been seen in almost 30 years. Salaries are not expected to match this pace. The expectation for February is to be 7.1%, while the whole year is expected to be 4.6%.

The IBEX35 ended last week on a small upward trend closing at 8,590.00, a 0.01% increase for the week.

Political:

As stated above, the headlines have been focused on the schism that is happening in the PP party, who are considered conservative. The news broke last week after Ayuso (a member of the PP who leads the city of Madrid and has been rising in popularity) made accusations against Casado, the current leader. The accusations are that the leaders in the by PP party were attempting to discredit Ayuso and were investigating irregularities with a purchase made in April of 2020. The purchase in question was done by Ayuso’s brother for 250K FFP2 and FFP3 masks for ~1.5 million euro. One leader has already stepped down and there is a call for Casado to step down as well.

International:

The focus of a majority of the international headlines has been the conflict between Russia – Ukraine and the response of the rest of the world. Easing of some EU border control regarding COVID restrictions starting March 1 was also reported on.

Sports:

Real Sociedad played two games last week. The first was for the Europa League, in which they are in the playoffs of one home game and one away game. The first game was played in Leipzig (Italy) and the result was a 2-2 tie. The next game is at home tomorrow (Thursday, Feb 24). On Sunday it was back to La Liga play in which they played their Basque rival Athletic Bilbao to the result of a 0 – 4 loss. This moves the team to 7th place overall. The next La Liga game is Sunday against Osasuna. 

GBC has played two games since my last update. The first was against Estudiantes which was a 54 – 72 loss. Next they played against in-province rival Juaristi Iraurgi. The result was a 80 – 70 victory. The team is currently in 9th place, last spot for the end of the season playoff. The next game is March 6 against Leyma Coruna.

Prayer Points and verse for the week:

Prayers points:

  • COVID-19 continue downward trend
  • Impacts of inflation
  • Political stability in Spain & the world

The verse for this week focused on peace given all that is going on. I thought this verse fit well:

And the Peace of God, Which Transcends All Understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.

Philippians 4:7

News for prayer for Week of February 7, 2022

The cover page images for the 4 papers last week were the following: Rafa Nadal after winning the Australian open for his 21st Grand Slam, restaurant owner removing the sign about needing COVID-19 passport after the TSJPV ruled against them and results of the Real Sociedad game against Betis. The Sunday front page had two focuses with the top portion focused on the 40th anniversary of Ertzaintza (Basque National Police) and the other was child refugees from Greece and Syria being taken care of in Gipuzkoa.

Headline News:

COVID continues to be in the news as the government attempts to transition to the next phase of the pandemic. The COVID passport had been in effect since December and the government was looking to extend the use of it for a bit longer. However the judicial system did not agree with the further usage & expansion, so last week the need for a COVID passport was removed completely. This was the seventh time the judicial system did not support the recommendations of the government. The government has also started the process of returning 2.5 million euros that were collected from the fines issued during the various State of Alarms that have now been ruled unconstitutional. The numbers for the 6th wave are beginning to trend down, though the map for Gipuzkoa still is showing all red. The demand for home tests continues to be consistent, and is much lower than what was seen in early January.

The catholic church had two headlines. The first was more coverage surrounding the investigations of the abuse that happened in the Church. They highlighted that in February 2019, 4 cases of sexual abuse were reported for Gipuzkoa. For two of the cases, the priests had already passed away, and the other two cases were sent to Rome for further investigation. Another article talked about ~50 cases that have been reported in the last 50 years for Basque Country. The Sunday paper included a two page interview with a Criminal Investigator from the Basque University. It was very direct and talked about several different aspects of the abuse that happened. It also included thoughts about the way forward for the people and the church. Another article had one victim who raised concerns about the current process and he believes that no investigation will happen. The other headline was that the current bishop had his last service on Sunday after being the ArchBishop for 12 years here. The church was at maximum capacity of 60% due to COVID and also had people outside protesting with posters. He will be moving to Alicante.

Economy:

The outlook for 2022 for the Basque economy continues to look good. They are expecting the GDP for the region to be between 4.5% and 6% for 2022. They believe that 5,000 new jobs will be created. They also acknowledged that some sectors are still needing help (Restaurants and tourism) and are looking for solutions as those businesses are still being impacted. Cost of energy was also listed as a concern as that will also impact the profit margins for companies. 

The IBEX35 ended last week on a downward trend closing at 8,589.30, a 0.24% decrease for the week.

