"It’s dinner time!"
Alas. My grumbling stomach had waited hours to hear those words. After playing a name game with the sixteen other members of my cohort, we began to make our way over to the picnic table where the fragrence of grilled burgers reminded us of how hungry we were after hours of travel from across the U.S. to this beautiful camp site in Minnesota where we would spend the week learning more about GoCorps, our sending organizations, our roles on our specific teams, and how to share our ministry vision and needs with others.
"But there's a catch."
We paused, confused as to what could possibly be complicated about eating grilled burgers for dinner.
"In a couple of months, you’ll be going to other countries to serve, but your service starts now. You may go to dinner, but you must serve someone else. You can't serve yourself food."
Wow. We hadn’t even officially begun training, yet we were learning the value of a servant’s heart. It didn’t matter that we were tired from our travels. We were reminded that “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,” we, too, were called to reflect Jesus’ servant heart in both the little tasks (such as serving someone a burger at a picnic dinner) and the big tasks (such as committing the next two years of your life to serve overseas).
I never imagined that I would be spending my first two years out of college serving in Spain. In fact, when I began studying Spanish, I laughingly told myself that I didn’t need to learn the vosotros verb conjugation because it’s only used in Spain, and I was never going to go there! Well, God has a sense of humor because from May 2016 to July 2018, I went to Spain four times for a total of nine months.
I did not plan to go to Spain. I went to Wheaton College (IL) with the intent to go into medical missions, so I studied Applied Health Science on the pre-med track. In my sophomore year, I added Spanish as a second major, but because of my sequential science classes during the school year, I needed to complete my study abroad requirement during the summer. It just so happened that the summer following my sophomore year Wheaton offered a two-month summer study abroad program in Spain, so I decided to go. Even though I had told myself that I was never going to Spain. Even though that meant that I actually had to learn to use vosotros.
As part of the program’s tour of Southern Spain, I spent a few days in the beautiful, Andalusian city of Granada, home of the Alhambra, a Moorish palace and UNESCO World Heritage Site located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was here that Michelle Rosa, Wheaton alumnus and current missionary in Spain, spoke to my university group about her ministry and the need for missionaries in Spain. In my hubris, I questioned this need because my previous missions experience was limited to short-term trips to underprivileged communities Latin America and Africa where I built a home, participated in a community water project, and lead a vacation bible school program at an orphanage. I contrasted those images to what I saw in this Catholic, Western European country - gorgeous cathedrals, bustling city centers, and picturesque cobblestone streets - and couldn’t make the connection.
But during my homestay that summer, I made the connection. I felt the spiritual depravity of not having a local church body with whom I could do daily Christian living. I felt the lack of intimacy in my friendships because I couldn’t have conversations about what God was doing in my life, as most Spaniards knew about Jesus but they didn’t know Him personally. My hubris turned to humility as I experienced first-hand the spiritual need that Michelle shared about in Granada. I left Spain that summer not only with a repentant heart as I considered how small-minded I had been with my previous definition of missions but also with a heavy heart as I wondered how this experience would fit into my plan of medical missions.
The following semester, I felt the Lord press further into my preconceived ideas of missions and vocation when He challenged me to drop my science major and graduate with a single degree in Spanish. Mind you, this was no easy ask. I was in the fall semester of my junior year; I was two classes away from completing the pre-med requirements; and I was a first-generation college student. How was I going to explain to my single mom that I was dropping my “practical” major because of a conviction I felt from God? If there’s anything that I’ve learned on this journey to Spain, it’s this: When God calls, you must go. Was it the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life? Yes. Was I scared of the unknown? Absolutely. Yet the Lord in His graciousness invited me into His plan for my life once I let go of mine. And like the Good Father that He is, He even allowed for me to come full circle and serve for two years in the city where it all began: Granada.