By Duane Alexander Miller
We arrived in Madrid about a year ago. We spent most of the first six months settling in. This meant finding a flat in August — a month when half the city is on vacation and many shops are “closed for vacation until September.” It meant registering our children at the charter school we really had our hearts set on. I had called from Texas to see about this, but the secretary said, “We’re closed until September. Come see us in person when you arrive here and we’ll see if there is space for them.” There was space, thanks be to God. And most purgatorial of all were the government issues: getting ID cards, registering for the census (so biblical), applying for the “numerous family” card, family metro cards, and much more.
I went to work right away at the Cathedral of the Redeemer, where I serve as priest but not dean — there is no dean.
During this time we’ve been intentional about forming relationships with the significant Muslim population. I can walk to the city’s historical mosque in less than half an hour and have numerous contacts throughout the area. Some North African people from Muslim families attend Redeemer from time to time, and I was able to procure New Testaments for them in their Arabic dialect and pray in Arabic sometimes during the service — always in the name of “the one true God, eternal, consubstantial, and indivisible: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” That’s a formula I picked up at the local Orthodox church in Jordan a long time ago.
But all along I was troubled that there was not a single Arabic-language Christian fellowship in all Madrid. Consider the numbers: Madrid is both a state and a city. The Comunidad de Madrid has a population of 6.4 million, and the city of Madrid has a population of 3.1 million.
Then something happened.
A dear friend and colleague who is a minister with the Assemblies of God was returning to Spain after an extended stay back in the States — fundraising, you know. He got a flat in the neighborhood next to ours, which is, again, one of the main centers of Islamic presence in the city. We started weekly prayer walks. He joined a church in that neighborhood, and the pastor was excited about the idea of reaching Muslims with the gospel. Redeemer is in a great neighborhood for reaching young secular Spaniards, but not Muslims.
Sharon and I are both proficient in Arabic. I can teach and play guitar, she sings well. Why not give this a try? I asked. Dan had connections with local leaders as well as a ministry in the city center reaching Muslims, and my wife and I had the language skills. We prayed. Doors opened.
A local pastor invited us to present a daylong workshop for his congregation on reaching Muslims with the gospel. The Baptist seminary invited me to give three days of intensive summer teaching on the topic of understanding and reaching Muslims. They’re all available in Spanish via YouTube; similar lectures in English are here. An Evangelical Free church in the United States granted some funds for essential start-up expenses. I started a very humble Arabic website for the fellowship, but we needed some high-quality local photographs to produce something authentic. A minister who is also a professional photographer volunteered to do this for free — this was part of his ministry, he explained. I went out with him recently to walk through the neighborhood, and we’re hoping to update the website with local photographs soon. And a brother from an Orthodox hermitage in Spain tells me he prays for us every day. The only thing in front of you is the next step.
If you dream small, then even your greatest accomplishments will be small. Dan, Sharon, and I know this. But what if it works? What if this leads to a fellowship of believers and inquirers from all around the Arabic-speaking world? What could God do through a community that brings in both exiled Christians and persecuted converts from Islam? What would it be like for international students and refugees to have a community they could contact in Arabic with questions about Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity? We’re building on this vision.
So pray for us, please. Pray for dynamic ideas in launching this fellowship. Pray for additional contacts — especially those who speak Arabic — who can partner with us. Pray for a place to meet that is affordable but also strategic and accessible. Give thanks to God for an ecumenical endeavor like this — otherwise it would be impossible.
The Rev. Dr. Duane Alexander Miller is author of Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity (Credo House, 2018) and keeps a weblog at duanemiller.wordpress.com. He serves on the pastoral team at the Anglican Cathedral of the Redeemer in Madrid, and is adjunct faculty for the Protestant Faculty of Theology at Madrid (UEBE).
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