Spain: The Deepening Divide of a Nation

As a self-appointed ambassador to Spain, I’ve been finding it harder and harder to not share my thoughts about what is going on in Spain these past few weeks.  I don’t profess to be an expert, but I do have some personal knowledge, experience, and multiple contacts with others who consider Spain their home. So I submit this post for the benefit of my friends and family who aren’t following the Spanish news and to make a plea to turn our prayers to Spain.

The Catalan government claims it has a mandate to secede from Spain.

My Spanish Education

Prior to participating in the EF exchange program in the summer of 2010, and meeting our host son Pedro, I was very ignorant in European news and knew relatively little about Spain.  My relationship with Pedro and his family changed all that, and over the years led to my two visits to Spain.  My last trip was three years ago around this time and so those memories are very much at the forefront of my mind as well.

It wasn’t long into our time hosting Pedro that we learned of the divide between Spain and Catalonia, the region that desires independence from the rest of Spain. Catalonia is one of 17 autonomous Spanish communities. My first recollection of those discussions revolved around Catalonia’s vote to outlaw bullfighting. Within days after Pedro returned back home in July 2010, that ban was passed.

A few years later when it came time to plan my trip to Spain, discussions came up about visiting Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, along with a multitude of other major tourist areas. Barcelona was ruled out mostly due to its distance; however, I also had the sense that my hosts didn’t feel as comfortable taking me there.

Bullfighting, a centuries old tradition in Spain, is now banned in Barcelona.

Over the last few years, I’ve watched from afar as Catalonia made other attempts toward an independence vote including the election of a pro-independence majority in their parliament.  The independence referendum on October 1 was the most visible and controversial in Catalonia’s attempt to become a separate country.

A History of Oppression

The root of the quest for independence goes back hundreds of years and is not unique to the Catalan region of Spain. Spain has a history of being subject to foreign control by various other imperialist powers—the Greeks, the Romans, the Visigoths, the French, and the Moors to name a few.  Each of these conquerors made their mark on the country and the culture as well.

In recent history, under the dictatorship and rule of Francisco Franco from 1939 until his death in 1975, the Catalan region and culture suffered greatly (along with the Basque Country and Galicia).  For instance, the languages in these regions were officially banned outside of the home. General Franco reinstated Castilian (European Spanish) as the only official language of the State and education, leading to near extinction of the Catalan language, and further loss of their Catalan identity.

In 1975, shortly before Franco’s death, Spain returned to a monarchy under King Juan Carlos I.  Juan Carlos discontinued many of Franco’s policies and restored democracy throughout the country.  Over the past 40 years, Catalonia has gained more political and cultural autonomy and has greatly prospered, becoming one of Spain’s wealthiest regions.  Catalonia accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economic output and more than a quarter of exports.

The Catalan flag

For a more in-depth look at Catalonia’s history and current climate, check out “Catalunya at a Crossroad” by Rev. Jose and Ada Hernandez, missionaries to Spain.

A Push for Independence

Days before the October 1 referendum, I talked with Pedro about the pending vote. He was not concerned and told me not to be as well, stating that the vote was illegal.  He advised me to not believe the media reports and that the majority of Catalans didn’t support independence. (His comments reminded me of the media bias in America and conversations I had with him during the U.S. presidential election in November 2016.)

I was relieved to hear Pedro’s perspective.  After all, Pedro is Spanish and has lived in Spain his entire life.  Then came the disturbing news reports from Catalonia on Sunday, October 1. Families even staged overnight events at school polling locations to ensure the vote would not be blocked.  However, the national police used force to hinder citizens from voting and confiscated ballot boxes.

I was shocked to see and hear about the ensuing violence, as was Pedro. Nearly 900 people were injured leading to international condemnation of the crackdown. Several days later Madrid issued a formal apology.

Of the 43% of the voting electorate, 90% (2.3 million) favored Catalonia’s independence from Spain. However, most of those opposed to the referendum boycotted the controversial and illegal vote.  Catalan officials immediately declared the referendum results valid, claiming a mandate from the people, and began planning the next steps for Catalan independence, plunging Spain into its worst political crisis in decades.

In the days that followed, uncertainty loomed over the citizens of Spain.

  • In Barcelona, hundreds of thousands of citizens protested in the streets against the police violence that took place during the voting process.
  • King Felipe VI (the son of Juan Carlos I) gave a rare televised address to the nation with calls for unity and condemning the Catalan officials for holding the illegal referendum.
  • Hundreds of thousands of Spanish citizens participated in unity rallies in Madrid and Barcelona. (Pedro and Rosa both attended the rally at Colon Plaza in Madrid.)
  • In Barcelona, people waved Spanish and Catalan flags. They carried banners expressing unity: “Together we are better” and “Catalonia is Spain.”
  • Banks and other large companies in Catalonia announced plans to move their headquarters to other parts of the country.
  • The international community sided with Spain and won’t intervene, saying this is an internal issue.
  • The European Union announced it would not recognize Catalonia as part of the E.U.

Declaring Independence or Not?

Earlier this week I found myself at home on my knees praying for this country that is so near and dear to my heart.  I was praying for peace; I was praying for unity; I was praying for level-headedness to prevail. But most of all I was praying for the people of Catalonia to seek healing for the deep wounds of the past—the suffering at the hands of other nations, the loss of their culture and language under General Franco’s rule, and the injustices that they endured.  I prayed for forgiveness on both sides of the divide—Spain and Catalonia.

The nation was awaiting word from the Catalan parliament meeting where Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was expected to officially declare independence from Spain. In his address to Catalan citizens in Barcelona, he declared independence but also announced the delay of implementing it—to give dialogue a chance with the central government.

October 10: Catalan President Carles Puigdemont signs declaration of independence.

While I was relieved to hear this, it was very short lived.  The next morning I awoke to the response from Madrid. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wrote to President Puigdemont telling him to cease “grave actions contrary to the general interest of Spain.” Prime Minister Rajoy’s response is considered a first step toward invoking Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, allowing Madrid to suspend Catalonia’s political autonomy and take over the region.  The deadline for Catalan leaders to respond is Monday, October, 16.

Did they declare independence or not? Will Madrid take over control of Catalonia? It is a war of words.

October 11: Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy responds to Catalan’s declaration of independence.

A Call for Prayer

Given time to reflect on the seriousness of these events, I can’t help but compare it to our country’s history with the Civil War–North against South–and the deep divide it caused.  Although the U.S. remained intact, there are still prejudices that linger in parts of the country, handed down from generation to generation.  Centuries later, a new debate has given rise to removal of Confederate statues in the South and protests during the national anthem at NFL games.  Like Spain, we are not immune to the harboring of ill will and letting bitterness take root.

The author of Hebrews tells us: Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (Hebrews 12:14-15, NLT)

Will Spain and Catalan set aside their differences and remain united for the greater good of the Spanish Kingdom?

Let’s pray that this war of words doesn’t lead to further deterioration and disunity of the nation of Spain. Let’s pray for harmony and peace to prevail. Let’s pray for forgiveness of the sins of the past and to remove the bitter root that has led to this point in history. Let’s pray for God’s intervention and for a heavenly resolution to this earthly problem.

Will you join me?

UPDATE 11/3/2017: The situation in Spain has been changing daily since Oct. 14. After two weeks of political maneuvering and threats, President Puigdemont and the Catalan government officially declared independence from Spain on Oct. 27. Within hours, Prime Minister Rajoy and the Spanish Senate enacted Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. They peacefully took control of the Catalan government. Rajoy announced plans for a regional Catalan election on Dec. 21 to replace the ousted government. Puigdemont and other officials fed to Brussels, while 8 other government officials are in prison awaiting their trial on charges of rebellion, sedition and the misuse of public funds. Prayers are being heard…as peace continues to prevail throughout the conflict.