Political:

Two big political items were the focus last week. Both were items that were voted on in the Spanish legislature. The first were updates to housing laws, which were passed. It included protection for small home owners, incentives to help keep prices low, options for houses that are vacant and public housing. The measure was passed with the unity from the PSOE and Unidas Podemos parties. The second item was labor reform. For the past several weeks, it’s had at least one article in the paper. Effects from the labor reform impacted several areas: seasonal contracts, unemployment benefits, contracts for young people entering the workforce, among other areas. The measure barely passed with a 175-174 vote count. The headline talks of how a vote that made the decision was cast incorrectly telematically. This vote was from one of the senior leaders in the PP party, who have been vocal about not supporting the measure.

International:

Here are a few headlines from the international section over the week: The main focus was Russian & Ukraine border tension termed here: The ‘New Cold War’. Also included was the Portugal election with the surprise outcome and high voter turnout, the US attack against Hajji Abdullah, and a view from two different EU countries handling the COVID-19 pandemic: Denmark declaring the end versus Austria implementing fines for those unvaccinated.

Sports:

Real Sociedad played two games in the last week. The first was a King’s Cup match in which they played against Betis. The outcome was a 4-0 loss. With the loss that end’s Real’s attempt to win the King’s Cup in 2022. The other game was a LaLiga match where they played against Valencia, with the result being a 0-0 tie. That result left them in 7th place.

GBC had a game against Tau Castellón which was a 69-77 loss. They only scored 5 points during the third period of this game. The next game they played was against Almansa with the result of a 101-78 victory. The paper commented how it was a well played game for the team. The next game was against Real Valladolid, where the team secured another victory with a 85-71 victory. The team is currently in 6th place overall.

The Monday paper had a spotlight on Rafal’s career after his victory at  the Australian open. He is currently number 4 in overall career victories and 5th in the ATP rankings. I noted in the opening paragraph that he has 21 Grand Slam victories, along with a gold medal in the Olympics in both individual and doubles.

Prayer Points and verse for the week:

Prayers points:

  • COVID-19 and it’s continued impacts
  • 2022 Outlook for the Basque Economy
  • Basque and Spanish political leaders
  • Leaders in the catholic church

The verse for this week focused on our paths in life. I thought this verse fit well:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Matthew 7:13-14

News for prayer for Week of January 24, 2022

The cover page images for the 4 papers last week were the following: The mayor presenting the honorary drum for Tamborada, children preparing for Tamborada, children in the street as they were preparing to perform in the Tamborada parade and image from a town showing the family where the last person born was 2017.

Headline News:

From the cover images you can see that Tamborada was a big story last week. While the adult parades were canceled, they still had parades for the children. The children’s parades were held in 5 different parts of the city, with only a small number of schools participating. On Wednesday there was a ceremony to present the different honorary positions for those who were participating in the children’s parade. The attendance was limited and the program much shorter to comply with COVID health requirements. The mayor communicated a message of hope that 2023 would see a return to what the past celebrations looked like. While there was no “official” Tamborrada kick-off at midnight some 300 people gathered in Constitution plaza, which is where it normally officially kicks off, as an impromptu start to the celebrations. 

COVID continues to be a topic across a multitude of areas. One area impacted was the number of people who were unable to work. Over an 18 day period the hospital system communicated that 85,000 people were unable to work. They also shared that in a two week period they had received close to 1 million calls. The number of cases in the residential homes is also higher than the previous waves. In addition residential home workers are also seeing a high number of positives. Youth vaccination as of late last week had only seen about 50% have received one shot. This puts us at the average for the rest of Spain. The director of the Hospital Donostia shared that more than 1000 operations per month are being postponed due to COVID. The hospital workers and supporters had a protest on Sunday as they looked for more support. A large number of them are retiring and currently the investment from the Basque government is below the average when compared to the rest of Europe.

The first 4 pages of the Sunday paper talked about the population drop in Basque Country. The statistics are showing that the national population is decreasing and young people do not have a desire to have children. The government is exploring options to help increase the birth rates as a large percentage of the population is older and nearing retirement.

Economy:

The Bank of Spain has come out making a commitment to have inflation under 2% by the end of the year. At the end of last year inflation was at 6.5%, which was the highest it’s been in almost 30 years. They are planning to follow the lead of the US system as it plans some rate adjustments during the coming year. The risks to the current outlook are geopolitical tension and steady salaries, which includes pension payments.

The Basque Country economy continues its recovery. In November for the first time since COVID started the exports were greater than before the start of the pandemic. The country saw a 22.7% increase in exports in 2021 when compared to the same time frame of Jan through Nov of 2020. Two of the biggest areas that have seen increases are ship building and agricultural and livestock.

The IBEX35 ended last week on a downward trend closing at 8,694.70, a 1.27% decrease for the week.

