High up on a hill outside Alcalá de Henares, once home to Cervantes - author of Don Quijote, with stunning views across the Sierra mountain ranges and back to Madrid, sits the retreat centre that hosted El Encuentro, our annual time away.
The purpose of the weekend was spending time together, deepening relationships, enjoying God and having space to really hear Him clearly, away from the buzz and rush of the city that we love and live in day to day. The weather was good too, so there were opportunities to explore and savour the views.
What comes to mind when you think of a retreat in Spain? Perhaps it would be some of the things we happily shared together at El Encuentro! Paella, tortilla de patatas, Jamón Ibérico, dancing, sunshine and siestas all contributed to an excellent weekend. However, these wonderful, typically Spanish things merely added to the tangible sense that God was with us throughout. From the very start, His presence was powerfully with us. As we worshipped and as the Bible was taught, there was a corporate feeling that lives were being changed and our mission together was being strengthened.
Joined by friends from Southern Spain and Portugal, we were also blessed to have teaching from the Basque Country and the UK. Itiel Arroyo, from Bilbao, is an engaging young pastor with a passion for preaching and advancing the kingdom of God across his country. Mick Taylor was with us too, from England. He recently moved to Bournemouth from London to join the leadership team at Citygate Church and heads up training for Commission.
Itiel spoke strongly and skilfully to us about an obedience that naturally follows encountering God and his grace. He was encouraging us to protect and nourish the presence of God in our lives and that the correct response to our salvation must be to put Jesus first. A changed heart is one that longs to please Him. Mick taught with gentleness and joy about God’s amazing grace, as well as the importance of being a people of the Word, the Spirit and wisdom.
During the weekend we paused for several moments of personal testimony to hear how God was speaking to individuals and spurring them on to greater faith and deeper relationship with Him. We also heard a number of prophetic words, with Mike Shaw reminding us of Guy Miller’s picture of wells being dug across the region and of churches in those places being resource centres to equip the numerous churches that will surely be planted across Spain and Portugal in the coming years.
This retreat was a significant moment in the short history of the church. Over the last year or so, the church has grown quickly. As a result, there are more native speakers in the church this year than before, so the dominant language at the event was definitely Spanish. This is great! It's also vital for growth in Spain, where there are very few evangelical churches. The country is in desperate need of a move of God and for Spanish speaking churches to be planted.
The chance to be away together as a group was so important. Taking a few days out has freshly inspired us for mission. We serve in a land which is spiritually dry and where churches like ours can easily become isolated. However, if you take a moment at the weekend, like communion on the last day for example, when a spontaneous celebratory worship song broke out in gratitude for what Jesus has accomplished for us all, we certainly didn't feel isolated then. We were together. If you pray for us, you are a part of this togetherness, part of the same family. Praise God for community!