The Salvation Army in Spain
A Salvation Army soldier’s yearlong mission abroad
by Jennifer Hood –
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This is a popular quote, but in The Salvation Army of today, I learned that a journey of a thousand miles could begin with a single email.
While my physical journey started with a 2005 email, my spiritual journey started three years earlier with a number of humbling lessons in the area of finances and physical health. These lessons brought about a number of changes in my life: more time in the Word, a gym membership, financial solvency, and completion of a half marathon. Through the pain and joy of this experience I held on to Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” I didn’t know what “good works” God had planned for me to do, but I began to understand that these changes were necessary in order to move forward.
My first step towards spending a year in missionary service for the Army was the email, sent in autumn 2005, to Major Arlene Dooley, then world missions secretary for the Western Territory. This “single step” took me to La Coruña, Spain, in July of 2006, where I spent a year assisting at the La Coruña Corps with Corps Officers Hugo and Monique Torrico, where I was able to develop the corps’ youth ministry.
The nature of life in Spain
Spain is a beautiful country full of religious and historical traditions. The coastal city of La Coruña is particularly gorgeous. Popular sights include the Maria Pita Plaza, Spain’s tribute to Joan of Arc; the “Tower of Hercules,” a 2,000-year-old functioning lighthouse said to house the remains of Hercules; and a variety of statues honoring saints, soldiers and rock stars.
Over the last hundred years Spain’s government has transitioned from monarchy to dictatorship to democracy, causing many Spaniards to be wary and suspicious of change. This reserved attitude has impacted the evangelical churches that entered Spain following the dictator Franco’s fall in the 1970s. Nowhere is this more evident than in the lack of “proper” churches. Most evangelical congregations meet in converted stores and warehouses. Few, if any, have church buildings, yet Catholic cathedrals cover the Spanish landscape. The Salvation Army, which began its work in the city of La Coruña in 1972, has played a delicate balancing game. The government of Spain desires the social service programs the Army offers and, somewhat reluctantly, accepts the faith-based programs as part of the whole. Many of the Spanish people resist the whole of the Army, however, seeing it as an unwanted intrusion in their communities. Because of this notion, the 11 Salvation Army corps in Spain are filled with immigrants, and the corps in La Coruña is no exception.
The corps at La Coruña
Roughly 75 percent of the congregation of La Coruña emigrated from South America, including the corps officers. Major Hugo Torrico is from Bolivia; his wife, Monique, is French. They, and their 13-year-old son Erick, have been at the corps in La Coruña for five years. They oversaw the remodel of a seven-story building—the only building in all of Spain owned entirely by The Salvation Army—which allowed for the opening of a drop-in center. Now Monday through Friday, breakfast is served and shower facilities are available to the community’s homeless population. The building also supports a thrift store and temporary housing for individuals attempting to get back on their feet.
Attendance at breakfast fluctuates between 12 and 30, the lowest on days immediately following the arrival of monthly welfare checks. A typical breakfast consists of a quarter of a baguette, two pieces of cheese, a choice of Natilla (vanilla pudding) or rice pudding, digestive cookies and a choice of coffee or Cola Coa (the Spanish version of Ovaltine). I assisted Major Monique with breakfast each morning as milk supervisor and dishwasher and grew to enjoy the regulars. After discovering that I was American, many of these regulars would ask excitedly in English for “coffee with the milk, please.”
Once a week we walked to the local food bank to pick up our share of donations distributed to local feeding programs. The friendly volunteers at the food bank went a long way toward helping me realize that the warmth and welcome of individual Spaniards far outweighed the briskness and reserve of the general population.
Four times each year, the corps receives government food to be distributed to low-income families in the area. Approximately five tons of food are delivered to the church doorstep and stored in the chapel until food distribution begins the following week. For five days the chapel becomes the distribution center for families in a one-mile radius. Over 100 families receive milk, flour, sugar, cheese, rice, canned vegetables, rice pudding, Natilla and cookies, distributed by a host of volunteers from the corps and the community.
Two of these community volunteers are Juan and Anabreakfast regulars.” They suffered through incredible circumstances five years ago that caused them to lose everything, and now they live in low-income housing, slowly working to pull themselves out of the hole. The pair faithfully volunteers to help during the distributions by sorting, lifting, counting and packing. They became my support system as I was assigned the task of monitoring the front door. I was never quite sure why they put the person with only limited Spanish in charge of crowd control, but Juan and Ana rescued me numerous times.
Majors Hugo and Monique have a combination of practical and spiritual gifts. Monique oversees all the practical aspects of the corps and social service. She is a hard worker determined to be faithful to her commitment to serve others. Hugo is almost entirely relational. He loves to talk to people, tell a good story, and he loves to share the Word. His ready knowledge of Scripture allows him to address any questions at the Tuesday night Bible study with intelligence. Together they have responsibility for Sunday morning services in La Coruña and an outpost in the nearby town of Caion, Sunday evening services in the outpost at Neano, Tuesday evening prayer meeting and Bible study, Friday evening Home League, and regular worship team rehearsals. Because they were busy with the corps, the outposts, and the social service programs, youth programs were lacking in La Coruña.
Filling a void
God is good. He took me, with my passion for working with and teaching kids, halfway around the world to a corps in need of a youth worker. The fact that every child is required to take English in school here allowed me a connection with them. In my first week in Spain, I began tutoring the officer’s son, Erick. He was the first of several students. I began a Sunday school class for children ages 7 to 13, which included a weekly Bible lesson and memory verse. During junior soldier meetings, we enjoyed studying the Army’s doctrines and work in other countries and always ended on a fun note with a game of boys vs. girls Hangman. My new junior band consisted of two young men.
Learning Spanish on the job was a challenge and lead to interesting moments, especially because children find the simplest of mistakes absolutely hilarious. For example, the word for sinner is pecador but the word for fisher is pescador. One letter makes a world of difference when talking about how we are all “sinners,” or as I accidentally used it, “fishers.”
On my first Sunday at the corps I began to pray that God would provide someone to take over the youth work when it was time for me to leave. He is faithful and answered. Half way through my year, a former teacher began attending the corps and made preparations to take over the Sunday school when I left.
I was able to travel during my time in Spain. In March I attended Madrid’s 35th Anniversary Celebration of the Army’s arrival in Spain. The four days of celebration took place included timbrels, a united band in which I played first baritone, the Madrid Corps’ praise and worship team, a time honoring soldiers of 20 years or more (half of whom were from La Coruña), and sharing by Commissioners Moretz from the U.S. Eastern Territory.
In May, Monique and I made our way to Barcelona for The Salvation Army Spain/Portugal Women’s Ministries conference. I met women from every corner of Spain and participated in an English-speaking Bible study.
During my first months in Spain I desperately needed family, and God provided bountifully through the corps officers and numerous people in the congregation who became my Spanish family in every way.
Spain is a strange dichotomy of a generation that desires to hold onto the old traditional ways and a generation that longs for modernization. Yet despite this difference of opinion, Spain is a country that reveres family. The parks are full of grandparents playing with their grandchildren, and it is normal to find three generations living under the same roof. The daily siesta is based on the idea of returning home for a large family meal.
I thank The Salvation Army for this opportunity. I thank the Salvationists of Spain for their dedication to God and their acceptance of me. I thank God for the privilege of serving him and the lessons he taught me on this Spanish journey.