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Growing up in Madrid, Spain – Mendez Sisters

We are so ecstatic to share a story on two fun, loving, and amazing sisters that are our newest friends. We met these girls last year on our first missions trip to Spain. Priscila and Laura Mendez grew up in Madrid, Spain and have lived there ever since. We thought it would be interesting and fun to share a little bit about their lives and how things differ in Spain compared to U.S. They are the coolest sisters and I have loved getting to know them more these past two years and forming a friendship with them! Laura is in her last year of high school and Priscila is starting Law School this fall! So here we go!

Interview

L&T: Where were you both born?

Priscila: I was born in Elda, Spain. My parents were pastoring a church there.

Laura: I was born in Durham, England. My Dad was completing his PhD at Durham University. Our family lived there for four years and then we went back to Spain when I was 7 months old.

Priscila: I loved it there (in Durham). I was at a Christian school there and everyone was so nice. There were kids from everywhere at that school, it was like a United Nations school because many of the students’ parents were also studying at the Durham University so they were from all around the world.

L&T: How has life been growing up in Spain?

Laura: Our culture is very postmodern but when I tell them I’m a believer they automatically relate it to the Catholic religion (many of them go to Church for a while, do their first communion, which is a tradition but then after that, they don’t go again). When I was in school it was easier as we were kids and I didn’t really party/drink/smoke and did those “cool kids” things but when we got in high school everything changed. My friends started dating, smoking and drinking, having sex and I didnt want to be a part of that, so they called me “nun” and “dull”. At first, I was sad because I thought, “I’ll be alone…” but I started making friends at my new church and they taught me that you can be cool and Christian at the same time.

Priscila: A lot of people don’t really understand what Christianity is, they just think “oh you’re the people who can’t have sex before marriage” (thanks, Jonas Brothers), but they don’t know anything else about what we believe or why we believe what we do. We always have to explain why we don’t do some of the things others do, I always had to explain to my friends and teachers, even in front of the whole class being only a child.

This week Hillsong’s church in Madrid was on the news: they were being compared to a sect. They interviewed the pastor and asked only one question: what do you think about homosexuality? They concluded: Hillsong is filled with homophobic hipsters. I think this is very illustrative of the situation for evangelicals in Spain.

In 1936, a Civil war broke out in Spain. For three years, “Republicans” (who were governing the country) and “nationalists” fought against each other. Democratic forces ended up being squeezed out by the extremes. It was a struggle between democracy and fascism, between social classes, between religious and non-religious beliefs… The war ended in 1939 with a military dictatorship that lasted until 1975. During that time, the Catholic Church was as powerful as the Government, it was the official religion. People would go to jail for being atheists and even for being Protestants (our mom’s grandmother was sent to jail several times for celebrating services in her home; her small congregation would sing so loud in jail that the police would kick them out). In small villages, people who missed the Sunday mass would be investigated. Until 1967, Protestants were persecuted; for ten years, Protestantism was “tolerated”, always in private and with many limitations. The dictator died in 1975 and Democracy finally arrived in our country. The Constitution approved in 1978 finally instituted religious freedom.

Spain is a young Democracy, only forty years. Our parents were born during the dictatorship. Many people are still hurt, crimes from that period have never been judged. Many cases of abuse from that period are still being revealed now, especially concerning the Catholic Church. People associate Christianism to the Catholic Church, so it’s difficult to explain Christian faith as something separate from that institution.

Our family has always had a great multicultural experience. Our parents are both from the south of Spain. They moved to Switzerland right after marrying, at a time when studying abroad was extremely rare. They studied for four years at the International Baptist Seminary that was in Switzerland at the time, so they had classmates from all around the world (Italians, Americans, Indians…). They moved back to Spain for another five years, where Dad was pastor of the church in Elda, and then moved to Durham (UK) for Dad’s PhD, for another 4 years. In Durham, we had friends from England, Scotland, Colombia, Pakistan, Mexico, India… We’ve been in Madrid for 16 years now. Until 2012, our Dad was a Pastor of the Barrio del Pilar Baptist Church. Though it was a small church, there were people from all around the world: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Peru, Haiti, USA… Since 2012, we’ve been members of the Immanuel Baptist Church, which is precisely an international, English-speaking church. We have started a Spanish-speaking church plant (Iglesia Bautista Emanuel), and there are already people from at least seven different nationalities coming.

