“Friend Friday” with the Contreras Family in Spain

A Beautiful Family

For today’s Friend Friday conversation, we have a couple of friends and neighbors visiting. Joseph and Danielle (or Joe and Dani) live in the northern Spanish region of Asturias. They came to visit us one time, and sadly we have not been able to return the favor, yet. They have been missionaries in Spain for almost a decade now and have a somewhat unique ministry that they are implementing in their city. I’m excited about it and about their stopping by today.

Get to know them a little bit by reading our exchange below and then drop in over at their blog or this one too. Most of all, pray that the Lord will use them to bring people to the Lord Jesus.

  • Me: Most of our readers know that we made the decision to put our kids into the public school system here. It was a tough decision, but one that we feel like was right for them. You guys have been on the field a good bit longer than we have, and homeschool your three boys. From both Joe’s and Dani’s perspective what are the biggest challenges you have faced with homeschooling on a foreign field rather than in the United States?

Danielle – I totally understand the difficulty of this decision. Each family has to do as God leads them in this area. Homeschooling was something the Lord put on my heart when I was an undergraduate studying to be an elementary teacher. To me there was no greater ambition than to teach my own children to read and write. When we came to Spain and had our babies, we learned that homeschooling was not illigal but nor was it a legal. There were no laws for or against it. We decided not to put our boys into the school system at all here in Spain, so that we wouldn´t have to pull them out to homeschool later on. We had heard that many familys who have chosen to pull their children out after being in the school system inorder to homeschool have had much more negative attention and often court hearings. I often wish we could have put our children into kindergarden and primary school for the language sake, but they are getting Spanish down with tutors, extra class work, and extracurricular activities in the city such as sports and music. Homeschooling in Spain is becoming more recognized, however there are still many strikes against it as it is not  the norm. We are so excited to have started our 9th year of homeschooling.

Joseph – We´ve been homeschooling now for 9 years now.  I would say the biggest challenge the first two or three years was making sure our testimony to the community showed our boys were properly educated (since as Danielle said it could lead to legal problems).  We made sure the daily and yearly schedule was the same as the spanish schools so that our kids were never out during school hours.  Living in an aprtment, we made sure noise was always controlled so that neighbors wouldn´t think our kids were on free days and not in school.  I always wanted to make sure our kids could explain any of their school work in Spanish should a neighbor ask them how school was or what they were learning.  We always had carefully prepared responses in case anyone questioned why we didn´t have our kids in spanish schools.  After those first two or three years it seemed our community had no problem with our kids being homeschooled.  Getting to know kids in town has never been a problem.  Our boys know all the kids in our neigborhood, get along with them, have a good testimony, and we always made sure their afternoons were filled with good extracurricular activities like karate or music school.

I would say one of the biggest challenges was for Danielle balancing the mother/teacher relationshop with the kids.  But God has worked on all their hearts and we are all learning as God brings us through different phases in life and parenting.

  • Me: One of the numerous regrets that I have over the last twelve years in the ministry is that I neglected my health during a significant portion of that time. It wasn’t until I began to see the toll that stress was taking on me that I got back into the gym. Both of you guys are very active and competitive, how do you feel that your fitness regimen has made an impact on your ministry?

Danielle – Yes, I too, let my health go for several years. Coming to Spain helped greatly. We lived in Barcelona for almost 2 years. The Mediterranian diet is one of the best in the world. However, I was pregnant for 3 years straight. Well, it felt like it anyway. We realized once the boys got older that we needed to get them into Physical Education, and I had a lot of weight to get off.  Joseph and I started to run again. Joseph joined the Gijón Mariners football team. It took me a year and a half to get 40 lbs off. We then began to start using health and fitness as an outreach in our community. I started a private fitness blog for ladies, also using it for the ladies in our church. Joseph then had the vision for Be Strong Ministries. This was mainly to reach out to sports teams, to teach English, and most importantly to build relationships to give the Gospel. He will share his heart and dream for Be Strong. It has been a great year with a lot of change. I would say we are playing an active roll in 100% more individual´s lives than in the previous 11 years of our ministry.

