News for prayer for Week of September 19, 2022

Headline News:

Non-government organizations are seeing a decline in volunteers, especially in young people. Most of the new volunteers are those over 30. The last study of people that volunteered or helped socially was from 2017, with 14% of the general population participating. That was ~6% higher than when the study was done in 2012. The smaller organizations are really feeling the effects, while the larger organizations (Red Cross & Cáritas) seem to be stable.

Last time I talked about people feeling a pinch while in group settings, like a shot being injected into the body. The government reported that ~120 cases were reported. A majority of those occurred with women, though a small number was seen against men. Thankfully the blood analysis did not show any form of toxic substances. The government is still investigating several reports of assault from the summer.

The sexual abuse that happened in the Spanish Catholic church is getting some coverage. One case was escalated to the Vatican and the Pope pressed for reopening the case. The request was approved and the judicial system is once again going to look at the case. They are also continuing the investigation of the 201 cases that were reported. A committee of 17 members met with them and those results are being reviewed for next steps.

Economy:

The cost of living continued to be highlighted on the front page. Over the last year across energy cost, food, transportation, the return to school and a few other areas, costs have increased 400€ over last year. Another article talked about how food costs, across different products, have gone up 20% from September 2021 to September 2022. The grocery stores are seeing more and more people look at the generic brands to save costs. The 2.6% wage increases Spanish workers have seen between April and June of this year are the lowest in the EU.

The IBEX35 ended last week on a downward trend closing at 7984.70, a 0.60% decrease over the previous week.

Political:

The Spanish government made a request to the European parliament to include Euskera, Catalan and Galician as additional official languages for its sessions. Currently 24 languages are in the list. The Spanish government is willing to absorb the costs for the request.

The polling data for the month of September was released. The PSOE party had a small increase while the PP party saw a small decrease. The PP decrease is due to decreasing confidence in the leader Feijóo. Also, in the polls for leadership Pedro Sánchez, current president, was in third place behind Yolanda Díaz and Alberto Feijóo.

On Thursday September 22, the Basque legislature returned to session. For the first time in two years there are no restrictions for masks, social distancing, etc. Urkullu is looking to address the energy crisis and rising cost of living in addition to the regular items that will need to be addressed.

International:

Coverage was across these topics: Several articles about Queen Elizabeth II’s passing and crowning of King Charles, Russian Invasion of Ukraine, and Italy addressing challenges after recent elections.

Sports:

Real Sociedad has had 4 matches since the last edition. The result of those matches was 3 wins and 1 loss. This has them currently in 8th place overall in LaLiga. Last season they qualified for the Europa League competition, where they have won both matches played thus far. The next match is Oct 6 against Sheriff Tiraspol.

Gipuzkoa Basket has been playing a couple of pre-season games. One was against Basket Navarra which resulted in a 82-86 win. In addition, they are playing in the Basque LEB cup. The first game was last night against Zornotza and won 74-56. They will play tonight in the championship game against Juaristi Iraurgi.  The regular season starts on October 7 against Ourense.

The Spanish national teams have also been very active lately. The national basketball team won the Eurobasket tournament this year. A key player on the national team was Dario Brizuela, a native of Gipuzkoa. Additionally, the national soccer team is playing in the UEFA Nations League against Switzerland Saturday September 24.

Prayer Points and verse for the week:

Prayers points:

  • Decline in volunteers for non-government organization
  • Basque legislature
  • Economic impacts

The verse for the week:

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises.

James 5:13 NLT

The Church is Out of Style

There was an article in the local newspaper recently explaining how the Basque society is more and more secular. The youngest Catholic priest in our province was interviewed and he was quoted as saying “we aren’t in style”, referring to the church. Part of his reasoning was that as society flourishes from a material and physical standpoint, it’s harder for people to recognize that they NEED God. Only a small portion of Basque society goes without their basic needs being met so many people don’t notice that they are missing something or someONE. It’s a beautiful area with amazing food and an intriguing culture, the world would tell you that it seems like paradise just as it is. 

The young priest went on to say that the church is more “ideological” than “evangelical”, meaning there is more talk about what we believe as opposed to sharing the Good News with those outside the church. He did seem hopeful for the future though as he is seeing more conversions among young people.

Another issue that should be addressed is that the average age of all of the priests in our province is 74, while the younger half of the priests are under 60. I’ll save you the mathematical thinking and tell you that this means that the older half are significantly older. This means that within the next 10-15 years, the majority of that older half will no longer be with us and there will be a massive shortage of priests, leading to fewer church services and even fewer opportunities for outreach. 

Amongst the other “church people” who were interviewed, one said we need to involve more laity (non-ordained people) and women, another said we need “less liturgy and more action” calling for more social justice work in the community, and yet another says we just need to be faithful and pray. On a personal level, when I tell people I am a Christian but I’m not Catholic, I’m often met with blank stares of confusion. They didn’t know that was even possible. So with all of these differing opinions, it’s easy to see why the church is considered “out of style”.

What would you do if you already thought you were living in paradise, then found out you could have even more? We have all of the physical needs met, but what about the emotional and spiritual needs? Internal peace and security are just as important as physical comforts, and those can only truly be found in a meaningful relationship with our Creator. It’s our job to show people that it’s possible.

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

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?