Red Carpet Event Held to Honor Tempting Fate

It was in the summer of 2015 that Tempting Fate, the movie that includes soundtrack music by Pedro González Arbona, was released in theaters across Africa.  Ever since that time, I waited and watched as the movie traveled its course through the normal film industry outlets, and hopefully to American theaters.

Click on image to view movie trailer and sample Pedro’s music.

Although Tempting Fate was a big success in theaters throughout the African continent, the only release of the movie in America was via Amazon and other streaming types of services in 2016.

Gone were my hopes of sitting in an American cinema again and watching the movie on the big screen like I did with Pedro at the 2014 VIP screening in Houston.   Thankfully, it didn’t totally dash my hopes of sharing the movie with my friends—which lead to a recent private viewing party at my home.  But first…

Tempting Fate Background & Success

Why is Tempting Fate so significant to me?  I’ve been connected to the movie since the summer of 2013 when Pedro was hired to compose the movie soundtrack.  I was privileged to read the movie script while on holiday in Spain with Pedro and his family.  I was already praying for Pedro’s music to be used to glorify God.  So knowing his music would be used on this Christian movie felt like answered prayer to me.

My prayers ramped up over the course of the production of the movie and during Pedro’s intensive composing process.  Then Pedro and I attended the VIP screening in Houston in July 2014.  It was a monumental day in my life and a dream come true for Pedro to see his music come to life on the big screen.

Pedro’s red carpet interview in Houston, July 2014.

A year later, Tempting Fate premiered in Lagos, Nigeria, during an all-star red carpet event.  It ended up being one of the top 10 Nollywood movies of 2015. (Nollywood is the Nigerian movie industry, based in Lagos.)  The movie is one of the top 25 movies of all time in the Nollywood film industry.

Thanks to Kevin Kwankwor, the Nigerian born writer, producer and director of Tempting Fate, the movie was one of the first Hollywood/Nollywood movie collaborations.  Tempting Fate stars Nollywood movie icon Ramsey Nouah and Hollywood actors Dan Davies, Andrew Onochie, Tiffany Denise Turner and John J. Vogel.

At the Lagos premiere, July 2015.

A Red Carpet Invitation

I would have loved to rent out a theater and host a real gala event to celebrate the success of Tempting Fate and share it in style with my friends.  Since that wasn’t an option for me, I held a private viewing party at my home instead.

It was an elaborate party with the look and feel of a real Hollywood premiere.  Invited guests were informed of the formal nature of the party and to come dressed to meet the paparazzi.

Upon their arrival, they were literally given the red carpet treatment.  The main hallway of my home, once lined with scenic photographs, was transformed into a gallery of photographs from the VIP screening Pedro and I attended in Houston. My honored guests (celebrities) slowly walked the red carpet as the paparazzi clicked away on real cameras (not cell phones) to capture the celebrity’s entrance.

Each guest was assigned the identity of a celebrity and wore a name tag pinned on their back.  They played along, not knowing their own identity, but knowing who the other celebrities at the party were.

A Surprise Guest Appearance

After a paella dinner and a toast to the movie’s success, we got comfortable for the main event.  As a preview to the movie, I presented a video from the VIP screening in Houston. That followed a surprise video appearance by Dan Davies, one of the actors from Tempting Fate.

Dan Davies at Lagos premiere.

Dan played Scorpion, gangster and leader of the bank robbery/drug gang, a central figure in the movie.  We met at the VIP screening in July 2014 and occasionally connect via social media.  (Read my interview with Dan, A Behind the Scenes Look at Tempting Fate with Actor Dan Davies, for more information and background on the movie.)

Dan graciously sent a video to greet my guests and to introduce the movie.  That very night in Accra, Ghana, Dan won the African Golden Movie Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Role.  Dan’s nomination was for his portrayal of Michael Rice in A Trip to Jamaica, the top Nollywood movie of 2016.

Dan recorded our Tempting Fate introductory video a few days in advance of the awards, so it was a nice surprise to me and my guests to hear of his win later.   Dan was the first American to win this prestigious African award.  Congratulations Dan!!

Watching Tempting Fate

The movie viewing followed.  By this time, I had already seen the theatrical version of Tempting Fate several times.  The movie went through more editing after the screening in Houston.  Most notably to me was the change in some of the music.  Another composer was added to the soundtrack and some of Pedro’s music was dropped, a common occurrence in movie production.  I gave occasional commentary while watching the movie, mostly in reference to the music.

Click on image to rent or buy the movie on Amazon.

Watching the movie this time around was easier for me—to remove myself from my personal involvement and attachment to the music and Pedro’s proud moment.  However, like audiences across Africa and even in my home that night, Pedro’s music accompanying the final scene brought tears to our eyes.  Tempting Fate has such a powerful and thought-provoking ending.

Post-Movie Celebrity Interviews

After the movie, I took on the role of the press and interviewed each of my guests, I mean celebrities, about the movie. It was at this point that I also revealed their celebrity identities and the significance behind their chosen names. (But that’s a story for another time.)

Sometimes I think my involvement in the movie makes my opinion less than objective. So I had much anticipation in hearing what my honored guests thought of the movie. It was such a blessing to hear their reactions to the movie and its message.

One guest (aka Emma Stone) had never seen a Christian movie before. “The theme of forgiveness really resonated with me, probably because that is what I’m working on in my life. It really hit home. I found it very meaningful and very valuable in my life,” she shared.

Another guest (aka Sandra Bullock) said: “I thought it was great, very touching, pretty deep and pretty real. A great message for all of us.”

Another guest (aka Meryl Streep) was a local pastor who I’ve known for years. Her perspective about the movie was very insightful.

“I thought it (the ending) brought it all together in a very healthy and practical way. Edu had said to others, this is how you live. And then he had to face his own quandary of how to forgive the two people that hurt him the most. So I thought the culmination of all of those stories was very well done…The movie would help people think through their own lives and situations, and where maybe they are not living out the truth that they claim to believe.”

Tempting Fate in a City Near You? 

Since my private viewing party a few months ago, I’ve heard rumors that Tempting Fate will be on a U.S. tour in the fall. It started in Atlanta at Georgia Tech over Labor Day weekend. I’m hoping and praying it comes to Seattle or a city near you. For more information about the U.S. tour or to set up a special viewing at your church, contact info@kevstelgroup.com.

If you can’t attend one of these events, be sure to rent or purchase the movie on Amazon or other streaming movie site.  Pedro’s music and other beautiful music from the movie is also available on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, and other music sites.

Joy to the World, Not Just Another Christmas Carol

Did you grow up listening to Christmas music in your home? Does the sound of one of your favorite Christmas carols bring a smile to your face and revive the sights and smells of Christmases past in your mind?

Christmas carolsFa, la, la

Go ahead. No one’s watching (hopefully).  Let’s sing…

Away in a manger no crib for his bed…

Silent night, holy night…

Joy to the World the Lord has come…

I imagine with just a short pause after reading the start of each of those Christmas carols that you could sing the next line to that song, and probably the first verse or the whole song. At least I hope you can.

Did you know that “Joy to the World” was not originally written for Christmas?  It was written by Isaac Watts, a British hymn writer, and first published in 1719.  The song is based on Psalm 98 (verses 4-8) with an intended reference to the Second Coming of Christ, not his first:

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
With the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
Shout joyfully before the King, the Lord.

Let the sea roar and all it contains,
The world and those who dwell in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
Let the mountains sing together for joy.

I didn’t realize this myself until I traveled to Spain last fall and heard it in a new context.

