BARCELONA (Mennonite Mission Network) — The nature of our ministry in Barcelona is almost all incarnational, meaning it is the regular, natural contact with folks that allows us to be examples of Christ. Such relationships develop both face-to-face and virtually. With our technological skills, we are leaning into a virtual ministry as we adjust to the COVID-19 crisis.
Thanks to resources like WhatsApp, Facetime, and Facebook, our relationships are as strong as ever, without the danger of contaminating an at-risk pal. In Barcelona, public schools were closed on Thursday, Mar. 12, for an anticipated two-week span. The city officially went into curfew on Monday, Mar. 16; folks are permitted to leave home for food shopping, work, or to walk their dogs. We're blessed to live in a home with some external property for a bit of "fresh air" time, but miss out on the chance to sing a cappella from an apartment balcony with nearby neighbors, as seen in several viral videos!
With Asher at home (now pushing 4 years old), the best coping mechanism is to maintain a routine and to schedule learning opportunities throughout the day. Thanks to a WhatsApp group with other parents from his class, I've shared resources, videos and pictures with ease, as well as the occasional word of encouragement.
Two weeks inside with a toddler is no joke! I anticipate that coming out of the quarantine, these relationships will be stronger than ever — and may even lead to an in-home play date, an almost unheard-of practice in this culture. At the very least, I hope to continue this resource sharing and offer an occasional English-language story time in our garden for the kids.
We've maintained contact with fellow university students and faculty. While the classes meet online thanks to Zoom, we're in constant contact via a group chat in which we share helpful blogs and videos to improve in our current learning stage. Right now, we are working on various uses of subjunctive verbs in the past tense. Interestingly, it feels like some of the students are more focused on learning now that we're away from the classroom. It's been especially nice to have them check in on our family, namely Asher, and enthusiastically respond to his daily art projects.
We're constantly chatting with the youth of our Comunidad Evangelica Menonita (CEM) congregation, sharing links and memes to help beat the boredom and stay connected. Josh has planned a Google Hangout with them for later in the week to check in on everyone's well-being throughout the quarantine. Our church also maintains several communication channels via WhatsApp group chats and e-mails, which keep parishioners up-to-date on the health crisis and provides frequent notes of encouragement and levity. Asking the mundane questions like "What are you reading?" or "What are you listening to?" somehow no longer feels like small talk. The youth are responding genuinely and from a place of vulnerability.
A bit of a downer, CEM was planning its first-ever community outreach/volunteerism event on Saturday, Mar. 21, with a quilting workshop in partnership with MCC's Winter Warm-Up Campaign. Participants from six other Barcelona Protestant churches (as well as several friends from our language school!) had preregistered. The following Sunday was to be our annual Calcotada, a beloved tradition where "sheep return to the fold" in the form of adult children and extended family members who attend the barbecue. Both events have been canceled in order to protect our most vulnerable attendees, but conversations have already begun to reschedule and maintain the same energy in future attempts.
Even something as silly as posting your "quarantine menu" on social media has opened up channels to discuss the intersection of faith and food. As spring has sprung in Barcelona, our yard is overrun by stinging nettles. After recently reading about Russian Mennonites surviving famines by consuming soup of stinging nettles, I was inspired to research cooking them and tried my hand at a new recipe this week. After posting the results on my Facebook page, a network of folks emerged. Their expressions ranged from delighted interest to veiled disgust at the prospect of eating such a green delicacy, made from what seems to be a weed. Interacting with folks from many different cultures and countries over something as mundane as soup has been an interesting way to share our philosophy of doing "More with Less." This applies not only to the COVID-19 lock-down, but to every day, because of our conviction to follow Christ.
All that to say, life goes on. Here in Barcelona, we've grown accustomed to exchanging two cheek kisses at the beginning and end of each personal exchange. I anticipate we'll have a bounty of smooches to collect on once the curfew is lifted. That's when we can get back to our daily routines (with strengthened relationships) and relish the freedom a healthy community can provide.