Growth in Complicated Times

I wonder whether seminaries in upcoming years will begin offering classes like: “Dealing with Disasters” or “Going Past PowerPoint in a Pandemic”! Things have certainly been interesting in 2020 here in Spain, but I could not be more grateful for how God has led our church through these times. It’s hard to believe this is the end of our family’s second year at the Puerto church because it feels like every month is something entirely new!

And speaking of things new, in case you don’t follow us on social media and haven’t seen, Raquel and I are the proud parents of Leire Allison Bonikowsky Rodríguez! The name might be a bit of a mouthful, but she’s absolutely worth it! We’re thankful to God for Raquel’s safe and quick delivery in the middle of a pandemic. Leire is growing well and quickly, and though in these masked times she’s practically never seen anyone but her parents’ smiles, she’s an exuberantly happy baby with a laugh to melt your heart!

Roy and Lou Ann Keiser, the missionary couple that led the Puerto ministry before us, put their house on the market in 2019, and God (pretty much miraculously) allowed them to sell their house in the middle of an economic meltdown in Spain. They were able to retire and return to America this November, leaving the Puerto church entirely as our responsibility. We are so grateful for their many, many years of ministry here in Spain, and we know God will reward them as faithful servants.

As I write this, the mobility restrictions in our province are quite high. There is a curfew beginning at 10 PM (which may sound late to friends in America, but here that’s still dinnertime!). People are not allowed to leave their city of residence unless it’s for work or a few other approved reasons. I as a pastor can move pretty freely to do ministry tasks, but Raquel and Leire haven’t been able to go to church in person for over a month. Since the church is in Rentería, only those who live in the city of Rentería can attend services (about half of our people, including us who live in Irun). It appears some of the restrictions will be reverted next week however, so we hope to resume more of our services in-person before Christmas.

This Christmas for the first time we will be participating in the Gospel postcard project my father has organized for quite a few years at the Lazkao church ministry. We will be mailing a Christmas postcard to every home in our church’s neighborhood (a total of 4000 homes). The postcard is in Spanish and Basque and invites people to our church. We’re praying that God will allow the postcards to reach the hands of people who are inquiring spiritually. Lord willing we hope to repeat this project each year, so people in our area eventually begin to expect their annual postcard. Thank you so much to those of you who already contributed financially toward the $400 it will cost in postage.

Postcard front
Postcard back

If you would, please pray for some of the unsaved contacts Raquel and I are working with. There’s a young man I met in my Basque classes who has shown a lot of interest in spending time together, and he’s been receptive to the Gospel. A co-worker Raquel met at her pharmacy named has also shown interest in the Gospel. Since we started doing services online she has been joining to watch them live. Pray for Raquel as she spends time with her friend and tries to bring her closer to Christ.

We trust the Lord will guide you on His plan throughout these months. Believers and non-believers are facing new experiences that serve as a reminder of our fragility and dependence on God. We pray that God will use you also to keep working out the Great Commission wherever you live.

God bless!
David, Raquel, and Leire
Psalm 34:3

My brother Danny and me with each other’s new babies

What COVID has meant for our church in Spain

The first confirmed case of COVID on the mainland was Feb. 24th. We were all watching Italy closely at that point. By Sunday March 8th I’d gotten ahold of some hand sanitizer (Spain ran out of alcohol almost immediately, and it’s still very scarce) and made it a requirement at the entrance of church. The following week, Spain went full-fledge into quarantine mode. All classes were cancelled by March 11th, and the country entered a state of emergency on March 14th. I was rushing to get set up for online streaming (for church as well as for all my English classes).

Sunday, March 15th. We got ahold of hand sanitizer for everyone coming into church. (We also taught the “foot shake” to replace the handshake. Sadly no video)

In the initial state of emergency, churches were among the very few establishments allowed to stay open with heavy precautions (strong catholic traditions in Spain). On Sunday 15th I livestreamed one service from church with only 2 of our members attending (the only ones who don’t have internet at home). I had to do some explaining to policemen who came to check on us, but everything was fine. The other service was fully online.

The following week, even churches were required to close, so from that point on the church building was closed and I led all the services from my house online. I set up our Wednesday prayer services on Zoom, while we had both our Sunday services on Facebook livestreaming. The reasoning was that on for our prayer service we could have a “closed” group with full liberty to pray for non-church members by name in detail, while on Sundays I kept the prayer time more geared toward a public setting, since anyone was free to join the livestream. I figured out how to do conference calls from my cell phone, so for those believers who don’t have internet access or couldn’t figure out how to use Zoom, I’ve been calling them all on my phone for the duration of the service. With loudspeaker on, everyone can hear each other whether they’re connected online or by phone.

Livestreaming a church service (co-worker Roy Keiser preaching from a recorded video)

We had 8 full weeks of online-only services. Our church people responded like champs. Several of them are high-risk individuals, but they’ve been trusting God and have been very involved in all the services. Praise the Lord, one young man who hasn’t been to church in years started joining all our online services. He’s been participating and asking for prayer. During these 2 months of services I helped organize a virtual choir with members all around Spain who would prepare a special number each week to include in Spain’s church services each Sunday. I probably averaged around 30 hours each week compiling the videos to have ready each Sunday morning. These are the videos we’ve done:

Singing (from the diaphragm) for our virtual choir numbers
I’ve gradually been learning a lot about audio editing

Finally, last week, Spain eased restrictions slightly, allowing churches to hold services again, with strict health guidelines in place. So this Sunday, May 17th, we finally saw each other once again! What a blessing that was! There was still a restriction in place preventing people from travelling between cities, so those who live outside the church city weren’t able to come. We also had to ensure we were under 30% capacity for our auditorium (which was no problem for us), as well as all use facemasks, and sanitize everyone and everything. I took a TV to church to put song lyrics on-screen so we wouldn’t have to touch hymnals, and I livestreamed everything for those who couldn’t come to church. At this point we plan to hold only the Sunday AM service at church each week indefinitely. Nobody knows how long it will take for things to get back to normal here, and I believe it’s very important to maintain a public testimony of acting responsibly about dealing with the virus.

Our new auditorium seating arrangement
Gotta sanitize the light switches!

One big praise out of all of this, the guy who came back to online services also unexpectedly came to church on Sunday! It was a huge encouragement for everyone to see him. He’s a very cheerful guy who’s paralyzed and uses a wheelchair. He also plays basketball, and we all joke that the wheelchair is his Ferrari cause he wheels it around like a maniac! I trust that’s just one of the many ways God will use all of what’s happened for His glory and for the spiritual growth of our church. Thank you for your prayers! God bless!

David & Raquel+
Ps. 34:3