Going to Church in Spain

I’ve had the privilege of attending several church services in Spain—most of them in a Catholic setting. One particular Mass stands out though.  It was on Columbus Day, Sunday, October 12, 2014.

I was with my friend and hostess Rosa, Pedro’s mother. We attended the Columbus Day parade in downtown Madrid and then walked to Mass at the Parish of Our Lady of Conception (Parroquia Concepcion de Nuestra Señora).

Our Lady of Conception, Madrid

Our Lady of Conception, Madrid (Parroquia Concepcion de Nuestra Señora)

It was not my first time at this church. Rosa and I attended a Sunday Mass there the year before too, on my first Sunday in Spain.  I had gone to a weekday Mass at a neighborhood church and also visited a few other churches by then, as well as the Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo, a massive Gothic cathedral from the 13th century.  I had never seen anything like the Toledo Cathedral (below) in my life.

Gothic front facade of the Cathedral of St. Mary of Toledo

Gothic front facade of the Cathedral of St. Mary of Toledo

Our Lady of Conception in Madrid was nowhere near as grand, but as I’ve come to expect, most Catholic churches in Spain are lined with beautiful religious statues and opulent altars. From my uneducated and American perspective, most of these churches look like what I would’ve considered a cathedral.

Singing in Spain

When I attended Mass my first trip to Spain (in the summer of 2013), the churches did not have any choirs or singing—only limited organ music. I was told it was due to the heat.  (Churches are not air-conditioned in Spain.)

On this day (Columbus Day 2014) with Rosa by my side, I was surprised when I noticed a choir singing at the start of Mass. Even though the song was sung in Spanish, the music sounded familiar.  It took me a few lines, humming the tune to myself, before I recognized the song and could put English words to it.  It was “Joy to the World!”

I’d never heard that song sung outside of a Christmas setting. It gave me a new love for the song.

While I couldn’t sing the Spanish words (no hymnal and no projection of the words on a screen), I could sing it silently in my mind in English. It was glorious to hear a favorite Christmas song being sung in this grand church, echoing through the high arched-ceilings, stained glass, and religious statues.

It sounded like the voices of angels. They really were heralding Jesus and singing His praises joyfully to the world.

Take a listen to this Christmas favorite sung in Spanish and see if you agree.  As you listen, picture yourself inside this lovely church too (interior images below).

 Al Mundo Paz (Joy to the World)

Not Just Another Christmas Carol

I once heard it said in church that singing Christian hymns and songs of worship is like praying twice. Stripped of my ability to audibly sing “Joy to the World” in my native tongue, it was like praying it in my mind—and praising Him in my heart.

According to Wikipedia, as of the late 20th century, “Joy to the World” was the most published Christmas hymn in North America.  But now you know, as do I, that it isn’t just another Christmas carol.

Here are the lyrics to read or sing, in this new context of glorifying Christ’s Second Coming instead of His first over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem.

Joy to the World
By Isaac Watts

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! the savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders, wonders, of his love.

And if you haven’t heard it, here’s a re-mix of the song by Chris Tomlin called “Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy).”  May your Christmas and New Year be filled with unspeakable joy!

A Personal Invitation: Conference & Prayer Journey in Spain

Have you ever dreamed of traveling to a foreign country? Learning about the culture and history?  Walking through the historic or religious sites that are centuries old?  Do you have a desire to visit Spain?

If you follow my blog you know that I’ve done that. Twice!

IMG_0616

In Segovia, Spain on mission, October 2014.

A Personal Invitation to Visit Spain

Since those two trips I’ve become somewhat of an ambassador for Spain, sharing about the country, its culture, and the religious climate any time the opportunity arises. I’ve come to realize that Spain is a very popular tourist destination with Americans—often running into people who have traveled there.  I’ve not heard a bad review of this beautiful country.

Friendly people.

Easy to communicate despite the language barrier.

And a place where Americans and our tourist money are welcomed.

So do you want to go to Spain?

Next spring, missionary and Pastor Josh Fajardo, from the church where I spoke last fall, is leading an organized prayer journey through many of the same places that I traveled to on my personal pilgrimage in 2013—from Madrid to Southern Spain.

As a writer who fell in love with Spain, and has a pulse on the spiritual climate, my desire is to put Spain on the radar, so to speak, for others. So I’m putting on my ambassador hat and inviting you to follow your heart to Spain!

Almudena Cathedral, Madrid, where I worshiped one day while on mission to Spain, October 2014.

Almudena Cathedral, Madrid, where I worshiped one day while on mission to Spain, October 2014.

The Trip to Spain

This 10-day trip to Spain, scheduled for April 14-24, 2016, starts with a women’s prayer conference in Rivas, a suburb of Madrid. The conference is sponsored by Women’s Ministries International, a nonprofit that supports and empowers programs in under-developed countries. Male attendees will have separate speakers and be involved in other activities during the women’s conference.

Prayer Journey 2016During the 10-day trip to Spain travelers will ride via motor coach to sites with historic and religious significance in Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Málaga, and Seville. Each day of the prayer journey portion of the trip starts with a devotional and time spent in prayer.  The mornings are organized group time visiting cathedrals, synagogues, mosques, museums, or royal palaces.

After the traditional midday meal, you are free to explore the city and familiarize yourselves with the culture and the people in a more personal way. Everyone reconvenes over the evening meal (very late by American standards) to share what God is doing in their lives and where He met them in the streets of Spain.

Here’s what Pastor Josh, who organized the trip has to say about it:

“If you studied Spanish history you learned how Spain has influenced continents and has contributed to the economic and spiritual development of many countries in both hemispheres. Today, it’s a different story…Christian history informs us that Spain never experienced spiritual reformation.  This is why we are inviting you to join us in praying for God’s power to be revealed on this nation!  God is calling His people to participate and intercede!  Is your heart moved to pray for a people that have strayed away from God?  Consider becoming a prayer partner, join us on this journey and be a part of a spiritual awakening in our generation in Spain!”

My Personal Experience

As someone who has been to all of these places except Málaga, I can attest to their amazing beauty, and historical and religious significance. Spain was conquered and divided into regions ruled by Muslims and Christians. It wasn’t until the fall of Granada in 1492 that Muslim rule ended in Spain. Granada and the Alhambra, the palace and fortress compound from which the Muslims ruled, will be visited as part of the prayer journey in Southern Spain.  (I toured that in 2013—incredible!!!)

I can also attest to the breadth of religious history and context that Pastor Josh has to impart to those on the trip. For instance, before I returned to Spain last fall, Josh told me about the auto de fé (religious courts) held in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor during the Spanish Inquisition several centuries ago.  I was shocked to learn that after the judgment was pronounced, heretics were burned at the stake (in Plaza Mayor).

Auto de fe by Francisco Rizi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Auto de fé, Plaza Mayor, 1680, painted by Francisco Rizi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I returned to Madrid for the CR mission last October, I visited Plaza Mayor again and saw it in a new light. Josh also told me to look for the sculptures depicting scenes from the religious courts.  This historic scene along with others was barely noticeable on the backs of public benches surrounding the lamp posts in the outdoor plaza.

Plaza Mayor is one of the most popular tourist sites in Madrid, but there is no marker or mention of this piece of history at the plaza. Having this new spiritual context of Plaza Mayor led me to pray for healing in the country in new ways.

Why go?

God got a hold of me and gave me a heart for Spain and the need for spiritual renewal in the country during my first trip there, which was not part of an organized tourist package. What I reference above about Plaza Mayor is just one example from my own personal experience of how seeing a country from a spiritual perspective (like Josh provides) makes it a truly enriching, moving, and life-changing experience.  It will awaken stirrings in your heart for the people of Spain.