We have always been around people from other nationalities. We have learned to love others no matter where they come from, and to understand and respect their backgrounds. This has been especially relevant during the past years: since the economic crisis started, nationalism and anti-immigration have grown all around Europe, and this has been much stronger due to the terrorist attacks. Fortunately, in Spain this situation isn’t as notorious as in other European countries. Spain is a very open country, and racism isn’t tolerated.

This internationality also impacts our way to face day to day life. We try to take the best from every culture we know. We try to keep an open mind on things that Spanish can be close-minded about. In a Spanish society, there is usually jealousy for others’ success, while other European countries are much more meritocratic.

L&T: Priscila, how’s Law School?

Priscila: It’s a lot of work, a lot to turn in every day. In Spain we don’t have to do general courses in University, we just go straight into schooling for our career. We do the general courses in High School, during the Bachillerato (last two years of High School).

I finished my degree in law (graduated in June!), at the Complutense University (founded in 1822, it’s one of the most important universities in Spain; 7 out of the 8 Spanish Nobel prize winners have studied or taught here). I have to do a specific Master to take the bar exam and then be a lawyer, which I will be starting in October, and I will do a Master in Tax Law at the same time, so it will be a quite full year. I did a year of University in Paris, but I decided to finish my studies in Madrid. Beautiful as it is, Paris can’t compare to Madrid, and I planned on being a lawyer in Spain so it didn’t make much sense to study French Law over Spanish Law.

What I’ve found is the hardest thing about studying law, is building a reputation to find a good job. Big companies and law firms have lists of their preferred (and extremely pricey) universities, and it’s difficult to get through the filters. It’s not only about getting good grades, you have to prove you’re a multidisciplinary person, that you care and understand about the society around you: speaking perfect English and at least one other foreign language, being a volunteer for different social activities, studying music, being involved in sports … And of course, having contacts or a fancy last name. But God is good, and the doors have been opening for me. I’ve been an intern twice for one of the most important Spanish law firms; the first time they called me they said they were about to throw out a bunch of CVs and mine caught their eye – that’s God working!!

In Spanish we have a saying “a Dios rogando y con el mazo dando”, that means you have to trust in God but also “strike the hammer” and work hard. So true!

L&T: What would you like to do after high school, Laura?

I want to go to college. I would like to have a double degree, and study to be a Social Worker while also studying Criminology. I really want to take the open competitive exam to be a Police Inspector although it’s hard to get in because in 2016 there were 58,000 people who took the exam but only 1,299 vacancies. I really need to work hard but I have a plan B. I love being around people and talking to them so becoming just a social worker is the other option! I also want to go on missionary trips and be professionally trained. This year, for example, I wanted to do a lifeguard course but I missed it as I had no time, so those are the kind of things I want to work on.

L&T: What are some of your favorite things about Spain?

Priscila: Spain has enormous differences between their regions. People from País Vasco, in the north, are more serious, it’s more of an industrial area. The south of Spain is more relaxed, people smile and laugh more, and their economy depends on tourism so they are very welcoming. It would be very difficult to define a Spanish culture, finding words to describe people from north to Spain.

