Connecting with the Community in Alcalá de Henares

by Ken Barrett

 

Alcalá de Henares is a city to the north-east of Madrid and dates back to Roman times. Its medieval streets and central university are accepted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as part of the 'cultural heritage of mankind'. However, beyond the restored centre which attracts tourists, there is a large, rundown city of 200,000 people with a sizeable immigrant population, struggling with economic recession and spiritual darkness.

 

In 1971, the assembly was the original evangelical church plant, which began in a house and moved on to two sets of rented premises. It moved location again in 1998, buying 90 m2 for its own meeting place. In 2002 half the congregation relocated to a neighbouring town to plant another small fellowship. And in summer 2014 we were able to expand further by purchasing the  former nightclub next door.

 

Our weekly meeting times reflect the fragmented nature of families and work conditions. Discipleship groups meet on a weekday, either in the morning or midday, because people work long and unsociable hours, not to mention the conflicting demands from non-Christian family members. An encouraging development has been an international study group, whose second language is Spanish and half of whom are from Asia.

 

However, over the last three years our most effective community outreach has been through the Kofi Jaus, which is next door to the church premises. These separate premises are run by a related cultural association and offer a variety of activities during the week, which put us in touch with those who live in the high-rise blocks that make up that part of the city. Dressmaking classes, a children's clothing room, a coffee shop and English conversation classes are part of the weekly programme. Young people from the local area, who are often excluded from school because of their behaviour and vulnerability to drugs, come to the Kofi Jaus; occasionally we arrange a meal with them or a video games evening. The venue is used on a regular basis by a Christian Bikers' Association and the space can also be hired by parents on Fridays for birthday parties. When the classic questions come up, such as, "Why do you bother to do this for us?" or "What makes you tick?", there is opportunity to share the gospel. We have also had the opportunity to equip other Christians for urban mission, in particular one missionary couple stayed with us for 18 months and they are now using the Kofi Jaus format in another region.

 

On Thursdays, Alison and others visit women on the streets who are involved in prostitution. Informally we call it Rahab Run and more formally we have small cards calling it The Scarlet Cord. The women soliciting in the industrial estates and motorway links do not admit to being trafficked, but are open to conversation and welcome the hot drinks and sandwiches in the winter. The women's team includes members with different language skills, which is helpful because almost all of these women come from Eastern Europe, South America or sub-Saharan Africa. The challenge in conversation is direct and the spiritual battle involved is difficult, with little success at times. As we go into a third year of this ministry, please pray for breakthroughs in women coming to know Christ as Saviour and Lord, that they may live in His freedom, move to safe houses and break the cycle of abuse, despair and poverty.

 

We have used the OnTheRedBox ministry to inspire young people in urban churches to engage in proclaiming Christ. Ken has been allowed to preach with his sketchboard in their street work over the last seven years, a continuation of something we started in 1987. Every evening, except Sundays, a team goes out from the OnTheRedBox centre to be in the Puerta del Sol, the heart of Madrid. Thousands of postcards are distributed and the team give a brief and challenging announcement about the need everyone has for the gospel. It provides a link to pages on the Internet, with short testimony videos and evangelistic online Bible study courses. Standing on the red literature box, the team give their testimonies, perform music and preach the gospel. Personal conversations are then taken up. OnTheRedBox training has been provided in many cities in Europe and America. Pray for the Holy Spirit to continue this bold proclamation of the Cross.

 

The challenge is always to be faithful to the Lord who saved us. In our European post-modern society, such faithfulness requires walking alongside the marginalised and offering the straight talk of hope through Christ's salvation. It also requires a willingness to embrace the unlikely and unsought opportunities, rather than trying to flee from or exclude the fetid darkness as Christians often do. Instead, we should be the perfume, light and spiritual oxygen of Christ.



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