Two years ago we embarked on a journey to return to full-time overseas missions. We have served with Team Expansion for the past 32 years in various mission locations. In June 1986 we left for one year of language school in Costa Rica and then served for nine years in Uruguay, South America. In 1996 we moved to Miami and served in Hispanic ministry for the next 20 years in Miami, Florida and in Memphis, Tennessee while also continuing mission trips to Cuba and Mexico as well as other Spanish speaking countries.
In May 2015 we made the decision that has brought us to Spain. We arrived here in April 2017 and have been here one year working with the Team Expansion team in Granada.
The Scriptures that motivated us to enter missions in the first place are still our motivation today: Matthew 28:19, 20 and Romans 10:13-15. Also, the need in Spain has been evident to us since 2008, when we were first presented with the fact that evangelical Christians made up only 0.7 percent of the population. (Today the percentage is closer to 1 percent). Our mission, Team Expansion, is dedicated to reaching the least reached people groups and the nation of Spain is one of the last unreached Spanish speaking populations.
In 2009 we began to plan a potential transition from Miami to Spain, but circumstances beyond our control prevented us from going at that time. We moved to Memphis and I began work at Mid-South Christian College. However, I remained active in missions, going on a couple of mission trips each year and continuing to train and mobilize others to go into the field. Missions was always in my heart and in the back of my mind. The more that I encouraged others to go, the stronger the pull toward missions continued in me.
Now let me take you back to May 2015. Becky and I were visiting our daughter Carol Marie Maxey and enjoying our time with our grandkids. We worshiped one Sunday at Western Hills Church of Christ in Cincinnati, Ohio. The minister, Dan Lang, had recently finished a sermon series based on The Story, and was speaking about the need to share the gospel with the people of Cincinnati. As I listened to the message, the Lord impressed on my heart the need to go to Spain. I didn’t hear an audible voice, but the message was unmistakable. I began to weep knowing that God was calling me to step out in faith again. As I sat there weeping, my wife put her hand on my back and asked if I was OK. During an emotional time of communion we sat together in the back and I told her what I had felt from the Lord. Then she began to weep along with me. Later as we talked about the experience and I asked her what we should do, she responded, “How can we say no?” So we said yes!
After talking to our church leaders and our mission organization we began to devise a plan of action to raise support and receive training for the specific ministry we would join in Spain. It would take about two years to get everything ready. We had to transition out of ministries and jobs, sell our house, visit churches, attend training events, and apply for a religious visa from the Spanish consulate.
The first time we left for the mission field we had few possessions and were living in a rented house, having just started our family. This time we would be leaving our grown children, our five grandchildren, my aging parents, and Becky’s sister who was terminally ill. We are older and have our own health issues as well. Many of our friends are retiring and we are nearing retirement age as well. Some of our friends asked, “Why are you doing this now?” Our answer was that we were being obedient to the Lord’s will for our lives.
As we went through the training sessions, sometimes with couples who were going out in missions for the very first time, our colleagues said on more than one occasion, “You could be teaching these classes.” It’s true that many of the classes served more as a review for us. But it’s also true that mission strategy has changed drastically since we first began in 1986, and for us it was important to become familiar with the new terminology, the new strategies, and the changes in policies in our mission. The gospel is the same but mission strategy has changed significantly.
When we arrived in Spain we found that the pioneer family of the mission was going on an extended furlough and I was asked to become the new team leader. We began to see why the Lord had called us to come to Spain at this time. Of course the challenges of life are never ending, and the distance from family is a great difficulty. Thanks to advances in technology we can talk to our kids and grandkids frequently through texts and video calls, and we are able to stay in touch with our family and friends; but it’s not the same as giving a physical hug to your children and grandchildren.
A Disciple Making Movement
Whereas our previous work was with traditional church plants, the current strategy of Team Expansion, Spain is focused on helping develop a disciple making movement among the unreached population, beginning in Granada. During the first years, the team identified 25 towns around Granada where no evangelical churches exist. We have started a prayer network of over 1,000 individuals who receive prayer updates weekly or daily and pray specifically for the establishment of a disciple making movement in Spain. (If you would like to join our prayer network, please go to www.WePray4Spain.com and enroll.)
Our team conducts several weekly prayer walks in these towns for up to three months at a time. We share our testimony and share God’s story with people as we walk and pray for open hearts and open homes. Our goal is to find people of peace in many of these unreached towns (Luke 10:1-9). A person of peace is one who welcomes us into their homes, listens to God’s Word, and is willing to obey and share with others. Once these people of peace are identified, we start Discovery Bible Studies with them where they discover truths from God’s Word, agree to specific ways of obeying God, and commit to sharing with someone else. The goal is that these disciples will multiply and that these groups will also multiply and eventually become a movement. This is our first year of full implementation of this strategy. We praise God for having found one person of peace who is obeying the Lord and sharing her faith, and we continue to develop strategies for reaching others.
A Ripe Harvest
The work here is quite challenging and the hearts of the Spanish people are generally hardened by centuries of oppression from traditional Catholic religion, and a reaction against all religion in general accompanied by a turn to a secular and worldly way of life. However, we are convinced that there is a harvest here, people of peace who are seeking truth, purpose, and fulfillment in their lives. Please join us in praying that God will lead us to these people and that they will have open hearts to accept the gospel message and become disciples who make disciples.
John and Becky Bliffen serve as church planting missionaries with Team Expansion, Spain. The Bliffens served for 10 years in South and Central America, 20 years in Hispanic ministries in the USA, and most recently in Spain.