Six years ago, the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi made this statement in a speech aired on the Arab satellite network Al Jazeera. “Islam will take over Europe without violent force within a few decades. We have 50 million Muslims in Europe. There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe—without swords, without guns, without conquests. The 50 million Muslims of Europe will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades.”
Most likely the door to evangelism in Europe is on the brink of being slammed shut to Christian missionary endeavors. The European birth rate has dropped so drastically, below what is required to sustain a culture, that there is virtually no hope of recovering. The continent is being populated rapidly by immigrants, 90% of which are Muslim. On average, Muslim families produce over eight children per family and Europeans less than two. You can do the math.
For decades Europe has been an ever-growing spiritual vacuum. As threatening as Islam is to Europe, both Catholic and Protestant leaders in Europe point to the deeply embedded secular mindset as an even greater nemesis to Christianity. Simply put, in the minds of many Europeans, “God is dead.” Regardless of what their church membership papers might read, less than 5 % of people attend a church service or mass on a regular basis.
Matt and I spent a year praying that God would show us if He was leading us to work in Europe after serving in Africa. We particularly had a burden for Spain and spent much time researching the country. From there we began looking at a little northerly province of Spain called Asturias, also called, “Little Switzerland.” According to The Joshua Project, “Evangelical missionaries first came to Asturias a century ago, with little lasting fruit. For every thousand Austrians, only one is a born-again believer. Austrians possess a profound religious heritage, but the vast majority lacks what counts most: a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ! Austrians are proud of their rich culture and fascinating history. They trace their roots to Celtic tribes who once lived there. They have always been a fiercely independent people.” Today the Austrians are still considered an unreached people group.
So that is how, we, the Smith family, ended up on a rollicking train this past February, taking in the views of small pueblos surrounded with snow capped mountains while chasing our one-year old daughter, who delighted in racing up and down the aisle every time we turned our heads. Upon arrival in Asturias, we were greeted by a very hospitable missionary family from the US. For the next few weeks we traveled by foot, stroller, bus, car and train meeting a few fellow believers and setting up our language school and housing arrangements for our permanent move in September.
We had many opportunities to share about the ministry of Teen Missions. The believers in Asturias were very excited about an interdenominational youth-focused ministry coming to their area. Repeatedly we were told that there was very little outreach geared towards young people in Asturias and Spain in general. Spain has nothing of the plethora of Christian camps, youth groups, Bible colleges and campus ministries that the United States contains.
Our vision is to create a program for the Spanish youth after the pattern of the Boot Camp and mission trip program that Teen Missions runs all over the world. We want to see young people deeply discipled in Spain. We want the youth to have a chance to fellowship with other Christians. We want those who don’t know Christ to hear and see the Good News! 99.5%! That is how many people in Spain do not know Christ as Lord and Savior. 99.5%! They are going to drugs, cults, witchcraft—anything to try and find that life which only Christ brings. They are hurting. They are lost. They are the harvest! “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into the harvest.” Mattthew 9:38 KJV.
“How will the Austrian people view our ministry?” We questioned the believers. The youth are more open to hearing about the Bible and spiritual things, but the parents will be more strongly opposed to it. One pastor told us the story of the strongly atheistic mother he encountered while working in a Christian drug rehabilitation center. When she discovered that he was holding Bible studies with the young men in the rehabilitation program, she wanted her son to leave immediately. The pastor tried to reason with the mother that her son was well on his way to becoming drug free. She declared that she would rather have her son addicted to drugs for the rest of his life than reading the Bible!
Please remember this story while we serve over there and remember the ministry in your prayers, that the Gospel would go forward despite any obstacles or persecution.
Well, we arrived stateside in March at our headquarters in Florida. Matt is pitching in with all the work of getting ready for another Boot Camp and summer ministry, while I watch Anneliese at home. In March we got the chance to play the role of the BiBle, Missionary & Work Training Center coordinators for a week while our permanent staff were on vacation. Getting to know the students more personally was delightful. They are a great bunch and I hope we were a blessing to them.
In May Matt is heading to Wisconsin to help set up one of the three life sized replicas of the Old Testament Tabernacle that are going up this summer. Pray for safety during set up and that many people would come through the Tabernacles and hear about Jesus Christ, perhaps even for the first time! While Matt is in Wisconsin, my parents are flying Anneliese and I up to the UP for a visit, so I look forward to seeing some of you there!
Come June, a group of 14, hopefully not so rowdy, teens are coming our way to make up the 2012 Ireland team. Yes, our team got switched. We will be leading Ireland instead of Peru. We could have practiced Spanish in Peru, but Ireland will give us more experience ministering in Europe. We are just thankful to have this opportunity to be a part of the ministry to our team members and to the people of Ireland.
As soon as our team finishes in August, we must travel down to Miami to apply for our visas for Spain. Before catching our plane back across the “pond” in September, we plan to spend a few weeks where we consider to be “home”—Caledonia, Michigan. Our fly out date is September 18th and language school starts October 1st.
With Much Appreciation for Prayers and Support, Matthew, Sarah & Anneliese Smith