Feature

Surprised!

The power of the gospel hits southern Europe

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Rosi looked at me with anguish. “Steve, I have no faith this event will succeed. No one is going to come!”

Over the years, Rosi had shared her testimony of life in Christ with friends in her traditional Spanish village, where there is no evangelical church. Now she had stepped out in faith, securing the town hall for a first-of-its-kind event: a gospel presentation through the music ministry of the Trio Mar del Plata from Argentina. But who in this little community just outside Salamanca, one of the most important university cities in Spain, would come to hear folkloric music from South America?

Rosi, my colleague Nancy Martinez and I huddled in prayer before the concert was scheduled to begin. The Lord moved me to pray that He would surprise Rosi with what He would do that evening.

In spring 2014 Alliance international workers and the Spanish national church engaged in a month-long evangelistic outreach that included 27 concerts and gospel presentations in a total of 11 cities in Spain, Portugal and Italy. This was the first time such a widespread outreach event had been tackled in the 35 years The Alliance has been in Spain.

Rosi wasn’t the only one wondering if it would succeed. The Trio Mar del Plata had a long track record of fruitful ministry in Latin America—but would they see similar results in the hard spiritual soil of southern Europe? Some on the planning team wondered if their music was appropriate for European tastes. Our answer was simply, “It’s not the music, but the message.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 was an inspiration to us: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Our vision was twofold: to see Christ honored in the public preaching of the gospel and to mobilize a united effort among Alliance churches that would spark a passion for evangelism. In anticipation of these events, churches were called to pray, asking the Lord to break through spiritual barriers and to bring many people to Himself. Teams were formed in the churches to organize the work.

Some of the concerts were held in “neutral sites.” The joint Brazilian—U.S. church-planting team in Valongo, Portugal, took a faith-filled risk, holding its first public event in a city auditorium. The Portuguese audience had no problem understanding the trio’s message in song and testimony given in Spanish. The Alliance church in Ancona, Italy, held an open-air meeting in the city’s town square, as well as an evangelistic dinner that filled their newly acquired facilities. The church was greatly encouraged as members rallied for the first time in such an outreach.

Most of the trio’s concerts were held in Spain, where the majority of Alliance churches are made up of Latin American immigrants. We anticipated a positive response from this group, but how would Spaniards react? Religious tradition on one hand and post-Christian agnosticism on the other make for spiritually dry ground among natives of Spain. What would God do in this context?

That question was heavy on Rosi’s mind even as we prayed before the meeting in her village. The number of people who attended was small, and all were Spaniards, some of them hearing for the first time the message of hope offered by grace through faith in Christ. Out of curiosity several young people wandered in and out. Would the disruptions hinder the work of the Lord in those who were listening attentively?

At the end of the concert, the trio invited those who desired to draw near to Christ to raise their hands for prayer. Afterward, some of Rosi’s friends told her they wanted to begin to walk with Christ. She couldn’t believe her ears. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked. Rosi explained the gospel again, and three of them prayed with her and Nancy to receive Christ. Two more friends raised their hands at the end of the meeting to indicate that they, too, had prayed for salvation. After the meeting, Nancy’s husband, Joel, visited Rosi’s uncle and led him to the Lord.

That night, six people prayed to receive Jesus. As we were loading up the equipment after the presentation, Rosi came up to me with her face aglow. “Steve,” she said. “God surprised me tonight!”

That is a fair description of how the Lord worked throughout the month. He surprised us with the open response among Spaniards, Portuguese, Italians—and, yes, among immigrants as well. In six sessions involving 10 churches in Madrid, Barcelona, Toledo and Granada, 120 people had been trained in follow-up and disciplemaking before the event. Around 125 individuals responded to the gospel invitation during the series of concerts, so Rosi and all the follow-up teams have their work cut out for them!

With God’s empowerment, the flame of evangelism will spread through the Alliance churches in southern Europe and lead to emboldened efforts among members to share the gospel. Pray that those who drew near to the Lord during this month-long effort would remain true to their faith. And ask Him to continue to surprise us as we move ahead, for the gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).

All or Nothing

“In my hometown,” Rosi told me, “the mayor is a friend of mine. We grew up together.”
Although the man claimed to be an atheist, he couldn’t help but assign the proper credit for the change in Rosi’s attitude and behavior after she came to Jesus as an adult. “Rosi,” he said, “I’ve seen how God has transformed your life. You need to come and evangelize this town.”

Since we had the mayor’s blessing, my husband, Joel, and I walked the streets of the village over a period of about nine months and visited the locals, getting to know the people and building relationships. The residents invited us into their homes and started sharing their life stories. Even though they had had no exposure to evangelicals, many wanted us to tell them about God. Also, the mayor made space available for events free of charge, including the venue for the Trio Mar del Plata concert.

Though there was a Catholic church in the hamlet, no priest was permanently assigned to the parish and services were sporadic. But on the night of the concert, just as the event was about to begin, the church bells started ringing, calling the people to Mass. “What shall we do?” the mayor asked. “We’ll wait,” I said. Finally, 30-40 minutes later—no problem in Spain—the concert began.

During the delay, the trio asked how they should end the concert. “Should we have an altar call? Ask them to raise their hands? Repeat a prayer?”

“We have nothing to lose, but these people have everything to gain,” I responded. “Do it all!”

—Nancy Martinez

Past Alliance Life Issues

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