Aside from becoming a Christian a couple of years ago, going to Betel (an international charity based in Spain, reaching addicts and the marginalised) was the most life-changing week of my life. In Betel, I saw example after example of God’s transforming love and power; and from the Betel community, I glimpsed an amazing vision of what it means to live in God’s self-sacrifi cial love and forgiveness. I don’t think I will have been the only one to have come away feeling pretty challenged about how I had lived as a Christian.
We lived alongside the ‘Betelitos’, recovering drug addicts, ex-prostitutes and convicts in the men’s and women’s houses, following the same long and very structured day that is so key to the Betel work ethic and which allows it to be 95% self-funding. We were woken at 7am for breakfast, followed by worship and devotion, where we took turns to contribute with (translated) testimonies and Scriptures.
Then we went our separate ways for four hours’ hard work, each of us with two of the guys or girls (they do everything in pairs, those who are newer paired with a ‘shadow’). Tasks are allocated every day, including collecting food donations, cleaning and cooking, giving out Betel publicity, selling merchandise, manning the thrift shops and working for different contracts cleaning local schools. Next, lunch together and a full two-hour siesta, which we Brits—much to the Spaniards’ dismay—used for sunbathing on the roof. Then it would be four hours’ more work before heading home to reunite and eventually eat a very late dinner.
The highlight of the trip was getting to go with two or three recovered addicts, who each day drive out to Madrid’s enormous drug-trafficking hotspots, abandoned areas and rubbish dumps, from which they and many of the others have come, perhaps after decades there. These places are truly indescribable: desolate slums sprawling under the blazing sun, starting with dilapidated houses and turning into dusty wastelands of rubbish heaps with used syringes littering every square foot of ground. Skeletal figures of all ages lined the track, pushing needles into every body part imaginable, most covered from head to toe in abscesses and ruptured veins.
There was a constant stream of traffic, ranging from clapped-out bangers full of people to taxis and expensive cars with well-dressed businessmen at the wheel. The Betel van has been going to the same spot for years and the guys were greeted welcomingly by the regulars. We would stay for an hour or two, giving out food and drink and giving out fl yers. We would invite each person to come back with us right away, free of charge. Most had a drink and moved on quickly, but others would ask questions and listen to the Spanish guys tell them about Betel. They don’t mince their words when they share the gospel: it is a question of life or death, which for most could be just a fix away. Most of us saw at least one person come back during those times; it is the most incredible feeling as you drive someone out of that hell on earth back to the love, warmth and care of the Betel communities.
Returning to the familiar, beaming faces back at our houses, it hit home what it means to be a "new creation". The week was like stepping into the pages of the Gospels: such radically changed lives, forgiveness and community which just exuded love, forgiveness and selfl ess fellowship. Betel (Bethel) deserves its name: it truly is the "house of God".