I once read a blurb in Reader’s Digest where a woman was talking to her doctor. “I’d love to be a physician myself,” she said, “but it’s too late to start now. By the time I finish med school I’ll be 40.” Her doctor replied, “So what? You’ll be 40 anyway, so you might as well do what you want.” She took his advice, went to med school, and became a doctor, even though she was older than most other med students. I think about this story all the time as we work to open a Welcome Center in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, that will serve the pilgrims who walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail.
Starting something from scratch is, at first, pretty exciting. You’ve got a calling, you’re eager to get going, and you can envision that elusive “perfect future.” Soon you realize, though, that pioneering anything kind of sucks. Many times you don’t know what your next steps are and you don’t know what questions to ask. Add in the fact that for us, we’re trying to start something in a new country and in a second language, and there have been several delays. We’ve been in Spain for 5 years, and we always thought we’d have something by now. Instead, we’ve learned Spanish, started a non-profit association, walked some of the Camino, built a solid partnership with a local Spanish church, and recruited six new teammates. These things are great, really great. But we still long to open a place that will give us daily, weighty contact with the pilgrims, and it’s really hard to wait during this time of preparation.
The Lord gave me some unexpected encouragement as we drove to and from Switzerland last year. There was a highway that wound through the mountainous Basque region of Spain, and it took us through a bunch of brand-new tunnels. There were so many tunnels the kids called the area Tunnel City. I kept thinking about those engineers who, years ago, looked at these mountains, undaunted, and said, “We’re going to make a road through here.” I’m sure it wasn’t easy to blast away that rock and construct those tunnels, but they did it, and here we were driving through them. However long it took, they made a way through where previously there was no way.
While in Switzerland, we attended a conference with other International Teams (ITeams) workers in Europe. Some of our colleagues were like us – they arrived in Europe a few years ago and were pioneering new ministries. Other ITeams colleagues arrived in cities where they were able to jump into existing ministries, serving refugees, prostitutes, or kids in need. But even with those ministries, someone had to start them way back when.
As we returned from the conference, I felt like the Lord was saying, “Look at these Basque tunnels, and look at these thriving International Teams ministries. At some point someone had to have a vision to build these. They persevered and after a while they finally saw their vision become a reality.” I felt a renewed energy to get back to work and to keep hitting those milestones that would push the project forward. Now, a year later, we’re so much closer to opening than we were then.
Ultimately, we don’t know how the story of the Welcome Center will be written, but we do know that the Lord needs to move powerfully, open doors, and make a way. Yes, we need to be diligent and persevere. But in the end it will be Him who establishes the work of our hands and allows our eyes to see, once again, what He has done. We can’t wait! And – like that 40-year-old med student, if it was going to take this long anyway, I’m so glad we got started all those years ago.