But Madrid is great. Madrid combines perfect history and modernity. The metro is one of the best in the world (it’s NY’s rival!). You can go anywhere in public transport, and it’s quite cheap in comparison to other European capitals (around 1,50€ a single trip, under 26 yrs you only pay 20€ a month for ALL transports and unlimited). There are many museums of great international importance (Museo del Prado, Museo Reina Sofía, the National Archeological Museum, the National Library…). Three of the five public Universities in Madrid are among the best of Spain, and even Europe, and the best private universities in Spain are also in Madrid. The oldest buildings in Madrid are from the XVth century. Madrid grew a lot during the 80s, many people moved here to work, so people in Madrid are from all around Spain. This makes people be very inclusive, foreigners don’t stand out and it’s easy to be integrated. It’s a very postmodern city, so everyone and everything has its place (both good and bad). Being the capital of the country, it is more expensive than other Spanish cities, though the enormous variety of places to go makes it easy to live for all budgets. There are many things to do for free, concerts, expositions, and even having a beer in the most touristic places in town won’t cost more than a couple of euros!

Though the economic crisis has hit hard, Spain has very good public services. Education is free until university, and public universities are great. We have an amazing health system: it’s the 8th best in the world, and Spain has been the world leader in transplants for 25 consecutive years (especially important considering that it is absolutely forbidden to pay money for organ donations). In the case of having a baby, or adopting a child, you still get 100% of your salary during the leave; paternity leave is 4 weeks and maternity leave is 6 weeks, and there are 10 extra weeks they get to split as they wish (so maternity leave is up to 4 months with full salary). All workers are entitled to minimum 30 days of paid leave (for holidays) every year. Retirement age is 65, and you receive a public retirement pension for the rest of your life depending on how much you have paid as a retirement contribution during your working years.

L&T: What are the struggles that you face in Spain?

Laura: I love to dance and I love music and my friends always go to the discotheque/club to go dancing and my parents don’t let me go. It’s not a good environment. There are “light sessions” at the clubs where they are supposed to have no alcohol and end at 11 pm (partying in Spain starts after 12 and goes until 4-5 am), but people go in drunk and get fake IDs (controls at the door aren’t strict so it’s easy). I want to enjoy the dancing but I don’t want to do those things.

In school, it’s also really hard because we study a lot of philosophers (Nietzsche, Marx) who say God doesn’t exist or morality is flexible and we study why they are right but they write about things that we disagree with. Sometimes I argue with my teachers but I cant do much because I don’t want to fail.

Many of my friends follow Instagram influencers or watch the series Orange Is The New Black so they see LGBT as a fashion and they want to be “cool” too and if you say something about homosexuality that they don’t agree with, they call you homophobic.

Priscila: It’s also difficult to speak your mind, everything has to be politically correct. If you disagree with certain views (abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, divorce, sex, to name some), you are retrograde. Even if you’re not disagreeing, just debating as an intellectual exercise, you have to be extremely careful with what you say and who you say it to.

There is an important struggle with feminism. There is a really important movement in Spain for equal rights, equal pay, equal jobs, and equal responsibilities at home… The struggle for me isn’t really about feminism, but about associated ideas. Too often, Christianity is associated with submission of women, and feminism is associated with atheism. So it seems you have to choose one of them. I don’t call myself a feminist because I am first a Christian and then a woman, and many people don’t understand it’s possible to be both. But as Christians, there is so much we still have to change, and we have to speak up for women. Jesus did! (See John 4.1-42, John 8.1-7, Matthew 26.6-13, Luke 10.38-42 for examples, John 4.27 says that the disciples “marveled that [Jesus] was talking with a woman”!). Genesis 3 shows that the women’s submission to men is the punishment of sin, and not God’s original plan. The first ones to see Jesus resurrected were women, even if the law at the time said that a woman could not be a witness if there wasn’t a man that confirmed her story!

I have met teen boys who told me they expect their future wife to be a stay-at-home-mom “because that’s what the Bible says”. Some churches don’t allow women to be pastors or even deacons. Why do women have to choose between our calling (both religious and secular) and our Christian life?

