Dear family and friends in Christ,
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away... And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8, 13 (NIV)
These are great words from the Apostle Paul in the power of the Spirit. This greater love can only be understood when we move forward in faith and allow God to reveal the secret of his Kingdom. That maturity enables us to look deep into the mind of Christ and his heart, as we learn that love always wants the best for others. Even with our best intentions (giving all our money to the poor, or learning the Bible inside-out), if we don’t have love, we have nothing. Love changes us and changes the way we see the world.
God is love. Love is at the centre of God’s mission and should therefore be our aim. When Jesus talks about the end times, in Matthew 24:12-14, he says: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
Let us be firm and endure any tactics of the evil one that distract us and make us grow cold in love. Let´s preach this message of the gospel, sharing how his love and word will take us home, where he is preparing a place for us in eternity.
Sharing our Christian faith with those of other faith communities is not always easy. It requires a lot of work, a lot of prayer, a lot of patience. Many, particularly in the Muslim community, don’t agree with who Jesus is, especially when we refer to him as the son of God. It is further complicated by the idea that the Bible has been changed. However, instead of getting into heated discussions on these topics, at Centro Luz we try to show God’s love through our attitudes and actions. Many people visiting the Centre can be quite demanding, asking for often unrealistic large quantities of food or impossible help with their circumstances. Many feel that we, as Christians, are against them. In the context of relationship though, God’s love can give us empathy towards this culturally different, and yet needy, community who are so badly affected by the ongoing lack of jobs and opportunity.
Turia is a North African lady with mental health issues who, from time to time, comes to us in a state of crisis. To be patient in a confined space with lots of people milling around is difficult, and she can sometimes be both verbally and physically aggressive. We try and keep calm, and the response of the team most of time is tender and gentle. It is not easy, but we believe the love of God can, and does, reach out to her through us.
Mimmo is one of our helpers in the Centre. She is a Muslim, but has been made to feel so welcome that it has given us opportunities to share the Good News with her. The key to sharing with her was our acceptance of her as a volunteer and the trust we placed in her, which has helped her feel valued by the team. It’s another example of God’s love breaking down barriers and building relationships.
We also had an answer to our prayers thanks to you! In our last letter we asked for prayer for the provision of a new van for the Centre. As we write, we have just received word that one of our churches would like to give a significant donation towards it. God is good!
Asociación Benéfica Cristiana (ABC)
The separate premises for food and clothes/office continue to work extremely well and, since the summer, Sarah’s team have been fine-tuning the layout and logistics of the clothes bank and shop. What makes it unique is having a free section for the foodbank clients run alongside the main shop, which is open to the public (with additional discounts for foodbank clients). As we work on publicity, we hope this will soon generate enough to cover at least the expenses of the one premises.
We continue to be encouraged at the ongoing improvements in ABC’s relationships with other local associations. A local women’s association, whose president had been openly negative towards the work of ABC, had their own secondhand clothes shop but which closed last spring. This coincided with the president leaving; however, the new president, a woman called Maria, has been very keen to re-build relationships with us. In the last two months, five of their shop volunteers have come forward to help us at the ABC. They have the necessary experience, and have fitted in well to our small clothes team. Your prayers for more volunteers are being answered, in ways we couldn’t have imagined.
And then, at the end of January, the ABC also won a prize from a local dance and music group, Grupo Folklórico-Cultural Solera (see www.facebook.com/acsolera). Their annual prize for “Alhaurin’s Group of the Year” was given to the ABC for its work in helping the community. Again, having public tribute to a Christian (non- Catholic) association continues to be significant within the Alhaurín community.
What we continue to need are more Christians joining the team. Of the 18 volunteers, only six are Christians. One morning, Anna (the vice-president of the women’s association and now a clothes-bank volunteer) suddenly asked out of the blue what we, as Christians, believed. Sarah and a colleague were able to share briefly about their real, day-to-day relationship with God compared to the more formal, event and ritual-based religion that is predominant within the Church in Spain. We trust that the Spirit will continue to grow the seeds being sown in the lives of these colleagues, but there is a real need to have a few more believers join the team – people with wisdom and tact who can share with folk as conversations come up, people who understand how to share God’s love in word and action. Please keep praying for this.
In November, Sarah’s mum’s 12-year journey with Alzheimers came to an end. A month before, Sarah had visited the UK for 10 days and had a lovely time with her parents. Then, in mid-November, Jean became ill and was taken into hospital, passing into glory a few days later. We were grateful for a family friend who was with Sarah’s dad when he heard the news. As the funeral wasn’t for a few weeks, Sarah returned to Malaga for a week before we all travelled back to Ipswich for the funeral on 12 December. It was a wonderful gathering of long-term friends and family, celebrating Jean’s life and witness in the Ipswich area and as a missionary for 27 years in Pakistan. Thank you to all those who sent emails and messages of encouragement, and for those individuals who so kindly contributed towards the cost of our travels back and forth. Please do continue to remember Sarah’s dad, as he settles into a new rhythm of life.
We would also value ongoing prayers for Sam and Aaron’s teachers. Sam’s high school seems to be struggling, particularly with issues of discipline and poor motivation. We are thankful for some additional private classes for Sam, helping him get a better handle on a few of his subjects.
As many will know, we are due on home leave again this summer. However, for various reasons, and in liaison with CMS, we have decided to spend a bit longer in the UK than usual. Our normal pattern of visiting the UK for two months every two years has worked well these past 10 years but it will be good to spend a longer time there, allowing the children to experience the English education system and to put down some roots locally. Our plan is to fly home at the end of June and to spend six months staying with Sarah’s dad near Ipswich.
As we move forward into 2017, let us lean on God and endeavor to rely on his love and promises in all we do. Thank you as always for your support and prayers which, as you can see, really are making a difference here.