All Around and Underground, part II

I mentioned in my previous entry—not part one of this one but the one I posted back in March—that even when I posted that one, it was already out-of-date. The reason being was that the weekend before I posted that, I was at a Christian camp in Solórzano with my Bible study. Rewinding back a couple of weeks from there, at the end of February, I found a church in Santander—through that church, I met my friend Andres, who connected me to GBU (Grupos Bíblicos Universitarios – kind of like the Campus Crusade of Spain), the organization that held the camp. The pueblo was about halfway between Santander and Bilbao in some of the greenest country on the planet outside of Ireland. That’s the short version. But you know me; I prefer the long version when I have the choice.

The long version starts about a week previous. When I first heard about the camp, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to go—I’ve been to these sorts of things before, I thought, and in my experience it’s often been the case that the camps I go to aren’t actually teaching the Word. Thus, my initial hesitation was that I was basically afraid of wasting time. I prayed about it, and when it ended up not working out to go with a friend of mine who happens not to be a Christian (issue of timing, I think), I went alone. Somewhere along the way, the Holy Spirit opened my mind to the experience: whatever he had to show me, I was listening.

My fears ended up being completely unfounded. First of all, 95% of the teaching was spot on, and the 5% that wasn’t triggered an interesting debate when God gave me the courage to challenge the speaker about what he was saying. That situation opened up a Calvinism-Arminianism discussion between students and pastor that might not have happened otherwise, not to mention a series of fantastic conversations among almost all of us students about how it is that we end up in Heaven. The thematic material of the conference explains part of why I liked it so much. First of all, the two main lessons addressed such themes as the deep dissatisfaction human beings feel apart from God, why we believe the Bible, and how the Bible is completely centered around Jesus. It was exactly the kind of heavy, philosophical theologizing I absolutely love. And get this: Juan, the speaker, somehow was able to show Blade Runner and connect it to our searches for ourselves as human beings that can only be realized through the Lord. Plus, we had a few fantastic sessions of worship: it turns out there are a great number of musicians among our group. But those were just the elements to the conference itself. As with anything else, it was ultimately the people who lifted what would have been a good conference into the realm of the exceptional.

Among the various conversations nearly all of us had through the course of the first afternoon, one of the ones I had opened up two friendships I wasn’t expecting. That brings me to the second and most important point of why the weekend was so great: by the end of the weekend, all of us were friends. The group was just the right size that it was too small to form individual groups while still being large enough to do-large group activities like team sports and games like Ninja and to make our meals lively and dynamic; small enough that it was possible to have meaningful conversations with almost everyone there, large enough that we filled the room and even needed extra chairs for our lessons and worship sessions. Everything about the weekend was perfect, even the fact I had a fundamental disagreement with the pastor, because despite that I learned and can still learn a great deal from him. The middle ground really is the best ground.

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The group that went on the nature hike minus Phil, who took the picture. From left, me, Lucy, Annewil, Harriet, Pablo, Oliver, and Ellynn.

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This isn’t everyone who was at the conference – throughout the weekend, there were about ten others coming and going – but this is mostly everyone. From top left: Pablo, Annewil, Ethan, Carolina, Dani, Iratxe, Angela, Lina, Lucy, me, Ellynn, Pili, Harriet, Erlantz, Germán, Marialuisa, Phil, Juan, and José Luis.

At the end of the weekend, Juan mentioned that there was going to be a charla about creationism vs. evolutionism in Bilbao the following weekend. Then, I found out at lunch that day that my new friend Erlantz was going to be baptized the next day. I made my plans to go to Bilbao the following weekend upon my return to Santander. The talk ended up being quite difficult to follow, but I was glad to see someone starting the conversation nonetheless. A great number of us had gotten together to go to that, though; I’d been met at the station when I arrived by my friend Ethan and his roommate, Andrew, and though Andrew didn’t stay for the talk, we ran into nearly everyone who had been at the conference the previous weekend while at the talk. As we were discussing what to do with the rest of the evening, Erlantz mentioned that his piano professor, a jazz musician from New York, was playing a free concert at a hotel at 11 that day. We got dinner and frozen yogurt before the show, arriving early enough to chat a bit before it started. The lobby of the hotel then proceeded to be overwhelmed by spectators—apparently word travels fast in this town, but it was, like the weekend before it, an entirely perfect evening.

The next day, I visited the other church, Sarriko, and explored Bilbao with Ethan and my friend Lina in the gap between that service and Erlantz’ baptism at the church nearly all my friends go to, Santuxu. Santuxu also happens to be the church Juan pastors; Lina and I ran into him before Sarriko while we walked around a bazaar neither of us knew existed. The perfect weather of the morning was replaced by rain about halfway through, but it didn’t matter. Neither, apparently, did the fact we arrived, in typical Spanish fashion, quite late to the service—we got there five minutes before it actually happened, long enough to witness such things as his father give a word before Juan went up with the two who were being baptized that day. I’ve never seen a church do baptism quite like Santuxu did, but honestly I loved it. They wore white and gave confessions of faith beforehand—the confessions of faith I’ve of course seen, but never as much of an event and never as deeply personal as at this church. We all took communion after. And though I can’t help but describe this in a very list-like way, it was exactly the opposite. It was personal, and, like the conference the previous weekend, showed me again the fact that the body of Christ is close by virtue of the fact it is a single unit. We really are brothers and sisters in the Lord.

