This February, David Martin and I were blessed to visit Alicante, Spain with Matthias, an Aquila apprentice and a member of the International Baptist Church of Bonn, one of Aquila's partner churches.
Matthias and his family will move this summer from their home country of Germany to live and work in the Costa Blanca region of Spain. In response to this upcoming move, Aquila reached out to an IBC pastor in Madrid who connected us to a pastor in the city of Alicante. Pastor Emilio Cobo pastors Primera Iglesia Evangélica Bautista de Alicante, one of Spain's largest Baptist churches, and the oldest Baptist church in Alicante.
The church, which is over 150 years old, has an amazing legacy of sending missionaries and planting churches in the region. Emilio is eager to maintain this legacy and was thrilled to learn about Aquila. Emilio, we hoped, might be a strategic network mentor for Matthias. As a Spaniard and a pastor in the city where Matthias and his family are moving, Aquila saw a strategic advantage to Emilio joining the mentoring team.
As academic director of the ATI, I was particularly interested in learning more about Emilio and the church he leads. I wanted to learn how serious PIEBA is about church planting and how much philosophical and theological agreement exists between Aquila and PIEBA. These are important considerations to allow for a fruitful partnership that blesses everyone involved and furthers the gospel effort in Spain.
As Matthias’ pastor I wanted to walk with him as he prayerfully considers whether PIEBA would be a good church home for his family. Additionally, I wanted to explore together with David Martin whether IBC Cologne and/or IBC Bonn might partner with PIEBA in the future to plant an international, English-speaking church in Alicante.
These were our goals, but God had so much more in store for us, and He has blessed us beyond our hopes or expectations.
Some thoughts on the providence of God
It is a special blessing to observe God at work, particularly when one is mindful of God. God is always sovereign, but it is a particular blessing to be able to recognize God at work and marvel at His goodness. This trip allowed us to do just that. We watched as God closed doors and opened doors, all in His good timing. We experienced the providence of God as He gave opportunities for conversations at just the right time. From the moment we boarded the plane to Alicante to our final day in Spain, we were able to both recognize God's hand and give Him glory for His goodness.
A few observations about Alicante
Alicante is a beautiful old city in the Costa Blanca region on the Mediterranean. It has a large local population, but is also a very popular vacation destination for Europeans seeking the sun. Over the years, a growing population of international transplants have made the decision to retire in/around Alicante or to relocate to Alicante to work remotely and start new businesses in the region. In fact, certain surrounding villages have a reputation for being full of Brits, or French, or German and Dutch, etc. Many of these immigrants are not religious, but there is no English-speaking church for those who are Christian.
Alicante also has several universities. From one interview, we learned that the students are mainly Spanish, but are English-speaking and would be very interested in international communities. The Spanish residents of Alicante are mainly nominal Catholics, but Emilio informed us that there is a constant stream of church plants, but these are almost all charismatic churches and only last a few years. The need for faithful churches is clear.
A note about church legacy
It was a special experience to worship at PIEBA, which is over 150 years old. There was a special joy in that. The church has been a missional church from the beginning and has strong roots in the community. Over the years, PIEBA has sent missionaries and planted churches. This is a legacy that David and I were eager to celebrate with them.
When given the opportunity to speak to the church, we appealed to this legacy to try to inspire the church to prayerfully consider an English-language church plant. In a members' meeting on Sunday afternoon, Emilio appealed to this legacy to cast a vision for church planting in 2024.
Having this legacy is special among Baptists, who have a history of missions and church planting. This has meant that many Baptist churches are young. I rejoice at God's faithfulness to PIEBA and pray for many more years of faithful ministry.
Final thoughts on contextual church planting
Making a visit to a popular vacation destination in Spain really impressed upon me the importance of contextual church planting. In addition to the apparent differences such as legal, cultural, language, and demographics, there was the realization that an English-speaking, international church in Alicante might ultimately be a church for seasonal vacationers. This is an important demographic to reach with the Gospel, for sure, but this makeup will have important implications on the nature of community and its leadership and ministry.