Political:

The tension between the Spanish and Basque Government is increasing. One reason is the changes to the labor laws and the impact the Basque government may be able to have over them. Another reason was how much was shared out of the EU funds that have been allocated to Spain. The amount shared was considerably less than what was expected based on the initial criteria communicated on for the distribution of those funds.

Spain has the CIS which is the Sociological Research Center and they perform regular surveys in the country. The recent survey for the political climate was released last week. It showed the current political power PSOE gaining 0.5%, PP, the party directly behind them gained 0.7% and VOX gained 0.1%. They also reported that 27.4% of those surveyed had confidence in Pedro Sánchez, while 69.3% said they had little or no confidence in him.

International:

Here are a few headlines from the international section: Boris Johnson’s dealing with accusations over violations of COVID protocol, election of a new leader for European Parliament, which is Roberta Metsola – a 43 year old female from Malta, Russia and Ukraine conflict (Spain has already sent fighter jets to assist) and upcoming elections in Italy.

Sports:

Real Sociedad played Atletico Madrid on January 19 which was the night before Tamborrada started. The team helped start the festivities with a 2-0 win. Though some of the fans got carried away as they impeded the exit of the Atletico Madrid team. The paper had several different interviews about how disappointed various leaders were with this behavior. On Sunday the team returned to LaLiga play where they played against Getafe with the result being a 0-0 tie. That puts them in 6th place overall in LaLiga. The next game is a King’s Cup Game on Feb 3 against Betis.

GBC has played two games since the last news for prayer. The first was against Prat which resulted in a 81 – 70 victory. This was the first game played at home since December 12, as such it was an important win for the team. The next game was against Castellón. It was a 69-77 loss. The team is currently 7th place overall. The next game is on Sunday against Alma.

In July of 2023 the Tour de France will spend the first three stages in Basque Country. The first is in Bilbao, second is a ride from Vitoria to Donostia and finally Amorebieta to Baiona. It is the second time for the city of Donostia to host the race. The route plans are being discussed and will include several different points in the region.

Prayer Points and verse for the week:

Prayers points:

  • COVID-19 and its continued impacts
  • Interactions between the Spanish and Basque Government
  • Basque population struggles

The verse for this week centered on moving forward as we continue to navigate our way through the pandemic. This verse spoke to me as I looked through different ones.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Who Causes my Problems?

It was my first outing after a particularly severe case of strep throat during our first year in the Basque Country.

I was getting my hair cut and I was talking with the stylist about all of the unknowns surrounding the current restrictions due to Covid and school for the girls, the seeming impossibility of making any sort of future plans, etc. In a culture where traditions and familiarity are deeply grounded, uncertainty breeds a whole new level of anxiety. She told me there is a common saying here: “Dios aprieta pero no ahoga”. Literal translation is “God squeezes but doesn’t choke”. She went on to explain that it means that even though there are many problems, God will not make it so severe that it kills us. This woman is not a Christian, but was sharing this phrase that she grew up hearing. I felt a strong stirring from God that I needed to respond somehow, even though this woman speaks very little English and I still couldn’t think straight due to just getting over strep throat, much less in Spanish. I told her that I believed God is always with us and helps us when we have problems, but God is not the one CAUSING the problems like the saying suggests. She seemed to be open to that idea (Thank you God for using me when I feel like I can’t be used!!), and we continued talking about other topics, but I couldn’t quit thinking about it. How do we share about a loving, trustworthy, gracious God when one of the underlying cultural beliefs is that God is the one causing their problems? The layers of culture are so important to understand in order to effectively do any sort of ministry. 

The culture in the Basque Country is an interesting mix of guilt, shame, and fear. When you share with a Basque person that something difficult has happened like an injury or illness, the typical response is “Que mala suerte!”, which means “What bad luck!”. Cultural norms here will tell you that things generally happen based on luck, or sometimes karma. It’s not uncommon for people to have cultural symbols of good luck near their front doors, along with a witch to protect them, and maybe even a cross somewhere in their house, just in case. Knowing all of this, how should one go about sharing the good news? Where does the God of the Bible fit into their narrative?

We share our personal testimony, but that often leads to them responding with “that’s good for you, but has nothing to do with me”. They don’t see any relevance for them.

We have honest discussions (AFTER listening carefully, addressing misconceptions and/or answering questions) – they are often very open to intellectual conversations/debate. What we have to do is to listen and have conversation without coming across like we’re arguing with them.

What if it’s true? This is a great question that encourages them to consider the possible implications of what we are sharing with them.

Our goal is to point them towards the God who entered the world to save them. This God is not the one causing the problems, though He can and often does use those problems, along with the lessons learned in dealing with them, in order to further His kingdom. The God of the Bible walks alongside us as we face these problems, and wants to walk alongside the Basque people as well. Will you pray with us that they would accept Him?

