Uncool but changing things: Evangelicals in Catholic countries
Few things on earth are as deeply uncool, as heroically off-trend, as sending Evangelical Christian missionaries to Catholic Europe.
If your son or daughter has taken up this career, you probably do not boast about it at the golf club.
So what. For one thing, if a Catholic nation like Spain can embrace gays and scientologists and people with blue hair, a dash of evangelical missionaries surely only adds to the joyous mix. As soon as we evangelicals stop trying to be respectable, we can take our natural place.
For another thing, whatever the spiritual vitality or otherwise of the Catholic church, masses of people in Catholic countries are finding spiritual renewal through movements started by evangelicals and Pentecostals. They are more than 10% of the population in Argentina, for example, more than 20% in the Philippines.
And for a third, Christ’s evident habit of championing the outcast, the laughed-at and the dispossessed has turned builders’ rubble into cornerstone and capstone.
The people who listened
The mission I work for, WEC International, was sending missionaries to Spain from the 1960s onward. They had a difficult time of it. When they did presentations of the gospel in the public parks, hardly anyone listened except the drug addicts.
After much soul-searching, and probably trying every other alternative, in 1985 one or two single male WEC missionaries starting opening their apartments to these same addicts.
Somehow all the ducks lined up and something wonderful happened. This small start evolved, through God’s blessing, into a movement called Betel that now runs 60 homes for recovering heroinistas in 23 Spanish provinces and has spread to 25 other countries.
More than 200,000 of the neediest and most despised people of the earth have passed through Betel’s doors in the past 30 years and of those who stayed, many have turned their lives around. Awards and accolades have followed.
I’ve met graduates of these schools. When I stand praying next to these big, beautiful, scarred, tattooed people my watery Anglican spirituality feels like some distant relative of authentic Christianity — genetically a bit similar but lacking in sap or blood.
Betel, this child of evangelical mission to Spain, has rediscovered the gospel. From the most obscure of beginnings, the authenticity and power of what they have achieved has altered the landscape. Wonderful.