"Eres mi mejor amigo."
“Eres mi mejor amigo.”
(You are my best friend.)
In 2005 I lived in El Raval, a neighborhood in downtown Barcelona largely inhabited by various stripes of artists, musicians, and immigrants. Among them, on the block where I lived and worked, were a small band of what we called “street kids”. They had homes, but they were always out playing in the streets. And I’m sure they had parents, but I never met them. They could always be counted on to be playing soccer in front of my door when I left, or to yell up at me if my window was open. We watched Barça games in the studio, kicked a ball around, and we even hosted events for them in the summer. They were great little friends.
One in particular, one of quiet temperament around seven years old named Nurul, became my sidekick. He was often alone, so he and I spent a good deal of time together. He was probably seven or eight, but if he was out and I was on my way to the grocery store, he’d accompany me. We often had lunch at the shawarma place around the corner (the best in BCN!!). The older men would give him stern looks and say something in a language I didn’t know (they were primarily muslim immigrants, mostly from Pakistan), I can only presume they disapproved of him being with me. When I asked what they said, he looked at the ground and wouldn’t tell me. But he didn’t stop coming around.
One afternoon we were coming back from the grocery store, and as he held my hand, he looked up at me and quietly said, “Derek, eres mi mejor amigo.” (You are my best friend.) I’m not sure what to call the feeling I had that this little immigrant boy from Pakistan thought of me as his best friend, but it was beautiful. I was there to work with arts & culture in a studio in the city. But it seems the greatest impact I had was to simply love and care for a little boy who probably felt quite lost and uncared for in a big foreign city. We never talked about how our art reflects our worldview, or about the gospel, but I was able to show God’s love to him with just my time and friendship.
That was ten years ago. I think about Nurul a lot, assuming I’ll never see him again. But last week our friend in Barcelona, Samuel, who we will be joining in ministry, told us about running in to another of the “street kids” Alí, now a young man in a suit, running his father’s store. This sparked the exciting possibility of reconnecting with those boys, now young men. We’re praying fervently for a chance to reconnect with those old friends, and for a chance to tell them of the love of our God who would draw us away from home and family into a land not our own, for a people not our own, to show that love.
This is why we return. The reality is that, in a city like Barcelona, most people will not truly see the pure and holy love of Jesus in the face or hands of a neighbor. Whether they be secular locals or muslim immigrants, the Lord is sending us to love and bless many, “so that we might win some.”
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
(The above photo is of a drawing by my little friend Nurul in 2005. Yes, that’s me, complete with long hair and stubble. Also, a vote for me as the most handsome man in the world.)