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Getting to Know You :: Ariel Rainey

‘Getting to Know You’ introduces you to pastors and ministry leaders within the Fellowship of European International Church network. In this story, we highlight Ariel Rainey, pastor of IC: Madrid.

Share with us a little about your life ‘pre-missions’.
I am from Baltimore, Maryland, and grew up in a Pentecostal family heavily involved in church ministry. I feel like I grew up in the church building because we were there nearly every day! My parents also sent us to a Baptist school, which taught the Word of God more than anything else. I am very thankful for that because it truly became the frame around which the rest of my life formed.  For college, I went to the University of Valley Forge, where I studied pastoral ministry. It’s funny because I did not intend to pastor a church. I just felt strongly that God told me to major in that, although I didn’t feel a particular call to pastoring. However, I now see how God used it even all those years ago.

Tell us about your ministry work before you came to Europe.
I left the United States at age 21 and started with AGWM as a missionary associate serving in the Palestinian Territory (the West Bank).  I served there for six years and then received my career appointment.  My ministry there was primarily using education to evangelize students and their families. I taught English to teenagers. I got my master’s in administration while serving there and discovered my love of organizational leadership. I also led my first multiethnic, multilingual ministry there, a precursor for pastoring an international church!

How did God lead you to Europe and briefly describe your assignments before Madrid?
I came into Europe through a side door. I expected to serve in Senegal, West Africa, but in those days, that meant going to France to learn French. The Lord sometimes moves unexpectedly, and I ended up staying in France, helping the French Assemblies of God plant the idea of Muslim ministry among local churches.

I was in France for a full term, but missed doing face-to-face ministry to Muslims, so I was hoping to return to Palestine. However, God had other plans! In the meantime, a good friend suggested I come to Spain to work with African and Arab refugees, and in prayer, I came to Spain to work with Oasis Center in Madrid and did that for four years while attending International Church: Madrid.

I had no idea when I chose IC: Madrid to be my church in Spain in 2014 that one day, God would ask me to pastor the church!

What do you find most interesting about living and ministering in Madrid?
I love Madrid, and I’m pretty sure everyone knows it! I am naturally a night person, so when I first came here, I felt like I’d finally found where I belonged my whole life because Spain is a nighttime culture.

I love the dry climate, which is incredibly like where I served in the West Bank, and I seem to flourish in the Mediterranean environment (other than July, which is just deadly in Madrid).

I love the relational culture of Spain, where the weekends find people eating with friends on the open-air terraces of Spain’s restaurants or walking as a family together in the parks.

What do you think are Madrid’s greatest spiritual needs?
I enjoy street evangelism in Madrid, which helps reveal the city’s greatest spiritual needs. Like most of Europe, Spain feels very spiritually dark. Atheism and secularism blind people to their need for a Savior. If you believe there is no need for God, you have little shame about vices, like drugs and prostitution, which is a 3.7-billion-euro industry in Spain. Secularism creates idols out of self-reliance, money, education, and status symbols.

Describe the nature of the church when you arrived and how it has changed since you first started pastoring?
I became pastor of IC: Madrid during the tumultuous times of the Pandemic and its aftermath. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a planned transition; the former pastors left unexpectedly due to health issues. I expected to serve as an interim until we could find someone else.

During those first months, the church was in constant flux due to the shock of losing the pastors, the uncertainty of the Pandemic measures, and other issues that directly resulted from those major crises.  We were desperately in the red financially, and my sole focus was keeping the church open and rebuilding stability.

I thank God that we weathered that season, and eventually, I knew that God wanted me to remain in place as the official pastor.  Now, we’re stable by God’s grace, so I can focus on building other areas, such as our evangelism and discipleship programs.  We’re actively looking for a building, our next major step forward as a church.  I also hope to build our missionary leadership team, and I’m recruiting hard for that!

