Lessons from Spain

¡Hola amigas! This last semester I had the opportunity to study abroad in Sevilla, Spain. Though living in a new culture and learning Spanish certainly brought challenges, I am super thankful for everything I experienced and learned.

Before heading to Spain, and now after, it’s easy to idealize living in Europe. Despite what my Instagram feed may lead you to believe, I learned that life in Europe, in many ways, is still just normal life. While I do miss the bakeries on every corner and walks across the river to school, there were also normal challenges of daily life, like homework deadlines and loneliness and unknowns. Sometimes I loved it. Sometimes I just wanted to go home. Sometimes I experienced the full range of emotions in one afternoon. I found it easy to take for granted the history and architecture and culture and palm trees I was surrounded by and to complain about (mostly petty) inconveniences or annoyances. Through this, God convicted my heart and helped me to think about contentment. How can I, like Paul, learn to be content in any and every situation?? Through Christ! (Phil. 4:11-13). In every stage of life, it’s easy to look to the next or past or others’ experiences for joy. When I go to college, or graduate college, or go to Europe, or get married, or have kids, or when my kids are out of the house – then I can be happy and content and experience fullness of joy.

This semester was a sweet reminder that only Jesus can satisfy my needy soul and prompted me to think about what it means to “delight [my]self in the Lord” (Ps. 37:4), to ponder and rejoice in Jesus’ person, presence, and promises (past and future), and how He is working, both in the world and in my heart. One way I was able to delight more in the Lord this semester was to spend more time in the Word. This has been a major struggle for me, and being away from my usual friends and extracurriculars helped me think about my priorities and provided more time to spend with Jesus. God also helped me to more proactively notice His blessings in both the little ways, like the sparkling water in the river I got to walk by everyday, and in the big ways, like the community I found in Spain.

Though I came to Sevilla knowing one friend, God provided a sweet missionary couple to connect me to Christian community while abroad. Through a miraculous combination of the internet and other missionaries, early on I was connected to a couple from the U.S. that have been missionaries in Spain for about 20 years. I was able to go to a local church with them and a weekly Bible study that they led for a group of other American students studying abroad. Being away from my church home, campus ministry, and Christian friends helped me appreciate both the global church and the Christian community I have in the U.S. It was really refreshing to go to Bible study and have other girls I barely know look me in the eye and ask, “How are you??”
And genuinely care.
Living outside of my Christian bubble helped me appreciate the ways other believers care for each other and show Christ to each other.

I was also encouraged through the local church. Though my interactions included a lot of smiling and nodding, these fellow believers welcomed me and loved on me, even though they knew I was only there for a short time and could not give much back. It was really sweet to see the body of Christ in a different country and experience the universal church. Through the deep theology and fervency of their prayers and singing, their reverence and love for the Lord was clear. That we know, praise, and serve the same God is awesome. I so often get wrapped up in my own little world and focus on what God is doing in my heart and life and future. It was good to see how God is at work in Sevilla and to be reminded that He is calling people of every nation to Himself. Christ died for me, yes amazing. But He died for so many more as well and is redeeming the world!

God’s work in the church in Sevilla was evident not only in the hearts of people I met and worshipped with, but also through the preaching. Each week, the pastor's message was very Gospel-oriented and a sweet reminder to live a more Christ-centered life each day. He spent 3 weeks on Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” This verse was impactful for me as I thought about what it means to live for Jesus while abroad. It's really easy to get caught up in traveling, experiencing the city, and having the most fun possible, but God was good to provide many reminders that this world is not my home or hope, but that knowing Jesus and serving Him is where true life is.

Through my time in Spain, I was able to experience God’s provision and appreciate the church and community in new ways. God was so faithful to continue to draw me to Himself and challenge my heart to be all about Him. I am so thankful for the opportunity to gain a deeper knowledge of and love for a different culture and the same God.

Madalyn Unseth is super excited to be in Peoria this summer and is enjoying spending time with family and friends. She will start her junior year at the University of Tulsa this fall.


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