I could go on and on about Spain, and as a self-proclaimed ambassador for the country, I will in time write more about it. For now, check out the brochure about the conference and prayer journey, Spain-Prayer-Journey-Brochure-2016, or visit the registration page at Women’s Ministries International.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1, NIV)

Present day Plaza Mayor at night

Present day Plaza Mayor at night

Commemorating Christopher Columbus in Spanish Style, Part 2

What would it be like to celebrate a national holiday in a foreign country? I wondered that myself when I found out that I would be in Spain on October 12 for Fiesta Nacional de España, otherwise known as National Day, or Columbus Day in America.

In my last post about National Day in Spain, I shared some of the historic monuments to Christopher Columbus in Andalucia, the region of Southern Spain. This post is dedicated to the monuments and festivities in the nation’s capital, Madrid. (Neither of these posts take a stand on the controversy with replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. So please vent elsewhere.)

Spaniards proudly display their flag at Columbus Square in Madrid, October 12, 2014.

Spaniards proudly display their flag at Columbus Square in Madrid, October 12, 2014.

National Day Festivities in Madrid

National Day is a public holiday throughout Spain marked by celebrations and a day off work for employees. In Madrid, a military parade has been held every year since 2000, when this day was also recognized as Spain’s Day of the Armed Forces.  Most families stay at home and watch the parade on television.  For me, it seemed like a once in a lifetime experience—sort of like being in Washington DC for a historic parade.  If at all possible, I wanted to attend and experience this for myself.

We woke up on Sunday morning, October 12, 2014, to a rather dismal forecast of rain for the day. Our original plans were to go to El Escorial, a royal palace about 30 miles north of Madrid.  My host family was not in favor of going due to the rain in the forecast.  It also put a damper on my hopes to attend the military parade.

However, much to my surprise, Rosa volunteered to escort me to the parade. Umbrellas in hand, we took the underground metro to the center of Madrid in search of the best place to watch the parade.  By the time we arrived at Plaza de Cibeles, an iconic symbol of Madrid, the clouds had parted and blue skies were glistening above.

The streets were closed and the crowds were swarming the area in search of a location to view the parade.  Rosa knew her way around and led us directly across from the Cybele Palace, a large cathedral-like building that is one of several landmarks in Madrid.

Plaza de Cibeles, blocked off for the parade, Madrid, October 12, 2014.

Plaza de Cibeles, blocked off for the parade, Madrid, October 12, 2014.

National Day Parade

There wasn’t much time to waste. I wiggled my way into the standing-room-only crowd of people, settling into a spot about 10-people deep in front of me.  Rosa had seen the parade numerous times in her years of living in Madrid and waited further back behind the throngs of people.

The parade was ushered in with a rumble of military aircraft soaring overhead. The planes released plumes of red and yellow smoke trailing behind in a formation that represented the colors emblazoned on the Spanish flag.

Spanish pride on display from the air.

Spanish pride on display from the air.

As the parade started I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My only other knowledge of a military parade was seeing tanks and other military vehicles on TV, like seen in old time movies or documentaries in school.  This wasn’t like that.  No tanks.  No large armored vehicles to speak of.

The parade was presided over by the recently inaugurated King of Spain, Felipe VI. The crowds cheered as his limousine passed by with the Royal Family inside.

The parade was primarily a display of various regiments of the military each dressed in their unique uniforms.  They were mostly marching on foot.  Some were prominently carrying their rifles in upright positions pointing straight into the air.  Others traveled the parade route on horseback. Their uniforms were varied as well—bright colors and some with Arabian type robes draped over them.  I didn’t know what branch of the military each was from or understand the differences (and couldn’t ask anyone due to the language barrier).  Military sounding music, maybe the national anthem, was being played on portable speakers scattered around the area.

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I’m rather tall, but didn’t get much of a glimpse of the parade. I raised my cell phone above the crowds to get some pictures and video.  It was the first time I realized how helpful owning a selfie stick would be.  For a feel of the parade, watch the short video clip I recorded below.

Columbus Square

The parade was over in less than an hour, and Rosa and I headed on foot to our next destination, Sunday Mass at a local church, Parroquia Concepcion de Nuestra Señora. We followed that by meeting Pedro and Rafa (Pedro’s father) for lunch at a nearby German restaurant, La Fábrica Biermuseum.  Even in Spain, they get tired of eating Spanish food, but not drinking good beer.

Twice on our walks to these other destinations, we passed by Madrid’s monument site to Christopher Columbus, Plaza de Colón, or Columbus Square.  Prior to the military parade, the Spanish flag was raised at this site by the King of Spain, Felipe VI. We missed that ceremony, but thousands of people were still surrounding the site, only a few blocks from where the parade was held.

Location of the flag raising ceremony.

The first time I saw this monument and the flag was my second day in Spain in the summer of 2013. My host family took me on a walking tour into the heart of the city, past Columbus Square and Plaza de Cibeles and several other historic landmarks.  (Oh my aching feet!)

Jet-lagged and somewhat still in shock that I was actually in Spain, I was impressed by the beauty of the Spanish flag towering over the majestic concrete sculptures at the monument site.  It is the largest flag in Spain measuring 46 feet high x 69 feet long.

The largest flag in Spain.

The largest flag in Spain.

The Square is made up of three parts. The first is a statue of Christopher Columbus perched on top of a large column in the center of a traffic circle on the Paseo de la Castellana (the Castilian’s Mall), one of the longest and widest avenues in Madrid.  The statue of Christopher Columbus is pointing west toward America.  The sculpture was created by Spanish sculptor Jeronimo Suñon in 1885 and is surrounded by a fountain at the base of the column.

Next to the statue of Columbus is an entire city block that commemorates this Spanish hero. It is made up of the Gardens of Discovery, where the Spanish flag is located, and another monument to Columbus.  The large monument along Calle de Serrano (Serrano Street) is made up of three large concrete structures that represent the three ships in the voyage to the New World in 1492. The monument was sculpted by Joaquín Vaquero Turcios.  The three sculptures bear texts and figures related to the history of Columbus.

Monument commemorating Columbus' voyage in 1492.

Monument commemorating Columbus’ voyage in 1492.

History Comes Alive

In writing these posts about National Day in Spain, I had to rely somewhat on the internet. Sadly that is because my time at many of these monuments was so limited and because of the language barrier.  (For example on both of my trips to Madrid, I walked through Columbus Square, but never got up close to any of the monuments.)

It is one reason why I take so many pictures and keep a journal when I travel. When I’m back home scrapbooking or just looking at my photographs, it brings my travels, even the minutest details, back to life.  And I can research and translate things more at my leisure, like I did for these posts.

This 2-part series on Christopher Columbus has made my Spanish travels richer and more meaningful, and given me a greater understanding of American history as well. I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a glimpse of these historic places and monuments to Christopher Columbus in Spain.  I leave you with a few photos from this special day in Madrid.

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Commemorating Christopher Columbus in Spanish Style, Part 1

“In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” The opening line of the poem “In 1492” about Christopher Columbus takes me back to my childhood when we learned about Columbus and his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in search of a new trade route to the East Indies.

Portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo, housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

Portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo, housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

I never thought at that time that I would someday travel to Spain or visit the historical places that led to his explorations. But I did!

When I was young, my mind was focused on remembering the dates and details so I could do well in my class. Decades later, the main thing I remember are the names of his first voyage ships—the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria—and the date he discovered the New World: October 12, 1492.

