In Spain, there's a common belief that good things take time.
"First, you must dedicate yourself to getting to know people and winning them with friendship and a good testimony," said Augustín Melguizo, a pastor at an Anabaptist church in Burgos, Spain. "Then, after several years, you can begin to benefit from some occasions to present the gospel clearly."
After 37 years of ministry in Spain, Dennis and Connie Byler did just that. And while numbers is never the primary goal of mission, it certainly can be an indicator of the Holy Spirit's presence.
"They have shaped the Anabaptist family in Spain," said Tim Foley, Mission Network's director for Europe. They've brought people together and grown church membership to more than 500. Because of Connie and Dennis, nine Anabaptist communities in Spain are carrying on the ministry that Connie and Dennis worked at so faithfully.
In the beginning, Connie and Dennis were a part of a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit. They helped nurture Catholic young adults who had become disenfranchised by the church.
For nearly four decades, they modeled complementary ministries that grew out of the Burgos congregation, now called Comunidades Anabautistas Unidas (United Anabaptist Communities).
Dennis taught seminary courses, wrote books, and edited El Mensajero (The Messenger), a monthly electronic newsletter to connect the Anabaptist network of churches in Spain and Latin America.
While Dennis reflects on how to best communicate the biblical foundation of God's mission, Connie lives it out, visiting people in their homes, in the hospital, and in hospice care. Her sentences often begin with, "I've got a friend …" She has taken special interest in people living with HIV-AIDS, children whose parents are in prison, and refugees. She knows people all across Burgos and throughout the surrounding villages, including a military general who was an English-language student, and a Guatemalan immigrant named Ruth who came to Spain to take care of two blind men. Byler explained her approach to ministry: "We laugh with those who laugh and cry with those who cry." In every conversation, she seeks "to share the goodness of God with others."
Through Bible study and living out their faith, the Bylers helped Burgos to become "one of the major Mennonite centers in Europe today," Melguizo said.
Connie and Dennis plan to retire to Cantabria on Spain's northern coast where the weather is kinder than that of the high-altitude cold of Burgos.