The other day I was asked how I became a Christian. Well I was four-years-old and on top of the monkey-bars that my handy Grandpa Alcala had gerry-rigged out of a ladder in our backyard. 4 year old JD had gotten bored of crossing the monkey bars the normal way, and I had swung my legs up on the bars infront of me and squeezed my self through the space beween the bars to get myself sitting on the very top. When I think about how high it would be to me now that I’m 6’2″, I don’t think it was that tall, but it seemed tall when I was four.
Lisa came into the backyard wide-eyed from AWANA. She had been learning the steps of how to bring someone to repent of their sins and belief that Jesus is Messiah. She came up to me, and started asking me if I knew where I would go when I died: Hell or Heaven. To help me think this through, Lisa began shaking the monkey bars so that I would fall off. Lisa’s added incentive helped me make the best decision of my life. I wanted to know for sure that I would go to Heaven when I died. Lisa followed what she had learned at church to the “T” and I repeated her in a prayer to ask God to forgive me of my sins and for Jesus to be my Savior. That was 1985 in Grand Terrace, California.
Lisa took what she knew was true: That Jesus had paid for our sins once and for all, the great message of Ephesians 2:8 found in the Bible, and she took that with her as a missionary to Tafalla, Spain. After just over one year of mid-rise apartment living (A 6 story apartment building amid other 6 story apartment buildings in urban Berriozar, Spain), Lisa wanted to have her own home, where she and Dan could tinker and dream. Lisa was only 27 years old, 16 years after shaking me into the Kingdom of God, and a missionary in the Basque-Navarro region of Spain. Lisa and Dan took their two small girls along with them as they looked at homes in the outskirts of Pamplona. One home that Lisa and Dan looked at was very large, and historic and affordable. It was also run down, or more than run-down, boarded up-not-been-lived in-for-thirty-years ruin. When they went to look at other houses in their price range, those other houses had been lived in recently and were “turn-key” ready, but they were small, or in a bad location, or too expensive for the square-footage. This spooky old house was located about 40 kilometres from Pamplona, but that was not too difficult of a drive with the good highway running from Tudela to Pamplona. The spooky house was in a medieval, walled city, and it had a little stone court-yard that matched the whole medieval neighborhood. In the courtyard they found a GIAnormous TOAD, so the house became known as the Toad-House. The town where Toad House stood had narrow little cobble-stone streets and the children there were more innocent than the corrupted kids in Pamplona. This really mattered to Lisa. Lisa didn’t want her daughters to have to return to the bullying they faced being American girls in a tough Pamplona public school.
So by chance or Providence, Dan and Lisa came to live at The Toad House. No, they could Not move in right away, the interior was all very run down. Dan had to work hours, then days, then years on the restoration of each room, but being a practical and imaginative young couple, Dan and Lisa restored the most needy parts of the house, just enough first to make living there, livable. Dan had the rotting, ancient beams under the kitchen replaced with concrete beams, then covered those concrete beams with decorative wooden beams, giving the bottom bedroom, which had been one of the most run-down rooms, a cozy feel once completed. Dan put in a large, American style kitchen complete with wooden panelling. He kept the wood-stove in the kitchen for heating purposes. Before long they had done the impossible, and made an imposing stone villa the home to their young and growing family.
While I was staying with Dan & Lisa in 2002, (in a trip that you can read about in a book called “The Walls of Spain, Diary of a Short-term Mission”), I was with the Leatherwoods when they received a call from an Argentine couple who wanted a ride from nearby Tafalla to Pamplona Evangelical Christian Church where the Leatherwood’s were serving. I was with them when they picked up this middle-aged couple, along with their Grandma and their daughter. Before long the Leatherwoods began a Bible Study with this family and some other friends and the first protestant church in Olite County history was born. Lisa’s dreams were high and outgoing. Without wasting time, She and Dan secured permission to use a monastery that had been bought by an Evangelical Rehabilitation Ministry for use while REMAR prepared the building for use as a REMAR Rehabilitation Center. Like The Toad House, the Tafalla REMAR Monastary also had no electricity at first, and since the grandiose building had sat empty for years, except for that hour on Sundays, youth from the highschool across the street would break the windows and break in. Lisa and Dan made the best of it and Dan even single handedly ran off youth who he had caught breaking and entering.
Eventually the Tafalla Church plant graduated to having it’s own place, when God gave Dan and Lisa to vision to look for a store-front in Tafalla. After lots of dreaming and brain-storming, God brought them the perfect store-front on Tafalla’s main thoroughfare in Spring of 2005. By Providence, I was accepted to Lisa’s Mission, TBM, at that same time, and I was able to come aboard as Lisa and Dan reveled in the dream come true: the first Protestant Church in Tafalla’s Long History: Centro Familiar Cristiano. Lisa would think through the lay-out, the purpose, the possibilities with great enthusiasm and care. Dan built shelves to house the great wealth of books that we had brought painstakingly from America: the personal libraries of my late-father and late-grandparents. Throw in Lisa’s and Dan’s books, and my books, we had accumulated quite the collection. Lisa wanted all those books in both Spanish and English to be open to the public. We spent months covering, sorting, and cataloging books. Lisa had fun brain-storming our window display for all the foot-traffic in Tafalla to see. We collected posters of books and events that we wanted to promote, like from the Spanish Bible Society, the FIEIDE’s “Mision Posible Conference”, and from The Chronicles of Narnia Series. Lisa lived out her dream to reach Tafalla enthusiastically, and she brought her whole family on board, her little daughter’s played violin in our church praise team, her mother led a women’s Bible Study there on Wednesday nights, Dan and Lisa would tutor students, and I did my share of English classes there as well. It blessed Lisa, even in the weeks before she went to heaven, to see our little Tafalla church fill on Sunday morning with our dear congregants, with all their problems and with all of ours we are always happy to come together as the Body of Christ on this earth. Lisa played her heart out even in the end when it was hard for her to play the piano and to sing, but she sang and played all the same, and all Tafalla knew it.