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?