News for prayer for Week of January 10, 2022

The cover page images for the 4 papers last week were the following: Results of the Real Soccer Game against Alavés and Celta, the start to sales season and the winning numbers for a lottery drawing.

Headline News:
COVID continues to be the main story for this region. COVID passport’s are required to enter restaurants, concerts and movie theaters. The responsibility is on the owners to perform the check. One day the paper shared that compliance was very low as they entered several different restaurants and only had 1 ask them for the passport. School also restarted after the Christmas/New Years/Three Kings holidays. As they started 11,000 students and 100s of teachers/staff were confined. The restrictions for what happens in classrooms continue to be revised. The Sunday paper broke down data from each of the 6 different waves, which was interesting to see. One data point to note is that the 6th wave has more positive cases than the 3rd, 4th and 5th waves combined. An interview with a local Psychologist discussed the many different mental affects the pandemic has/is having on people. Last week also saw the cancellation announcement of Tamborrada, a city wide celebration for San Sebastian, for the second year. The mayor communicated that it was a very difficult decision to make, though with the current situation it made sense for them to cancel as they believe it would be difficult to maintain the health protocols currently in place during the celebration.

The Bilbao diocese has opened 5 different investigations after a report that was released by ‘El País’ concerning the abuse of minors, who had collected ~250 reports for Spain. They have set up a commission consisting of 5 different people.  They will start by reviewing all the information that is currently available. Some of the incidents have only a little bit of information and a request was made for people to come forward. The diocese wants the truth to be known and ensure that the situations are addressed.

Economy:
Economic growth for the Basque region is currently projected to be higher than it was at pre-pandemic levels. The lowest levels in the pandemic were seen in the second quarter of 2020 at -19.9% and the highest was at 18.6%, which happened in the second quarter of 2021. The current government projects growth to be 6.7% for 2022. The result would be a ~700 million € increase from 2021 and be a record for the region. Energy cost, material shortages and inflation are areas that may impact the growth of the economy. Additionally the unemployment numbers have returned to better than before the pandemic. Those who are currently unemployed are finding it difficult to find a job.

The passing of José María Baztarrica, leader of the CAF (Construction & Other Railway Service) from 1995 to 2015 and his impact was remembered last week. Under his leadership the CAF grew considerably. When he started the company was heavily dependent on Renfe, the train system operated by the Spanish government. He led them to become more international where they had 90 projects in 35 different countries. This growth added several new jobs and a rise in exports for the Basque Country.
The IBEX35 ended last week on an upward trend closing at 8,751.80, a 0.44% increase for the week.

Political:
After the July 2020 elections and a coalition formed between PNV and PSE resulting in a majority, it was believed that legislation would move quickly. However that has not been the case. Thus far they have approved 4 laws and 15 projects. They still have 17 projects initially identified and several laws under consideration. They are hoping that during the next session they will be able to address more given the majority that is in place.

This past Saturday a protest in Donostia and Bilbao called for the return of all the ETA prisoners to Basque Country without exception or delay. Leaders for this movement pointed to the fact that ETA ceased activity 10 years ago and how Spain has not taken a closer look at what happened under Franco. After the protest one of the political parties, PNV, announced that it would no longer be supporting this movement going forward. Before this protest, the leader of the Association of Terrorist Victims made a request to the Basque Government to prohibit such activity or the celebration when ETA prisoners are released. In the request they pointed to existing laws that would support the request. Later this month, they are also planning a meeting to discuss what else should be done to help those who are victims of terrorism. An article also shared how victims of ETA are asking that the violence that happened be condemned so that a path can be made to move forward.

International:
Here are a few of the headlines/themes for news outside of Spain: Russia/Ukraine border concerns, US Capitol incident 1 year later and the upcoming presidential election in France.

Sports:
Real Sociedad played against Celta Vago this past Saturday. The result was a 1-0 victory. The next game is against Atletico Madrid on January 19 and is part of the King’s Cup. In La Liga the team is currently in 5th place. Currently they are 1 point away from being in the top 4 which would qualify them for the Champions Cup.

GBC was scheduled to play Iraurgi S this past Sunday, however due to COVID cases the game was postponed. The next game is scheduled for January 15 against Prat Joventut. The team is currently in 7th place overall, which would qualify them for the end of the season tournament.
Prayer Points and verse for the week:

Prayers points:

  • COVID-19 (omicron) and it’s impact
  • ETA victims & prisoners
  • Catholic church as it proceeds through the investigations

The verse for this week centered on light. The following verse carried the message well:When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 8:12