By Blake Oliver
“Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’” (Luke 5:29-32).
Often when people think about evangelism, they have some grand scheme in mind: standing on a street corner to preach, walking door to door to hand out pamphlets, or holding events. As well-meaning as these actions are, not everyone is designed for that kind of evangelism. It requires something that only the extroverted Christian is equipped for. I love the idea of this passage from Luke. Jesus went to the home of someone who needed to know him and showed that man, plus all his guests, his heart. Levi came to know Jesus over a meal.
Today, meals in the United States seem to be viewed as a necessity that we need to get through. Our biggest meal is dinner, and the faster we get through our hamburger and fries, the sooner we can get on to something else. Most people want something else going on while they eat, such as watching television or reading. Some people work during their meals.
My wife and I moved to Spain last year, and after a month I could already see a difference in how Europeans and Americans view meals. A Spaniard’s biggest meal is lunch, for which they get at least an hour off work. Even dinner, which is made up of tapas, what would amount to small American appetizers, is usually three hours long. Both of these meals revolve not around the necessity to eat, but around socializing. This is similar to how meals were conducted in the Bible. Christ was often with people eating, using that time to form a relationship with those around him and teach them. While there were many reasons for us coming to Spain, one of my primary hopes is that I can evangelize by building relationships during meals with others.
Cultural Not Personal
In Spain it is not hard to find the cultural foundation: Catholicism. Beautiful cathedrals are the centers of small towns and dot the maps of large cities. There are festivals thrown for saints of the past, and the holidays of Holy Week and Christmas are indelible. But that’s as far as it goes for many Spaniards. Many cathedrals are empty except for the devout few and tourists. The overall population’s belief in Catholicism is strictly cultural, subconscious, background noise; few Spaniards actively engage with faith. In a way, it feels like God haunts here instead of lives here.
My wife and I are living in Lugo, a small provincial capital in the region of Galicia. Galicia is most known to Christians worldwide because it is the culmination of the Camino de Santiago, a holy pilgrimage. While those on that sojourn are usually believers, there are many vendors who see it primarily as a means of tourism. The celebration of the saints has pomp and circumstance but seemingly little to do with the people and their faith. During the festival of Lugo’s patron saint, San Froilan, there wasn’t call to revival but great concerts. Froilan didn’t feel celebrated as much as eating octopus was celebrated.
As much as Spain is removed from its own Catholic roots, I particularly feel the absence of Protestant churches. The options for a church are highly limited for those who want to worship outside of the Catholic faith, and my wife and I have often watched our home church’s services through their online feed. Another difficulty isn’t cultural or religious but the language barrier. This should be obvious, but most people told me that I would not have a problem moving here because of how widely English is spoken. Those people have obviously never been to the province of Galicia.
Galicia has two official languages: the national Spanish and the regional Galician (or Gallego). You’ll notice: neither of these is English. English is spoken and understood by few here, and this can be isolating to a low-level language learner like myself. Yet this doesn’t mean that my wife and I do not continue with the hope of building relationships and sharing the gospel.
Reach Their Heart
While I cringe at considering myself a missionary, that is simply because I am an introvert. As I said earlier, most of the usual plans to evangelize sound like they need the touch of an extrovert, but that does not mean I do not want to grow the kingdom of God. I just need a different method. We are all more equipped to evangelize with people in the same way that we socialize. I like to meet with people individually or in a small group as a general rule, and that means I’m more comfortable with evangelizing this way.
So my evangelizing tool is the dinner table. There are two reasons that this method is great, especially for introverts like me. First, everyone has to eat. Making plans to talk over coffee may be difficult, depending on the person, but everyone needs food. Second, eating with people is highly relational. The goal of meeting up should always be to build the relationship, not to evangelize. That is actually what makes sharing Christ this way strong. A stranger may be able to speak the truth of Christ, but they can be ignored. A friend or family member speaking the truth of Christ is in a better position to reach their heart. Focusing on building the relationship also prevents the feeling of bait and switch. The last thing that is going to build the kingdom or a relationship is the overwhelming feeling that a person has been tricked into an altar call.
With this in mind, we have tried to make time to go out for lunch and dinner with as many people as we can. Sometimes they speak as much English as I do Spanish, which leaves my wife, who is fluent in both languages, as translator for the conversation. Mostly we have been meeting with other people from English-speaking countries who find themselves here in Spain. Because my faith interweaves with much of my life, it is easy for me to segue a conversation about politics, work, or other common topics to Christ. I usually start with a small remark, leaving an opening for questioning or a shift of conversation. As an example, we were asked about the current political climate of the United States by a Spaniard, and I responded, “Well, because I’m a Christian, I feel . . .”
It is usually that simple. The nice thing about a small remark like that is that the conversation organically could stay on politics, could shift to faith, or an intermingling of the two. That particular time led to a conversation about my faith with a lens of politics. A lot the questions from there were about how I feel about different policy decisions, what I agreed with, and what I would change. Through this I got to know someone else and share about how my faith in Christ works itself out in life.
I will say that most attempts fall completely flat, either because of lack of interest in the subject or because my mention of faith becomes more an objective fascination in a foreign tradition. I am praying that it changes and that I am able to share with more people. Spain, though a first-world country, needs as many evangelical missionaries and prayers as anywhere else in the world. The needs of Spain are not relatively quick fixes, but rather a deep cultural absence of God that can only be helped by long-term missionaries who move here—missionaries who will live, work, and eat with Spaniards.
While I hope that many of you will pray for Europe and support missionaries who come here, I also hope that you begin to evangelize over meals with people in your own town. The best advice I can give is to invite people you already have a connection with—friends who might not be believers, family members who are struggling with their faith, or coworkers you would like to get to know better anyway.
One meal and one relationship at a time will continue to build up God’s kingdom.
Blake Oliver is working as a writer in Lugo, Spain while his wife completes a Fulbright grant.