Christopher Columbus’ Significance in Spain

Today is not only Columbus Day in America, it is also a holiday in Spain, Fiesta Nacional de España, or National Day. When I heard that Spain commemorates the day that Columbus set foot in the Americas, it surprised me. Although Columbus claimed vast territory for Spain with his explorations, and governed areas of Hispaniola, Spain doesn’t govern in that part of the world any longer.

When I admitted my ignorance around the subject to Pedro, he explained that Christopher Columbus launched a new era of wealth and power in Spain. Christopher Columbus, known as Cristóbal Colón in Spain, is a national hero. Just like the U.S., there are monuments to Columbus in many places throughout the country.

In my travels in Spain in the summer of 2013, I was fortunate enough to visit some of those monuments and historic places where Columbus ventured on his quest for funding of his journey across the Atlantic. During a week long vacation in the region of Andalucia, in Southern Spain, with Pedro and his parents, I started to get a feel for the vast and complicated history of Spain.

In the summer of 2013, I visited Granada, Cordoba, and Seville, Spain.

In the summer of 2013, I visited Granada, Cordoba, and Seville, Spain.

Let me start out by saying, that before our travels, I had very little knowledge about these places or the history of Spain.

Christopher Columbus Monuments in Granada

My first glimpse at the intersection of American and Spanish history related to Christopher Columbus was in Granada, Spain. We walked through Plaza Isabel La Católica.

In the center of the square was a monument to Queen Isabel and Christopher Columbus. The monument was sculpted in Rome for the 4th centennial of Columbus’ journey to the New World. It depicts Queen Isabel granting permission for Columbus’ voyage.

Day 10 252

Columbus monument in Granada, Spain.

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After strolling through this square we headed to the Granada Cathedral and the neighboring museum, The Royal Chapel of Granada. The Royal Chapel is the final resting place of Queen Isabel I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, known as the Catholic Monarchs. History truly came alive for me when I walked through the Royal Chapel and viewed the tomb and crypt of these people whose names I learned in school decades earlier.

The tomb of the Catholic Monarchs

The tomb of the Catholic Monarchs

The crypt of the Catholic Monarchs

The crypt of the Catholic Monarchs

The next day we toured the Alhambra, the No. 1 tourist site in Spain. While touring the Alhambra, I learned that with the conquest of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs in January 1492, all Islamic rule of the Iberian Peninsula ended. I was starting to piece together the significance of that year and how history really was shifting at that time and under the rule of the Catholic Monarchs.

Alhambra

The Alhambra, a Moorish fortress dating back to 889.

Christopher Columbus Monuments in Córdoba

The next stop on our travels through Andalucia was Córdoba. First, we visited another major tourist attraction, the Mezquita, a former mosque converted into a Catholic cathedral in the 16th century. It is a splendid display of Mudéjar (Moorish) and Renaissance architecture and religious history.

Being so slow and deliberately trying to take in all of the beauty and reverence I missed out on another Columbus monument. We walked through the stifling heat (over 100 degree Fahrenheit), to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (the castle of the Christian monarchs). This served as one of the primary residences of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand.

Unfortunately it was closed by the time we arrived. In the summer, the site closes at 3:00 PM due to the heat and the traditional time for a Spanish siesta.

We walked along the exterior medieval walls of the castle, taking a few pictures, and marveling at the structure from the outside. Inside was another statue with Christopher Columbus. This monument commemorates the first meeting here of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand in 1486.

Christopher Columbus Monuments in Seville

Our final destination on this vacation through Andalucia was Seville. It was there that we met Rosa’s brother Paco, and his family. He spoke English and served as my personal tour guide in Seville. He is well versed in the culture and history of Spain and particularly so in the architecture.

That was most evident when we toured the Seville Cathedral, completed in the early 16th century. This cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral and the 3rd largest church in the world. Unbeknownst to me, it also housed the burial site of Christopher Columbus. It was sort of a surprise at the end of the tour.

At the exit doors to the cathedral, Paco pointed out the tomb of Christopher Columbus. It was a grand monument—with the tomb being carried by four kings of Spain represented by kingdoms in Columbus’ lifetime, from Aragon, Castile, Leon, and Navarre. His remains took a circuitous route from Valladolid, Spain where he died, to the present day Dominican Republic, to Cuba, and now to their final resting place in Seville in 1898.

This partly explains why Paco told me that Columbus’ remains were only rumored to be in this tomb. Depending on who you believe, it does appear that at least some of his remains are buried there. DNA testing was done in 2006 to confirm it.

Seeing this monument with Columbus’ remains towering above the royal figures of Spain gave me much more insight and understanding about the place he played in this country’s culture and history. He was a hero and represented the dawn of wealth and power for this beautiful country.

An Ambassador for Spain

The burial site of Christopher Columbus was a fitting end to my Andalucía vacation and Spanish history lessons. There are many other monuments to Columbus in Spain. Someday I hope to return to Spain and see them—most notably in Barcelona or Valladolid, where he died.

As someone once told me, my travels to Spain have turned me into an American Ambassador for Spain. I still have dozens of ideas on posts I’d love to write about my travels and the sites and history of Spain.

In 2013, I saw it through the eyes of my Spanish hosts. In 2014, I saw it more through the eyes of religious history. I’m fascinated by it and am quick to tell people about Spain whenever I get a captive audience.

Date marker on Columbus monument in Madrid.

Date marker on Columbus monument in Madrid.

In my next post, I’ll describe more about the Columbus monuments in the nation’s capital, Madrid, and my adventures there on National Day (Columbus Day) last year.

Fertilizing the Soil in Spain & France through Prayer

A year ago at this time I was traveling through France and Spain on a church mission. It was a fantastic trip, and not your typical sort of international mission. The purpose was to spread the gospel by speaking and teaching about Celebrate Recovery (CR), a Christian 12-step program launched at Saddleback Church over 20 years ago.

CR is in 69 countries with the materials translated into 28 languages.  So why did I go to Spain and France? The Lord has given me a heart for His people in Spain and continues to prompt me to pray for their spiritual needs; France because of an invitation from an American missionary and colleague who invited me to share my testimony.

Sharing my testimony at the CR meeting in Grenoble, France (October 2014)

Sharing my testimony at the CR meeting in Grenoble, France (October 2014)

As I mark the one-year anniversary of my mission, it’s time to pass on an update from my missionary partners and to share more about the spiritual climate in these countries.

Preparing for a Harvest in Spain

I’ve always believed that the mission was only made possible because of my personal pilgrimage to Spain in the summer of 2013. I prayed throughout the country in numerous churches and cathedrals. In preparing for that trip, the Lord laid it upon my heart to pray for a spiritual awakening in Spain. Within six months, I was invited to return and lead a Celebrate Recovery seminar in the suburbs of Madrid.

While in Spain that first summer, my prayers weren’t related to Celebrate Recovery or for the Lord to use me in Spain. I liken my prayers to how Jesus spoke in parables about the harvest (Luke 8). My prayers were tilling the spiritual soil in the country. They were focused on preparing the spiritual and physical atmosphere to be open to the Lord’s work. When I returned to Spain on mission last fall, I continued to pray in the same vein, fertilizing the message that was taught in the CR seminar.

The Fruit of our Labor in Spain

If you were to look at the fruit one year later in Spain specifically, it may not look like much. You can’t point to the launch of a CR program at any local churches. You can’t point to continued training of the participants. What you can point to is that the message was received and is being welcomed by the seminar attendees.

We left the attendees with Spanish copies of Life’s Healing Choices (Ocho Decisiones Sandoras), written by John Baker, co-founder of Celebrate Recovery. This book breaks down the 12-steps into recovery choices or principles that are more easily understood in individual and small group settings. Some of the seminar attendees have worked through that book and are eager to share the information they learned.