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Outside the Guggenheim, the one touristy thing in Bilbao. Bilbao is a city that’s great to live in and terrible to visit as a tourist, because there’s not a lot to see if you don’t know what to do.

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The (in)famous tower. Locals don’t like it. I kind of do.

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Typical street in Casco Viejo. Look how clean it is, oh my goodness.

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Also somewhere in Casco Viejo. I love this shot so much.

The week before I left for Croatia, things began to change. I identified an unsettlement in my spirit; even though things were going really well and had been for a while, I knew things wouldn’t be the same when I got back, especially with my friendship with Thomas. That, and something was really beginning to eat at me about Spain. For one thing, students’ lack of respect for their schoolwork has been astounding to me. This is, I believe, a small facet of the larger problem of apathy that seems to affect this country as a whole, a problem which prevents people from being able to take responsibility for their actions. Apathy implies not caring about anything. If you don’t care about your actions, then, everything is permitted. If you don’t care about anything, of course you don’t care about, say, when your professor is giving a lesson – it’s just another space where all your friends are, meaning it’s easy and expected to talk with them like you would anywhere else. Of course you don’t care if your chatting affects anyone else – the only person who’s looking out for you is you, so you’re the only person you need to look out for in return. What I recognize now is the apathy is not a choice but rather a default behavior, but I didn´t see it at the time. It isn’t the decision not to care; caring is simply a choice not many people make.

I don’t know how much of this is in my head and how much is real. Much of it could very well be my depression talking; on the other hand, I know what I’ve seen. I’ve had two months of observation in which to gather my opinion. I am among the least judgmental people I know, yet for some reason, I find myself day in and day out almost to the point of exploding with anger at the people I see. Elitism, selfishness, laziness, ethnocentrism, apathy, manipulation, unwillingness to take responsibility—these are the patterns I’ve seen repeated en masse, with only three exceptions among the natives I’ve met. But I have to wonder: what do they see in me? Do they care? Is this just my problem? At this rate, though, I very well may leave Spain at best never wanting to come back again and at worst cursing its very existence. It’s hard to focus on the positive things in this situation when they’re so few and far between, but perhaps that’s part of the challenge.

I will admit it’s gotten better this week. When I returned from Croatia, I had about a week of feeling rather island-ish; I was right about my time away changing my friendship with Thomas, I was swamped with homework, and I was feeling even more isolated from my host family than usual. However, there were two lights at the end of the tunnel. For one, after a week of horrible weather, last weekend was perfect. Following another perfect Friday of GBU fellowship and a series of Skype convos with William and my parents, I made plans to get together with Thomas to make up for lost time. I was at the beach by 10:30 to beat the crowds, spending the morning doing yoga, mastering Crow pose, and swimming at Camello until the cold made my hands ache, or about half an hour in the North Atlantic water. He arrived a little after lunch and we stayed until almost 8 – by the end of the day, I’d been at the beach nearly 10 hours and had the sunburn to prove it, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. It was a perfect day with a friend whose company I had missed tremendously.

The next day brought to fruition the beginning of a series of little God’s-seriously-looking-after-you revelations. The previous Wednesday, as I’d been walking home from class with Thomas and two German exchange students, Regina and Kevin, Regina and I were chatting and planning a trip to Salamanca after the boys had split when I mentioned not being free the weekend of the 27th on account of a girl’s day I’ve been invited to with some friends from church in Bilbao. What kind of church? She asked—Protestant or Catholic? It’s kind of a Baptist church, I explained, even though I’m not Baptist. Anyway, a few exchanges later and Regina and I had made plans to go to Bilbao that coming weekend. That trip was much like my previous trip to Bilbao minus the specific events I’d gone for last time: we met in the morning to go to Sarriko at noon, chatting the whole ride there as well as when we got there since we were early. After the service, we met my GBU friends Harriet, Ethan, Ellynn, and Erlantz to go to the beach; an adventure in getting there had us in the hot sand by about 3:00, where we (meaning Harriet and I) swam (actually, Harriet didn’t really mean to swim, the waves made her do it…you had to be there), walked on the beach, chatted, told stories, and ate gelato until a little after 5. We were late getting to Santuxu—Erlantz split a little earlier, since he had to be there on time—but again, I wouldn’t trade it. Even the misadventures make great stories, and now I have a great Christian girlfriend here in Santander in addition to my Christian community in Bilbao.

When you pray for God to bless you, be prepared for him to do it. And be prepared for him to blow your mind. That’s all I can say. Tomorrow I go to Valencia for the national GBU conference with Ethan and Harriet—when I booked my ticket to Valencia back in March, I had no idea this conference was happening, but God orchestrated everything perfectly, as usual, down to the place I’m staying and everything. I want to say I’m surprised, but I can’t. God has everything under control, and when he leads you to do something, he’ll clear the road for you. So again, I have no idea what to expect from this – but knowing God, it’s going to be something good.

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