In any case, churches need to speak up for women even if they don’t share this view, because it’s not only about roles in the church. It’s about men killing their wives or girlfriends (between 50 and 70 every year in Spain). It’s about girls being raped when they’re on their way home. It’s about sexual abuses in public transport. It’s about not feeling safe when you pass a group of men you don’t know. It’s about measuring the length of female clothes in summer (don’t get me wrong, I dress conservatively, but summers are way too hot for long trousers and sleeves!). Our churches need to show our society that we stand together against any type of violence or discrimination against women for the fact of being women. “There is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3.28)‼

L&T: What are some things that inspire you to stay true to what you believe?

Laura: I follow people on social media who inspire me and remind me that I can do it if they can do it.

When I was younger, my friends were bullying a girl at school and I started standing up for her. This girl was from the Canary Islands, she was hot and all the boys liked her so all the other girls (tsome of them were my friends since we were 3 years old) got jealous and started bullying her. When I stood up for her, the bullies turned against me and started making fun of me and leaving me aside. Then, when the girl who got bullied gained other friends she left me as well. It’s hard to do the right thing sometimes. With social media, bullying can be so bad, because it’s not only at school, it goes with you wherever you are. “Con amigos así, ¿quién quiere enemigos?”. Four years later, many of those bullies know that I’m the only one who is there for them. When any of them have a problem, they talk to me because they know I won’t judge them or gossip about it.

I have to thank my friends at Immanuel Baptist Church because they have been a great shoulder for me to cry on and a hand to walk with me through the right these difficult paths. We have a youth group that meets on Fridays, so it helps that I’m not alone at home while my school friends are doing something naughty out there.

Priscila:  One of my favorite books in the Bible is James, I think it’s the perfect handbook for Christian behavior, and it never gets old. It is short, but intense. Hard as it is to choose a chapter from it, I have a soft spot for James 2.14-26, “show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works”. I’m not a preacher, and for me it’s hard to talk about my faith – not explaining what dogmas we believe, but explaining my personal experience with God. I never find the right words. That is why this passage in James is so important in my life. Serving others is my way to show my faith. Jesus didn’t only preach: Jesus fed people, Jesus instructed to take care of the needy, Jesus forgave, Jesus gave second chances, Jesus never differentiated people for who they were. And I believe that our faith in God forces us to follow this example, we can’t close our eyes to the world around us. A person I had just met, learned I was a Christian and told me “Oh, so that is why you are different”. Actions speak louder than words.

I met a friend at church. Her family weren’t really Christians, but she started coming to church because she admired one of her friends, she said, “She had something special, she had a special light wherever she went, and I wanted to have that light too”.

At church, we organize a yearly event against human trafficking. We organized a fund raising for Equator after the earthquake. We collected clothes and hygiene items for refugees in Croatia and Greece (a 12 tons container each time). But it’s not only about this social justice. I also want to show that special light that attracted my friend to church, by showing love to every person and in every action. It’s not easy for me, I’m not good at directly taking care of people. I’m good at organizing things, at church I’m in charge of the image and sound board, I enjoy serving others – just not face to face. But we are called to strive for greatness, and I seek this light every day.

 

L&T: What are some of your goals in life?

Priscila: Short term, my goals are finishing my studies, finding a good job as a lawyer and marrying my bf, in that order! Long term, I’d love to learn Italian. And find a way I can make a positive difference in society through my job. It seems a bit difficult for a tax lawyer. But I’ll figure it out!

Laura: Eating without gaining weight! Just kidding, haha. I would love to finish my studies with good grades and get in to college. I’m also trying to be healthier and get fit.

L&T: Do you plan on living in Spain the rest of your lives?

Priscila: I would love to spend some time abroad, maybe studying, maybe working, but only temporary. I can’t think of a city that combines all Madrid has to offer – especially the hours of light! Natural light doesn’t seem that important until you see the sunset at 4 pm.

Laura: I really like England because of the weather, it’s calm and I really like British accent! But because I want to be a police officer I have to stay in Spain, but I would love traveling abroad and learning more about other cultures and languages.

Priscila and Laura have shared so much with us and were so thankful to have met them. I have learned so much about Spain life and especially the traditions and culture of Madrid. I hope to continue our friendship for many many years. We love you girls!

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