The CR content is also being integrated into the curriculum being taught at the John Wesley Bible Institute (launched after our seminar). Another exciting development shared by my missionary partner in Madrid, Pastor Josh Fajardo, is that he has been meeting with an evangelical priest interested in the program.

The First CR Harvest in France

While in Spain CR has barely been introduced, in France there is one known CR group that is up and running. That group is led by my missionary partner in Grenoble, Marvin Klein, at E.P.E.G.E. where I shared my testimony. That CR ministry has been active for two years.

Regular attendance at the weekly meeting is 16 people—10 men and 6 women. These participants are wrapping up the ministry’s inaugural step study groups and preparing for leadership. Consistency and momentum grew in the women’s group following my visit.

Marvin also shared with me that they are working on making the ministry more visible to the outside and plan to create a video about the program. He has continued contact with a friend who attended the Spain CR seminar who is interested in applying the CR material to teens and young adults. Marvin is also in communication with a French priest and a missionary in Barcelona who are both interested in the program.

The European Soil – Religious History & Cultural Context

Why is this significant? It’s because of the European religious history and cultural context. From my perspective, the European church is still years behind the shift that the church has experienced in America.

I’ve been in recovery for over a decade. Early on in my journey, I attended one of the oldest CR ministries in our state. It was at a time when the talk about vulnerability, codependency, and boundaries was starting to catch on in the church. Christians attending secular recovery groups like AA and Al-Anon started to drift toward CR.

Slowly the church has embraced the concept of spiritual poverty. Other ministries have been birthed, books and Bible studies have been written, and sermons preached—all pointing to some of the key concepts taught and practiced at CR. This results in Good News for Christians in America. However, I still believe that if people truly embraced their brokenness, CR meetings would be standing room only every week.

France and Spain also both have deep spiritual and emotional wounds related to the Church. It’s similar to the deep divide that occurred in the United States when the Civil War separated our nation between the North and the South over slavery.

St. Bartholomew's Massacre

St. Bartholomew’s Massacre, 1572, Paris (Painted by Francois Dubois)

With the birth of the Protestant Reformation Movement by Martin Luther in 1517, France became divided in its religious beliefs. This led to bloody massacres, a series of religious wars, and forced conversions to Catholicism.  Intense animosity still exists, handed down from generation to generation.   Unfortunately, Europeans in general have turned against the organized church.

The spiritual history in Spain is no less traumatic with the blood of Christian martyrs buried in the soil. The Protestant Reformation Movement never made a stronghold in Spain. However, the Spanish Inquisition was very effective for over 300 years (1478-1834) at keeping heretics to a minimum. The goal of the Inquisition was a pure and unified Spanish-Christian race.

In 1492, over 150,000 Jews were expelled from Spain. Another 750,000 remained and forced to convert to Catholicism. It wasn’t until earlier this year that Spain finally passed a law to grant their descendants the right to dual Spanish citizenship.

Although Spain is considered a Catholic country, most Spaniards don’t attend Mass or practice their faith. The country’s Catholic roots and traditions are prevalent in the government, the monarchy, the culture, and the celebration of holidays and religious feasts and festivals. Sadly, towering Gothic cathedrals serve more as museums and tourist attractions than working churches.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, a popular tourist attraction, but few realize that heretics were burned at the stake here during the Spanish Inquisition.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, a popular tourist attraction, but few realize that heretics were burned at the stake here during the Spanish Inquisition.

Prayer is the Work

Thankfully I got to attend Mass at a few of these cathedrals and toured several of them as well. It was where I did my best Kingdom work, praying in these sacred structures that weathered the spiritual and physical battles of centuries gone by. It was like being on Holy Ground. I did the same while in France last year, most notably by attending Mass at Notre Dame while on a short layover in Paris.

I still have a vested interest in the fruit being produced in these countries as I continue to pray for their spiritual renewal and healing. It’s one way I can be used by the Lord and have an impact in the Kingdom in spiritual ways unknown to me.

A spiritual mentor once told me that we can change the world if we are willing to be invisible.  I’ve been blessed to be visibly used as the hands and feet of Jesus in France and Spain on my mission last fall. But it started with being invisible in the summer of 2013.

What I think we tend to forget in our busy American lifestyle is that prayer is the work. Thankfully that message has been resonating in theaters across America over the last month with the release of War Room, and its message to fight your battles in prayer first.

Wherever we are, as Followers of Christ, we have access to our Heavenly Father, to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Let’s prepare the way for all we do in His Name by preparing the atmosphere of our hearts and the physical and spiritual lay of the land in prayer.

  • To support the CR work in Spain, click here.
  • To support the CR work in France, click here, and select ‘Klein’ on the drop down menu.

And please help fertilize the soil by lifting their efforts in prayer to bring spiritual renewal and healing into their countries.

God Knows the Desires of our Heart

It was siesta time on Day 29 of my 42-day pilgrimage through Spain in 2013. This was my 5th day in Sóller, near the northwest coast of Mallorca, in the Balearic Islands of Spain. I was sitting poolside at the summer home of my gracious hosts, the parents of Pedro González Arbona, who we met in an exchange program three years prior.

The day was hot—just like the preceding days. I was still not used to the Spanish heat. Sóller was only slightly cooler than Madrid. It was in the mid-90s; and there was no air conditioning. When we left Madrid the week before, I was expecting cool island breezes and relief from the heat. There was no such luck. I adapted as best as I could, and relished the mid-day siesta to take a bite out of the heat.

The view from my bedroom window in Sóller.

The view from the writing desk in my bedroom in Sóller.

Siesta Time in Sóller

After the mid-day meal which was typically served at 2 PM, the family would turn to siesta mode. Some would take a nap, or others would read or relax by the pool. It was a deliberate time of restfulness and solitude.

Most days I would be in my room with the ceiling fan on, either typing away on my laptop trying to catch up on my writing, or sprawled out on my bed catching a few zzzzz. Traveling away from home without the benefit of an American companion, I considered both an investment in my emotional and physical health.

On this day, I relinquished my writing and my napping to another restful activity. I sat in the shade reading the script to Pedro’s most recent film. It was the script to Tempting Fate, the movie that is now showing across Africa with his music wafting through the theaters.

As I sat there reading with the sound of running water filling the pool in the background, all I kept reflecting on was how God really does know the desires of our heart. I’d love to be able to say that was because of the idyllic setting I was in, or the generosity of my family back home, or my Spanish host family. I had many of those moments in my 6 weeks of living with Pedro’s family.

A Holy Plot Twist

No, on this day it was the content of what I was reading that gave me goosebumps and lit the fire of the Holy Spirit within me. The script was ‘hot off the press’ so to speak. Pedro received it electronically and had a copy made at the print shop in town. He had already made his first pass through the script and had ideas running through his mind on the scenes and music.   I was honored to be the next to read it—mostly because I was his manager, but also because I was one of the few family members who could read English.  (His previous scripts were in Spanish and difficult for me to read.)

I knew very little about the story, and so I eagerly read it. The story opened with a bank robbery scene, lots of gun fire, and the death of a police officer. That didn’t sound like my type of movie.

Immediately following that, the story turned to a scene at a church with African worship music being sung. The sudden shift caught me off-guard and peaked my interest. As I read further and further into the script, I was enthralled with the story, and excited to read how this tale of two Nigerian brothers, one with deep faith fighting for his life against cancer, and the other steeped in a life of crime and drugs, would end.

I was not disappointed. It had a powerful message of redemption and forgiveness. Here’s one piece of great dialogue:

“God owes you no explanation, son. He looks out for you and gives you what is best for you. The important question is not why, but what happens next? And trust me, for those that trust God their next chapters are always better than the former chapters.”