Joseph – I have always loved sports, but I was never a “jock”.  I spent highschool and college in to music.  I believed God would use music as an isntrument for us to get involved with our community, but He actually seemed to close the doors everytime I tried.  I had no involvement with young people.  One day I saw a college student with a football helmet and pads.  I asked about it and he informed me it was a new team starting and that it was for college aged students and adults.  At the time I would notice that I had strange stiffness type pains in my knees, etc.  I had been so inactive physically for our first years in Spain, I though at my age (33 at the time – I´m now 40) there´s no reason why I should have such pains.  I knew it would be good for my health and I saw it as an opportunity to have an influence for Christ among these young men, and it would probably be my last chance to play the sport I loved most.  So I decided to play and ended up playing 5 years, being chaplain as well.

During those years, I sought out how to prepare correctly physically.  Of course I began lifting weights, but when we were in the States in 2008 I got with highschool and college football players and asked how they trained.  They taught me olympic lifting.  When we got back to Spain that year, I joined an olympic weightlifting team and competed with them while playing football as well.  I finally quit playing in 2010.  We went to the States, and came back in 2011 and the team and I agreed that I´d be their strength trainer to teach the guys olympic lifts technique.

The impact on the ministry?  We´ve had more opportunities to witness repeatedly to these young people and those in their lives than in the 5 years previous to joining the team.  It has also steered us in a new direction in ministry that I never would have imagined years ago.  I´ll explain that on question number 4. 

One other thing.  In a society where people don´t believe in the spiritual nor eternal, what is most valued is temporal happiness and good physical health – Spaniards in general are quite fit.  The Bible says man looks at the externals while God looks at the heart.  While as Christians we learn to see things the way God sees them and work on what He sees, man, especially unsaved man, can´t read the heart.  They only see the outside.  To be frank, Spaniards and Europeans in general have a very low view of Americans for their obesity, seeing them as gluttons.  Being fit is a good testimony.  It gives testimony to discipline, not being lazy, eating well, and, as Christians, good stewardship of what God has given us for the time being.

  • Me: Last summer we took a short, three month furlough, that in some respects was about 2 months too long for me. Given all of the factors involved (being absent from the Spanish ministry, travel costs, need for rest, need to see stateside family, etc.) how do you feel about furlough in general and what do you think is the best way to do it?

Danielle – We have taken 3 furloughs , 8 months, 6 months and the last for 6 months.  I don´t think there is any easy way to do them. Nor do I think that there is anyway to get around them. For our family and extended family it is a necessity. It has always cost a lot, but we have always looked back on them as so worthwhile. Everytime we have needed to go on Furlough, God has provided in miraculous ways. We always need someone to take our place here and that has been a huge prayer for our upcoming furlough. Specifically, we need a Pastor and family who can speak Spanish, English and who is into sports as a ministry.

Joseph – Honestly at this point I would love to go back to the States for a furlough.  I can´t wait to do it again.  I feel as the years go by, the more I need to take a step back and seek God´s face, and find some refreshment in the ministry.  I love our city, Gijón, Spain, I love the way the work in the community is going, as a missionary /pastor, the lack of spiritual interest, of course among the lost people but more so among those who profess to be saved, weighs heavy on me and messes with the mind, it causes struggles with doubt.  So furloughs for me are welcomed =).  I guess I would say furlough´s are best done when there is a strong two to three family team of pastors or missionaries working together.  There is no need to worry about who will continue the work, there would be minimal change-up for the work since the families staying would be regular workers, not new ones coming in just for the furlough, etc.  A team of two to three families who are in every true sense of the phrase “of one mind” I believe definitely helps to have a smooth furlough.  That is something we need.

  • Me: Tell us a little about your vision with Be Strong. The building itself is a place where the church meets, but it is also so much more than that. In telling us, be sure to include how the surrounding community has responded.

Joseph – We arrived in Spain in 2000.  We started our church planting effort in Gijón in 2005, in a small 35 square meter office.  God did bring a number of evangelical people and it wasn´t hard to outgrow our place.  We were terribly limited by space.  We needed room for a kitchen, nursery, and kid´s club activities.  But our small church could not afford a bigger place, so we were kind of in a “catch 22”.

Meanwhile, I needed to be honest with myself and admit I was trying to plant a church as if I was living between East TX to Northern FL.  I am not against handing out tracts, we handed out tens of thousands of tracts in mailboxes, streets, door to door, in towns, etc.  While noone ever responded, most people got annoyed, and there was no possibility for follow-up, I would routinely tell myself, “Well, I did my part, that´s all I can do, I´m suffering the reproach of Christ.”  But deep down I knew that I couldn´t say that in spending some hours in my office, going out three to four days a week to pass out tracts, and having church services, that I was doing the work of a missionary.  Was I really having an impact in society?  Do my encounters with people always have to bring so much scorn?  Plus, I was only reaching “stray evangelicals”, not the lost.  And many of those “stray evangelicals” quite honestly brought grief, divisions, and problems.

