The doors of the Friendship House open at 4 p.m. after adults finish siesta and children leave school. The neighborhood kids walk in with smiles, sometimes holding the hand of a parent or sibling, their schoolbags still on their backs. They greet the community center’s staff one at a time, shouting “Hola!” They divide into three classrooms where volunteers from local Spanish churches wait to help them with the day’s homework.
One boy follows his younger sibling in, but he’s stopped at the classroom door. It’s time for the youngest children first. His tutoring won’t start until 5 p.m. The boy flings down onto a couch in the waiting room and flips through a few pages of a children’s book off the shelf. When he thinks no one is watching, he tries again to slip into the classroom.
But he isn’t fast enough. Dan Anderson, the WorldVenture team leader of the Friendship House, catches him with a word. They banter a bit in Spanish, the boy asking why he has to wait. If he finishes his homework quickly, he can play games with the volunteers and other children. Dan laughs at the boy’s nerve but his voice stays firm.
The boy is one of many North African children who regularly come to the Friendship House, a community outreach that serves a small neighborhood on the outskirts of Madrid, Spain. The neighborhood includes an older generation of Spaniards living alongside newly arrived immigrant families facing daily challenges and prejudices in their new home. While the ministry focuses on North Africans from unreached people groups, everyone from the neighborhood is welcome.
“God equips us one day at a time to show love, and that love is very creative. That love can be in the shape of listening, in the shape of being there when you’re needed, and in the shape of telling the truth when someone needs to hear the truth.”
“We want the end result to be that everybody with whom we have interaction ends up having an accurate and true understanding of what the gospel really is,” Dan said.
Christians at the Friendship House believe they must reverse barriers to the truth—misconceptions and judgments about the Bible, Christ, or the nature of God—before real understanding of the gospel can take root. For North Africans, one of the most effective ways to do this is within trusted relationships. The Friendship House offers a space for those relationships to develop through holistic community involvement.
A Cultural Crossroads
Most North Africans in the neighborhood grew up in rural, mountainous villages without access to education or healthcare. Some never learned to read and write. Parents often miss their home countries—and the families and communities they left behind there—but they moved to Spain so that their children could have more opportunities and better lives.
What they found is an isolated neighborhood, cut off by highways and lacking resources that families in wealthier neighborhoods would take for granted. They struggle with the language and understanding the social systems and culture. Even those who were educated professionals in their home country take menial labor jobs to support their families. Unfortunately, few jobs exist. Spain’s withering economy reported a 21 percent unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2016, the second highest within the European Union.
Dan first volunteered as a Spanish teacher with a local municipal program for immigrants in 2010. The community embraced the language classes so much that his wife Eva soon began classes for women as well. By January 2013, they outgrew the civic center and signed a lease for an old school building. The ministry team was also growing, with two new missionary partners, volunteers from Spanish churches, and their first American short-term teams.
As the Friendship House branched into offering services for children, the ministry team discovered the second-generation immigrants are experiencing a childhood much different than that of their parents. These children hear either Arabic or a regional language at home but study Spanish and English in school. In many ways, they understand life in Spain better than their parents do. They are a generation caught between feeling their parents cannot relate to their lives and yet not being fully accepted by Spanish society. They have their own yet-unformed culture, finding an identity between their family heritage and their adopted country. This crossroads of both Spanish and North African cultures creates a challenging dynamic to balance at the Friendship House.
“Do you believe that Jesus is God?” When the intern replied he did, the boy smiled and whispered back, “So do I.”
“It’s not clear yet what that second-generation North African culture in Spain is going to look like,” Dan said. “It’s something that is right now taking shape and we hope to be a part of shaping that culture, at least here locally in this neighborhood.”
Dan and Eva have committed to stay with the North African families they serve for the long-term, walking life side-by-side with them. Even for those who will never accept Christ, they will continue to offer practical help to meet their needs and communicate God’s love in every way they can.
“Our human love has a limit, and we don’t have the patience—we don’t have the endurance—that this type of ministry requires,” Eva said. “God equips us one day at a time to show love, and that love is very creative. That love can be in the shape of listening, in the shape of being there when you’re needed, and in the shape of telling the truth when someone needs to hear the truth.”
Why Friendship Matters
Every class and service of the Friendship House meets a specific need of the North African community, including Spanish classes, women’s aerobics, and parenting courses. Women can regularly choose clothing for their families out of a room stocked with donations from local churches. School-aged children can receive homework help after school and play various games with volunteers.
“The purpose of the Friendship House is to be able to share the gospel with them, but we are trying to do that in very practical ways, both in word and in deed,” Dan said, “because we recognize that in order for them to really be willing to listen to our message, they first have to see Christ’s life and values lived out in our lives and in our actions.”
In the Spanish and North African cultures, the public and private are not separate. Connections made in classes or businesses naturally flow into personal interactions. Because of this, the Friendship House has become well-known in the small neighborhood over the past few years. Earlier this year, the landlord of an empty retail space next door to the Friendship House asked the team to rent or buy the space. It had been unused for several years. Their Spanish neighbors had refused to allow a restaurant or bar, yet they encouraged the Friendship House to expand into the location.
“God had cultivated such an awesome relationship and reputation that they wanted us,” said Luci*, another WorldVenture worker on the team. “Just by the nature of how we work in our space, how we deal with our neighbors, [it] allowed for future ministry opportunities.”
The ministry team looks forward to using the new space to serve the community’s teenagers and young adults. Many youth in the neighborhood struggle in school, often choosing to drop out early and look for work. They have few resources to help lead them to a positive future.
Having the new space to welcome youth is one step to developing and sustaining strong relationships with the community’s children as they grow. The space offers room to have a full kitchen and a lounge or café-styled hangout. Then the ministry team will be in a unique position of influence as youth begin to define themselves and to whom or what they will dedicate their lives.
“When life pushes them to a point where they are asking questions, I want to be there for them,” Eva said. “You have to be willing to be there for times where you’re just teaching them to read or telling them a story or just planting little tiny seeds that God may in the future provoke a deeper conversation.”
Outreach in this community requires patience, but the ministry team knows gospel conversations can happen unexpectedly. One such conversation came about because an intern of the Friendship House was asked to privately tutor a family’s two young boys in English. Usually the father, mother, and grandfather would listen to the lessons. During one session, the grandfather began to talk to the intern about who the greatest prophet is. After some discussion, he came to ask, “Well, who do you believe Jesus is?”
The intern carefully relayed common beliefs about Jesus that the family readily accepted. But when he stated that God became human, the father, mother, and grandfather interrupted in unison, “Mentiras!” (Spanish for “lies”). The grandfather jumped to his feet.
“It was as if I had hit a spiritual wall,” the intern later reported. “They were willing to accept the gospel message until Jesus entered the scene.”
The adults continued debating among themselves as one of the boys walked over to the intern and whispered in his ear, “Do you believe that Jesus is God?” When the intern replied he did, the boy smiled and whispered back, “So do I.”
Ways You Can Help
The Friendship House is always looking for people to serve in many different capacities, including a need for a guest house manager.
Pray that the ministry of the Friendship House would be effective and that God would start moving in the hearts of North African immigrants.
If you feel called to give financially to the Friendship House, you can do that here.
(Photo credit: Nate Bowman)