Scenes from the movie Tempting Fate.

I couldn’t believe my eyes as I read some of these scenes that challenged the characters in the movie, and would certainly resonate with audiences.

At one point, when I was nearing the end of the script, Pedro asked me what I thought of it. I had a hard time containing my excitement, but told him he would have to wait until I was finished reading. “Only a few more pages,” I told him. “And then we can talk about it.”

“Are you looking for the scenes with music in it?”

“No,” I confessed.

“You are a bad manager,” he teased. I didn’t mind. I was too overwhelmed with the sudden shift in the focus of my trip.

“The first of many more scripts for you to read,” he continued jokingly. But I didn’t take his musical talent or potential success in jest.

God Knows The Desires of our Hearts

God was not only giving me the desires of my heart with this trip of a lifetime, the Lord was giving Pedro the desires of his heart. Pedro dreamed of composing film scores since he was ten years old. Now at the age of 20, he was composing for his first full-feature American film!

A few days earlier, my daily devotional was based on Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” After reading the script of this faith-based movie, I had a teachable moment with Pedro about that scripture and how the Lord’s favor was on his music. He wasn’t sold on the idea that God would really have any interest in his musical success. There were much more pressing things for God to have His attention on like poverty and worldwide issues.  But I begged to differ.

Psalm 37.4

I expressed to him how I believed it was not a coincidence that he had landed this contract at this very point in time. I had been praying for his music to be used by God since the day I found out he was a composer. The script pointed people to God’s love and forgiveness, so his music would do the same. I saw it as an incredible blessing and confirmation that his music really was meant for the big screen.

Since Pedro came into my life five years ago, the Lord has given me many desires of my heart: the friendship of this family across the world, being the benefactor of Pedro’s music, and giving me a mid-life career change into writing (my long lost passion from college).

It’s not because God is like a genie, or I prayed for earthly success or rewards. It is because of my faith shift that started with a deeper and truer relationship with the Lord, and as the scripture says, delighting in Him.

So what about the Movie?

The Lord’s favor is on Tempting Fate too—the movie, the cast and the crew as it plays in theaters across Nigeria and Ghana. It premiered at #3 in the Box Office last week and is getting lots of positive reviews. Nollywood is all a twitter about this Hollywood/Nollywood collaboration.

My prayers continue for this movie and its message. I applaud KevStel Group for producing this film and following their dreams and desires of their hearts to bring quality faith-based entertainment to the big screen.

What about you? Are you delighting in the Lord? Where is He giving you the desires of your heart?

The Making of Tempting Fate’s Score by Pedro González Arbona

Today marks the theatrical release of Tempting Fate across Nigeria. It is a day I’ve been anticipating and praying for ever since Pedro González Arbona signed the contract to compose the movie soundtrack while we were together in Madrid two summers ago.

wp_ss_20150717_0001Early last year while Pedro was in the final stages of synchronizing the music with the movie, Kevin Kwankwor, the film’s director, asked Pedro to write about the movie composing process. At that point, it was uncertain where the premiere would be held. There was talk of a Hollywood premiere and Pedro didn’t expect he could make that. The script below was to be recorded for showing at the Hollywood premiere.

Pedro and I did attend the red carpet VIP screening in Houston last year. And last week was the premiere in Lagos, Nigeria with the major U.S. cast and crew and Nollywood star Ramsey Nouah. If Tempting Fate does well in Nigeria and Ghana, there is much hope that the movie will make its way through Europe and back to America for an official nationwide release.

In the meantime, I’m sharing Pedro’s account of his work on Tempting Fate and his creative music process.

THE MAKING OF TEMPTING FATE’s SCORE
by Pedro González Arbona

Introduction

I received the call from Kevin Kwankwor—producer, director, screenwriter, and CEO of KevStel Group LLC.—in the middle of July 2013. I was finishing the score of two short films, so it was the best time to start a new project.

Kevin and I had some conversations about music in general, and the “Tempting Fate” project in particular. We connected very well from the beginning because we had the same approach to this story of a deep relationship between two brothers and how their different paths in life affect their destiny.

Pedro in his studio in Madrid, July 2013.

Pedro in his studio in Madrid, July 2013.

Kevin showed me some classical music he had in mind when writing the screenplay and some instruments he wanted to use in the project. He told me they were shooting in September and wanted some of the tracks of the score to be done by then. That was just the beginning of an amazing process.

Music in Films

In my opinion, there are four aspects that are needed in order to make a good film: a good screenplay, a good director, good acting, and a good score.

When I started focusing my composing on cinema, I started realizing how important a good score is for a film. I actually think that music creates the magical environment needed for a film. Music is another kind of narration, apart from the screenplay and the visual narration made by the director. More importantly, music helps to tell the story with the intent of immersing the audience in the movie.

What would the famous shower scene from “Psycho” be without the screeching strings by Bernard Herrmann? Or the scene from “ET” with the kids peddling their bicycles through the sky with the moon in the background, without the music by John Williams? Or the Hobbit´s Shire in “The Fellowship of the Ring” without the music by Howard Shore? I am sure you can imagine dozens of examples, and by then you will realize that those films would not be the same without that music.

Photo credit: Universal Studios

Photo credit: Universal Studios

The question now is, what do you consider a good score? Well, there is not a perfect theory, but I usually consider two kinds of scores.

On the one hand, are the composers who just use the music in the background of the film in order to create the perfect environment for the film. In these kinds of scores, the music is so well done that when the audience leaves the theater, they do not realize that they heard a score. Some examples could be amazing composers such as Thomas Newman or the Spanish composer, Alberto Iglesias.

On the other hand, are the composers who use a lot of melodic music that goes directly to the mind of the viewer. Most of the “famous” composers are from this second group. But there is a big problem with this kind of music; they have to have caution in order not to distract the viewer from the film. And that is a very difficult task. Wonderful composers such as John Williams, Hans Zimmer, or James Horner are from this second group.

TF Script with border

The script to “Tempting Fate”

The Process of Scoring

The process of scoring all starts with the reading of the screenplay. In the case of “Tempting Fate,” Kevin sent the screenplay to me after the contract was signed in late July. I read it three or four times in order to fully grasp the film´s message and get a feel for the characters. I took a lot of notes about what scenes needed music and what kind of music was needed. Then I start the composing process.

Most composers start creating the score when they get the film, but I have always preferred to start the scoring even before the shooting starts. This makes the composing more fluid for me, and because it is better if the director has the music while shooting the film. This also allows the director to plan the film with the music in mind.

I always write around two main themes, which usually are linked to the main characters.

  • First was the “Love Theme”, about the love story between Edu and Tracy. For this theme I composed very melodic music with a violin solo and a piano in order to get a romantic melody that was going to be used in the most poignant moments of the film.
  • Second was the “Brother´s Theme”, about the relationship between the two brothers, Ugo and Edu. I made different variations of this theme throughout the film, because of the different facets of their relationship. I used the guitar and clarinet in the good moments, the piano and the violin solo for the bad moments, and the woodwinds for the background scenes.
Music Composer Pedro González Arbona

Music Composer Pedro González Arbona

“Tempting Fate” was shot in September 2013, and during that time Kevin and I continued to keep in touch. He told me very important details about the filming. With Kevin’s keen directorial insights and the screenplay in hand, I had lots of inspiration to compose the score.

After the composing process was completed, and after I received the final edited version of the film, I started what I call the synchronizing process. This process consisted of comparing the music I created, with the scenes from the film, and deciding what music to use, what not to use, and how many changes were needed.