Tell us about IC: Madrid.
IC: Madrid is an English-speaking church that provides Spanish translation, so our focus is to reach the English-speaking community of all races and ethnicities.  We’re extremely diverse now, and I genuinely love that on any given Sunday, we’ll welcome 20-30 visitors who speak at least ten different languages. Our current church demographic is relatively young, with at least 50% of the church under the age of 40, which I love as a pastor, but it means we need depth and maturity.

We’d love more permanent residents; it’s hard when the church congregation is so transient.  We pray for people who will put down permanent roots.

What do you feel makes IC Madrid different from the other churches in the city?
We are one of the only fully bilingual churches in Madrid. We do everything except the small groups in both English and Spanish.  In a city of 4 million people, there are maybe 5 evangelical churches in English. We have a strong reputation for excellent modern worship and strong preaching. We also have a highly professional congregation; nearly everyone has advanced degrees or speaks multiple languages. Plus, as I mentioned, we have a very young and diverse demographic.

What do you feel are the advantages of being an international church in your city?
Now more than ever, as society becomes more individualistic, fragmented, and image-driven due to social media and the internet, people are yearning to connect with others in a deep, real way. They’re searching for true meaning and relationships, trying to find their tribe.

That need is even stronger for international people because they have already been separated from their families, homes, cultures, and so much more. The Church has always represented an intimate connection with God and fellow believers, a place to belong regardless of who you were before. We have one great unifying factor in Jesus Christ, and people desperately seek that belonging and purpose with other believers.

What do you enjoy most about pastoring international churches?
I’ve never pastored elsewhere and spent my entire career in international contexts. I love that every single week, I’ll get to meet people from yet another new country. I’ll meet believers from places I didn’t know the gospel had even touched! I’ll learn and practice at least a word or two from every language we represent (a personal challenge for me). No two days are ever the same. I like the fresh, creative challenge always before me to communicate the truth of God’s Word and character to a diverse audience both in and outside our pews.

What do you find are the greatest challenges of pastoring international churches?
My greatest challenge is the turnover of our international community and the pain that comes from constantly pouring love and ministry into people who must leave. It’s by God’s design, and we give thanks for the time we have. Still, it’s a cycle that comes at a cost, both personally and even logistically, as we constantly re-communicate the vision and goals, recruit new volunteers, and disciple the next new person.  I’m still in my first few years, so I’m also still learning how to manage the missionary side – how to itinerate and raise funds, recruit new workers, and maintain partnership relations when I’m not able to be in the United States for a long furlough as I had before.  My family in the States is also adjusting to my changed travel patterns.

What is your vision for the future of the church?
Our future needs to include a building! That’s our biggest need. We use a tiny storefront during the week that comfortably seats about 20 people and isn’t big enough for our discipleship or midweek worship.  We can’t grow.  On Sundays, we’re in a rented movie theater, which is great for all 200 of us, but we must set up and tear down each week, which wears out our equipment and volunteers.  So, we believe for a “permanent home” for the church as soon as God opens the storehouses of heaven for us.  I want to build the missionary team at IC:Madrid, since I’ll be the only AGWM personnel as of June.  This city has a major need, and I would love to have a team of people committed to reaching this city for Jesus.  That’s key because I know I can’t be here forever, so I see it as strategically imperative to mentor and train the next leaders for IC: Madrid.

How can fellow FEIC member pastors pray for you guys?
I would love it if you would pray for the Lord of the Harvest to send forth laborers here. I need help.  And we need that building!

Feel free to add anything you think would be relevant and helpful.
I appreciate FEIC for the wealth of knowledge and experience that FEIC has consistently offered me over the past few years. This network encourages a newbie pastor like me, knowing there are seasoned veterans with years of international church pastoral experience who can help me make wise decisions.

Likewise, I am grateful to be able to offer my Doctor of Strategic Leadership and 30 years of multicultural leadership experience to our FEIC body, in whatever ways I can strengthen other FEIC ministries in their context. We truly have a network that builds up our entire Body of Christ.

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