It’s nearly 7 years since we moved to Spain. Of course, at the time I knew that we were in a huge transition, yet I still thought I had a sense of where that transition was taking us. We had moved from South Africa to the UK, where we had spent 2 years while Tim completed his master’s and we applied to join Church Mission Society. It was a 2 year discernment process about where we would move long-term, that included several visits to a ministry team in southern Spain. We had particular reasons for making the decision to come here, so naturally we had expectations about what life would be like once we got settled.
Some of those expectations were based on what we knew of ourselves. We could see ourselves learning the language, and building community both within and more broadly than our local team. Tim has a passion for pioneer ministry, travel to tough places, and helping to get small teams established. I was studying Christian formation and looking for ways to offer some of the tools I was learning to others. Based on past experience, we felt we had something to offer and were looking forward to becoming part of the scene here.
It was quickly apparent that things were not going to go the way we planned. It was hard to break into the established relational networks of the expats in ministry here. It was hard to get to know Spaniards, or even our neighbours. It was hard to feel part of the local church. Nobody really seemed that interested in getting to know us. Still, we threw ourselves into this new learning space in the hope of speeding up the process of integration.
Before long, Tim was asked to join the leadership team of the training and ministry centre we had come to join. So although it still wasn’t what we had anticipated on a relational level, he was getting stuck in and that at least gave him a place to belong. It didn’t quite go the same way for me and after 2 years - the time within which I had expected much of our normalising process to take place - I found myself facing a whole different reality to the one I had pictured.
I was working from home, alone much of the time. My entire ministry was in transition, so when I say ‘working from home’ really I mean learning and trying out new initiatives to see if they would work. Within the next 4 years, on four occasions I had people express interest in joining my ‘team’ (which consisted of just me) and on each occasion they either arrived and left in short order, for various reasons, or they decided they were not being directed here after all.
In the midst of this, one of our daughters was finding school life very anxiety-producing and ended up schooling from home. My world was becoming smaller and more hidden, not less so, and I had no idea why. I simply couldn’t make sense of it. As someone said, 'We can only experience peace that passes understanding when we give up our right to understand.'
This post isn’t at all intended as a pity party. I only set this up to describe the ways in which we can unexpectedly, and apparently all of a sudden, find ourselves in a wilderness season. That is, a season that feels relationally and spiritually dry; a time that is challenging to us in ways we have not experienced before, perhaps. We may find restrictions imposed on us because of circumstances, or we feel isolated, unseen and alone.
Sounds very much like lockdown to me, how about you?!
Here’s the thing though: these dark times are never fruitless. God is constantly moving towards us with generous goodness, and this is no different when we are in dark or bewildering places.