As people around the world have heard the news, Barcelona, Spain, suffered a terrorist attack on Thursday, August 17, 2017, when a van plowed into a crowd filled with people from around the world in a famous area for tourism, an area called the Rambla.
Fifteen people have died and over 120 wounded from 34 different countries in two separate attacks.
The Rambla is a pedestrian walkway in the middle of a street that starts at Plaza Cataluña and ends at the harbor. It’s a 1.2k stretch that is usually packed with people taking a walk in a corridor, full of restaurants, pavement cafés and souvenir shops displaying their wares to the public. The Rambla was originally a wadi that allows heavy rain to flow from the mountains nearby into the sea and was converted to a beautiful walkway with trees lined up on both sides.
That Thursday evening was an ordinary evening, full of the late summer tourism. People from all over the world were doing their sightseeing. Locals were heading back to work, and shops were reopening for their evening schedule. My household was preparing a meal in the kitchen, and I was at my office doing some computer work when the headlines caught my attention of what had just started to take place. A driver in a van jumped the curb and plowed into the crowds walking down the Rambla. As it continued down the pedestrian walkway, it zigzagged in order to capture as many people it could. It traveled around 700 meters until it finally stopped with its front end severely damaged and its driver escaping into the crowded area.
I quickly turned on the TV, and we watched in horror of what just happened.
The area that this occurred in is an area that I have frequently visited, especially when friends come to visit and I show them around the city. I have a picture of my dad when he came to visit me last year, right at the spot where the van started its journey. We quickly started to contact other church members to see if everyone was all right. We are a little church plant from Costa Mesa that started about two years ago, so we only have about 16 members, and it wasn’t too hard to contact everyone that comes to the church. We started to stay in touch through social media, as our members contacted their friends and loved ones, but everyone was safe. We stayed glued to the TV to see how the story was developing.
Many Catalans where shocked to hear the news since it has been fairly quiet in Spain regarding terrorist attacks. They thought that only other European countries directly involved in the wars of the Middle East where going to be attacked. This event has caused some anger against Muslims and Arab people, and some right wing sentiment is starting to grow. When I went to take some pictures of the memorials that people left at the locations, where people got injured or killed, there was a solemn atmosphere, and people were looking more often behind their backs. We will see if this causes people to think about their mortality, and maybe think about the questions that most people just try to ignore: Who am I? Why am I here, and where am I going?
Cataluña is very cold spiritually, colder than any other part of Spain. Most see the Christian faith through the eyes of their Catholic history and the inquisition that occurred here in Spain.
So many young Catalans see religion as part of history and not really needed in their lives. Hopefully, these events will open up a door in sharing the true Christ to others.
A few of our members went out to join the Billy Graham team to pray for the tourist on the Rambla. They went out, giving tracts to people for a couple of evenings, and we are going to continue to see, as God leads, how we can take these opportunities to share Christ to others and give people hope.
We were told by the news broadcast that Spain was warned that there was going to be a terrorist attack on the Rambla two months prior, and that Isis was looking to attack coastal cities around the Mediterranean region. After the attack, Isis did claim responsibility, and the news lately has it that more attacks will be coming to Spain, as Isis looks to reclaim land that the Muslims used to control for about eight centuries in central and southern Spain called Andalusia.
Since Spain borders Africa in the south, many North Africans such as Moroccans and Algerians have migrated to Spain over the centuries. The men that Isis recruited happened to be young Moroccans in their late teens and 20s, with some of them being fully assimilated into Spanish culture. They spoke Spanish and Catalan and had many friends outside their culture.
The biggest problem we have is that Muslim youth have nothing to really live for here in Spain.
We have about 40% unemployment with youth, so it’s difficult to find employment, especially among North African immigrants. Young immigrants also find it hard to live in Western culture that is full of the sins and practices that Islam preaches against, so they get caught in a tug of war between living out their parents’ faith or giving into Western culture with all it’s sins. When these youth get frustrated over the status quo, they are easily recruited to a cause, to fight for Allah, to take over Muslim land and clean out its sins. Young people are always looking for a cause to give their lives to, so Isis fills in that vacuum with their agenda.
I think we have opportunities to reach these youth and give them another cause to think about, to give their lives to, to fight for, and that is the cause for Christ. If we could find ways to “speak their language,” we could possibly make some inroads into reaching the lost in these communities.