Josh and Alisha Garber are Mennonite Mission Network workers who have served in Lithuania and are making the transition to a new ministry in Barcelona . “Why Spain” is the question provoked in the title. Why indeed?  The following blog post and accompanying video are a reflection on the meaning of mission work internationally and an glimpse into the Mennonite/Anabaptist presence in Spain. – Ed.

When Alisha and I first began talking about serving abroad several years ago, we never thought we’d end up in Europe. After all, mission workers are supposed to go to poor, third-world countries, right?

Fortunately, our plans were wrecked by our short-term service in the Czech Republic. During this time, we encountered a new form of starvation: spiritual poverty.

Before Jesus departs his disciples, he has one final request for them:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

As we prepared to serve abroad, we encountered a handful of mission-minded organizations that interpreted this as meaning, “Evangelize all unreached people groups of the world. Once this happens, an end-game scenario will be triggered.”

Our understanding is different. To be clear, bringing the message of Christ to groups of people who have never heard it before is important, and I have great respect for those who have dedicated their lives to doing exactly that. My problem with the above interpretation is threefold:

  1. Making disciples is different from making believers. We are not called to enter other cultures with an imperialist mentality, forcing our beliefs on others. We are called to share the vision of Christ to all those who will hear it through our own lives—actions and words.
  2. We don’t do this so that we benefit from its completion. We do this because this is what Jesus asked us to do, and it is the work of the global church to bring the Kingdom of God to earth over and over again.
  3. There is a necessary end to this process. The above interpretation includes an implication that once a group of people hears the name of Jesus, you can check it off your list and move on. But what happens if this group moves away from following the way of Jesus and either becomes preoccupied with the legalities of religion or steps away from pursuing faith altogether?

“Unreached people group” also tends to be synonymous with “third-world countries”—as though wealth and prosperity on any level better connect us with God. Actually, there has been a growing trend of churches from less wealthy countries sending mission workers to more prosperous countries.

So, when people hear our call to serve in Spain and ask “Why?” our response is “Why not?” While visiting Spain this past Spring, I interviewed several church leaders and asked for their perspectives. I put together the following video which, I hope, can challenge the traditional view of what it means to send mission workers out into the world:

Let there not be any confusion: our service abroad is not an extended European vacation. As Gadea said in the video above, “Missions are where God wants us to be …. They’re about going where God wants to use you—where God wants to expand his kingdom.”

As we’ve moved through this process, it has become clear that Barcelona is where God wants us to be.

Josh Garber is a Mennonite Mission Network (MMN) worker with his wife Alisha in Spain. This post was originally published on their blog, Worthwhile Adventures, which can be found here.