It was through conversing with a missionary in Auschaffenburg, Germany, that I began to really identify barriers that needed to be removed in European mission fields.  People react to the Gospel with scorn because all they know about christianity is a Church and priests that enforced man-made rules and traditions and the people are fed up with it.  So I decided to disassociate ourselves from that Spanish concept of christianity as much as possible.

In June of 2011,we opened up a 300 square meter storefront on an important avenue in our city.  Being so big, there was no way our church could pay such rent.  Different Spanish mature christians and pastors counseled me to not open the building as a church – it would bring many problems with the local government.  We also wanted to use the place evangelistically, inviting young people for Danielle´s English classes and my weight lifting classes.  We opened it as “Centro BE STRONG”, based on Ephesians 3:16 and 6:10, using the English words because it draws young people.  Most evangelical, and I would even say Baptist churches, look closed and private and ´the majority of people don´t want to enter, much less be seen looking inside.  We wanted our place to scream:  “Come in!”  It is very open, they see a comfortable café reception / reading area.  Those who come for English and weightlifting give a set donation and this helps with costs.  It also is intended to reach people for Christ and thereby helping the church to grow. 

I also wanted to no longer perpetuate the idea that a “church” is a building with a sign “church” over it.  The church is God´s saved and baptized people covenanted to serving the Lord  together in their community, and they may meet in homes, forests, caves, or even as Paul, in the school of Tyrannus, when the synagogue no longer represented the place where the Gospel message was preached.

How has the community responded?  Any seasoned pastor or missionary in Spain or Europe would say that personal contact is the greatest tool for evangelism.  When we spoke with people anonymously passing out tracts, most people would leave in disgust and we´d never see that person again.  Through personal involvement through English and sports, we have witnessed repeatedly and deeply with people who now consider us as good friends.  God has given us a special place in their lives and we can use that now to witness to them.  A spanish christian has well said, “You have to disciple a Spaniard befor they get saved.”  It takes time re-teaching, and changing their concept of christianity to one that is biblical.  And Spaniards aren´t very teachable.  People enter regularly, daily, in to Be Strong.  They ask about English, they ask about weightlifting, and they ask about Bible studies as well.  We explain our faith and give them a tract.  They take it with gratitude.  I have had unsaved friends and neighbors in the community express their appreciation for how we are doing the work and the positive impact we are having among the young people.

For the approximately 200 young people involved with Be Strong this first year of its conception, we are preparing an informative session to discuss spiritual life versus religion at the end of September.  It is the next major phase in this project.  We are trusting God to bring a good number of them and draw them closer to salvation.

Exciting, right? Again, I want to say thank you to “Joe and Dani” (has a nice ring, I think) for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope that it was a blessing to all.

  • http://www.thedomesticfringe.wordpress.com FringeGirl

    Very exciting! I love their unique approach to ministry. I think we, in ministry, too often put God in a box and we are afraid to be sensitive to His spirit and the “different” ways He might choose to use us in our communities. I loved reading this testimony and I love hearing about what God is doing through a family sold out for Him.
    ~FringeGirl

  • nina

    Me too, Fringegirl…..sometimes, especially in European ministry, we must think outside the box….I often say, “We’re not in Kansas, anymore…”

    I grew up and met Jesus in the ‘bible belt’ USA…..but, I’m far from that place now. I can’t keep thinking I’m still there, or I’m bound for failure.

    God bless the Contreras Family and their dedication to seeing Jesus’ name proclaimed in every corner of the world.

    I love you both…Dani and Tricia!
    Hugs and Prayers from Portugal…..
    Nina

  • http://www.bestrongmissions.blogspot.com Dani Joy

    Thanks Ladies! What a blessing to read your encouraging comments! Really it has been a wonderful journey and we are looking forward to what God is going to do.

    totally agree with you Nina! “We Ain´t in Kansas anymore!” With God´s help and guidance, and staying faithful to His word, WE can reach out and souls will be saved!

    Love you two, NIna and Tricia!!! And your precious families!! Let´s keep on the trek together!!

    Dani

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