Finally the time came for the recording process. As violin and piano were the main instruments in this score, professional violin and piano players were hired for the recording. A soprano, a guitarist, and a percussionist were also hired. It was so exciting to be at the recording studio and to see my compositions come to life thanks to them.

So this is the end of this amazing project which involved so many different people from so many different countries such as Nigeria, India, Spain, and the United States.

I am very thankful:

  • to the head of the project, Kevin Kwankwor, for giving me this opportunity;
  • to Francisco Arbona, for consulting with me on the music;
  • to José Iglesias, the director of the musical academy where my music foundation was formed;
  • to Ardis Nelson, my manager, for helping me so much with my composing career and producing my first two CDs;
  • to Guillermo Servera, for introducing me to orchestration software and for sharing his expertise with me so many times;
  • to Chani Bas, for giving me my first job in the cinema;
  • and to my parents:
    • my father because he played the piano and immersed me in what is now my passion for music,
    • and my mother who expanded my musical knowledge so well and instilled my Christian beliefs.

Congratulations to Pedro and the entire cast and crew of Tempting Fate. I am proud to support the release of this faith-based movie across Africa and beyond.

Below is a slideshow of images from the press tour and the Lagos premiere on July 10.  Special thanks and credit goes to Chris Willard at willardphotographic.com and the Nigerian Press for use of many of these photos.

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For up-to-date information about Tempting Fate and to view more photos, check out the movie’s Facebook page.  Stay tuned for more updates on Pedro’s musical pursuits, and an exclusive interview with co-star Dan Davies.  He is nothing like Scorpion, the evil character he so convincingly portrays in the movie.

Sneak Peek & Rave Reviews for Tempting Fate Soundtrack

It’s been many months since I last wrote about Pedro’s movie composing and the status of Tempting Fate, his first full-feature American film.  It’s hard to believe that we celebrated the 4th of July last year at the VIP screening of the movie in Houston.

On the red carpet at the Tempting Fate premiere, July 4, 2014, Houston, TX.

On the red carpet at the Tempting Fate premiere, July 4, 2014, Houston, TX.

One year later, the film’s stars and key production crew have just arrived in Lagos, Nigeria for another very important premiere of this Christian movie (Friday, July 10, 2015).  Although Pedro is not able to attend, we are no less interested in what is going on with this faith-based film across the world.

We are counting down the days to its release across Nigeria (July 17) and Ghana (July 24). Only 9 days to go as of today’s publishing of this post.  Momentum is building as positive media reviews are spreading across Nigeria.

To date, the official movie trailer has over 30,000 views on youtube.com.

 

What is the significance of the release of this movie in Africa?   Stay tuned for my next update on the movie and an exclusive interview with Dan Davies, co-star of Tempting Fate, for more behind the scenes information.*

For now, let’s talk music…

Post Screening Promotion

The first music related production after the Houston premiere was the filming and release of a music video for the Tempting Fate theme song.  This video was shot in LA, starring Andrew Onochie, who portrays Edu in the movie, and actress and singer Jacobed Melgarejo.  The song is a blend of Igbo (Nigerian), English, and Spanish worship with words that echo the message of redemption and forgiveness, the overarching theme of the movie.

 

Over the past year, we’ve watched and patiently waited while the movie made its rounds through some very prestigious film festivals.  Tempting Fate was chosen to premiere at the Indie Fest USA International Film Festival last fall in Orange County, CA and also at the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) in Hollywood, CA earlier this year.  Rave reviews were shared by audiences at both festivals.

PAFF program information, February 2015.

PAFF program information, February 2015.

Release of the Movie Soundtrack

The movie soundtrack (available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc.) was released worldwide on February 12, 2015.  In order to create the cross-cultural mix of music for the Nollywood (Nigeria)/Hollywood (US) film collaboration three composers were used on the project:  Daniel Berg, Folorunso Obilana, and Pedro González Arbona.

Click image to sample soundtrack or purchase on Amazon.

Click image to sample soundtrack or purchase on Amazon.

The emotions in Tempting Fate music comes from real life’s rough ends and plundering experiences of Ugo and Edu as they journey from love and betrayal to forgiveness and loneliness. This is a story of two brothers, one of deep faith and the other buried in a life of crime. They had their worlds torn apart when the wrong one goes to jail and the other commits an unforgivable act. This music is a collection of compositions from Spain, USA and Africa. These songs are sent from above; they pierce directly into the heart.  (Album notes from CD Baby site.)

The African songs with singing, including the “Tempting Fate” main theme song used in the music video, were composed by Folorunso Obilana.  Daniel Berg’s music is purely orchestral.  Pedro’s music is a combination of orchestral and African instrumental with some melodic voice additions.

While the official CD soundtrack has 12 songs, there is much more music in the film, most of those songs were composed by Pedro.  After seeing the movie at the premiere in Houston last summer, more music changes were made to the final cut.

As is common in scoring for films, the composer doesn’t have a lot of input in the final cut of the movie.  Even highly sought after Academy Award winning composers like Hans Zimmer have to swallow their pride when it comes to which music is used in their movies.  Pedro composed over 80 minutes of music, but only a small fraction of that ended up in the movie or on the soundtrack.  Pedro released some of that music on his latest CD, Memories.

An Exclusive Music Sneak Peek

One such song not on the CD, but in the movie is “Brothers.”  This song is used in one of the first scenes in the movie where the two main actors, Nigerian brothers, Edu and Ugo, are revealing to the audience the nature of their brotherly relationship and love.  It is a beautiful song that I was privy to watch Pedro compose while in Madrid in July 2013.

Pedro walked me through the composing process as he created this song.  It was a very educational and magical moment to witness his creativity in action.  The song went through a few revisions before settling on the version now in the movie.  Since I work with Pedro, he gave me exclusive permission to share this song with my readers by clicking the ‘play’ button below.

 “Brothers” from “Tempting Fate”  © 2015 Pedro González Arbona.

One final music related note, last week during the media showing in Nigeria, the overriding comment was “not a dry eye in the house.”  I won’t give away the ending of the movie, but suffice it to say that Pedro’s final song, “Requiem,” combined with the superb on-screen acting, gives the movie a lasting final impression.  Memorable, moving, and touching, even for a crowd of seasoned movie critics.  Listen for yourself and see if you agree.

“Requiem” from “Tempting Fate”  © 2015 Pedro González Arbona.

Other reviewers commented on how the music strikes people as uniquely different.  The music fits perfectly with the storyline and with the film.  It fosters, helps, and propels the story along.

Praying for Success

Tempting Fate is the directorial debut of Nigerian born Kevin Nwankwor.  The mission of KevStel Group, Kevin’s Atlanta based production company, is to produce uplifting, Christian, and faith-based film and television projects.

How can you help support this independent Christian movie outside of Nigeria?  One way is to purchase the soundtrack. Another is by praying for its success. Nigeria is just the first stop for this movie with global appeal.  With the premiere only days away, prayer is critical to the successful outreach of this film.

TF Nigeria PremiereThe message of this movie is truly inspiring.  If people get behind this movie and pray for it, there will be more films like this available for viewing. So please join me and others around the world who are praying for this movie.

It’s not a coincidence that Pedro is associated with this inspirational faith-based movie.  His music has been bathed in prayers since we met five years ago.  It’s been a long road: from the antique and gutted out player piano in our home in the suburbs of Seattle, to his studio in the heart of Spain, and now to theaters across Africa.  We are proud to be associated with this first class independent film.

Congratulations to the cast and crew of Tempting Fate!  May the message of this movie resonate with viewers in Nigeria and beyond.  May your dreams for this film exceed your every expectation.

*Special thanks to Dan Davies, who portrays Scorpion in Tempting Fate, for contributing to the content of this post.

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    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

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